A storm is brewing in Rockland County, N.Y., a campaign ad says.
As dramatic music pulses in the background, the Rockland County Republican Party’s video first targets what the party considers overdevelopment in the county of about 329,000 people.
Then it takes a turn. County Legislator Aron Wieder, an Orthodox Jew who supports new housing developments, is “plotting a takeover” that threatens “our way of life,” the advertisement proclaims. After the video asks what’s at stake, the words “Our Families” are overlaid on a photo of a white, non-Orthodox couple and their children posing on a front lawn.
“Others have lost the fight,” the ad says as it shows headlines about Hasidic Jews — a subgroup of ultra-Orthodox practitioners — voting to form their own town. “IF THEY WIN, WE LOSE. TAKE BACK CONTROL,” declares the video, which the party has since deleted from its Facebook page.
The advertisement drew fire this week at the highest levels of state government, as well as from federal and local lawmakers. New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo (D) said the video was “the very definition of discrimination” and an attack on Hasidic Jews.
“There is no excuse for anti-Semitism masquerading as concerns over zoning or development,” Cuomo said Thursday in a statement. “While this video has since been removed, its impact will still be felt by the members of the Jewish community targeted by their own neighbors.”
New York Attorney General Letitia James on Wednesday called on the county Republican Party to remove and condemn the video. “Saying that members of the Jewish community are a threat to families, our safety & that they must be stopped is despicable,” she wrote.
Rockland County Republican Party Chairman Lawrence Garvey said the party’s complaints were not a religious issue. They were about people’s fear of losing their homes and neighborhoods to corrupt politicians supporting a corrupt overdevelopment process, he said.
“Anyone who dares speak up about overdevelopment, corruption, or education is immediately labeled as anti-Semitic without any concern for facts or without any idea of the true issues at hand,” Garvey said in a statement.
County Executive Ed Day (R) called the video’s content factual and the conversation topic necessary but said the “undercurrent” was unacceptable. He said he had asked Garvey to remove the video.
“As I have demonstrated, I have a great deal of respect for our Jewish neighbors and want them to know that as their County Executive I will always stand up against hatred,” Day wrote. “That said, the concerns raised about overdevelopment are accurate, well-grounded and desperately need to be addressed, but this must be done in a way free of rhetoric and rancor.”
Development, and how much of it is too much, recently has been a flash point in Rockland County. A town board meeting in Ramapo this month featured nearly two dozen speakers complaining that 220 planned housing units favored ultra-Orthodox Jews at the expense of secular residents, the Rockland/Westchester Journal News reported.
In March, Rockland County banned unvaccinated children from public spaces amid New York’s largest measles outbreak in decades. Day said during a news conference at the time that authorities would not search for unvaccinated children, but parents who were found to be in violation could be charged with a misdemeanor. The action came at a time when health authorities were raising concerns about decreased vaccination rates and measles outbreaks in communities including ultra-Orthodox Jews. An outbreak in Rockland “has mainly affected the Orthodox Jewish community in Spring Valley and Monsey,” the lohud.com news website reported.