New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio received sharp criticism for a series of tweets he made after breaking up a crowd of Hasidic Jews attending a funeral of a rabbi who died of the novel coronavirus on Tuesday.

“Something absolutely unacceptable happened in Williamsburg tonite: a large funeral gathering in the middle of this pandemic,” de Blasio tweeted. “When I heard, I went there myself to ensure the crowd was dispersed. And what I saw WILL NOT be tolerated so long as we are fighting the Coronavirus.”

A spokesman for the deceased Rabbi Mertz’s synagogue, Kahal Tolath Yakov, said in a statement that it “came up with a plan to have many streets closed, so that people participate and walk the coffin while following the social distancing rules and wearing masks.”

“Unfortunately, this didn’t pan out, and NYPD had to disperse the crowds,” Jacob Mertz wrote. “We shall note that everyone followed the police officers’ orders and the vast majority had masks. Yet, the confusion and chaos led to scenes of large crowds.”

While authorities have broken up crowds of several religious gatherings since social distancing restrictions were enacted, this appears to be the first time the mayor has directly overseen a dispersal.

In a later tweet, de Blasio threatened to arrest people who gather in large groups, singling out the Jewish community.

“My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed,” he wrote. “I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period.”

The mayor’s singling out of one ethnic/religious group had undertones of anti-Semitism and met harsh criticism from Jewish lawmakers and advocates on Twitter.

“This has to be a joke,” tweeted City Council member Chaim Deutsch.

“Did the Mayor of NYC really just single out one specific ethnic community (a community that has been the target of increasing hate crimes in HIS city) as being noncompliant?? Has he been to a park lately? (What am I saying – of course he has!)” he continued, referencing the mayor’s jogs through Prospect Park.

Jonathan Greenblatt, the head of the Anti-Defamation League, tweeted that de Blasio’s comments were an unfair generalization.

“The few who don’t social distance should be called out — but generalizing against the whole population is outrageous especially when so many are scapegoating Jews,” he tweeted. “This erodes the very unity our city needs now more than ever.”

Sen. Ted Cruz (R-Texas) weighed in on Wednesday, saying that “laws should be enforced neutrally [without] targeting religious faith.”

The mayor defended his remarks at a Wednesday news conference, saying he “spoke out of real distress that people’s lives were in danger before my eyes and I was not going to tolerate it.”

“I regret if the way I said it in any way gave people a feeling of being treated the wrong way, that was not my intention. It was said with love but it was tough love, it was anger and frustration,” de Blasio said.

He asserted that he was right to target the Jewish community, because large gatherings have “not happened other places, let’s be honest,” he said, adding that “this kind of gathering has happened in only a few places and it cannot continue [because] it’s endangering the lives of people in the community.”

“I understand politicians, every one has said, ‘oh look, you know, this is like people gathering in the park,’” he continued. “No, it’s not like people gathering in the park, it was thousands of people, can we just have an honest conversation here? It was not acceptable.”

The same day as the funeral, large crowds gathered to watch a military flyover by pilots from the Navy’s Blue Angels and the Air Force’s Thunderbirds honoring essential workers, contradicting de Blasio’s claims that no one was breaking social distancing protocol.

The Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council tweeted photos of the flyover crowds and criticized de Blasio for generalizing the Jewish population.

“8.5 million people live in NYC. 1.1 mill of those are Jews. 72,000 Jews live in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. A few hundred (mostly teens) attended a funeral,” the group wrote. “‘The mayor of this big city rushed to the “scene” and also sent tweets singling out all 1.1 million Jews.”


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