New York City Mayor Criticized for How He Denounced Large Jewish Funeral Held During Coronavirus

Bill de Blasio warned "the Jewish community, and all communities" that any violation of social distancing guidelines would not be tolerated

New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio . Photo: Scott Heins/Getty

Despite some backlash himself, New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio said he was standing behind criticism of a large Hasidic Jewish funeral on Tuesday night that was in violation of social distancing rules.

Attendees gathered in the Williamsburg neighborhood of Brooklyn in honor of a rabbi who died of the novel coronavirus, according to several news reports. Photos from the event show a crowd of at least hundreds.

The New York Police Department responded to the violation and de Blasio personally oversaw the dispersal of the mourners. A police spokesman told the Associated Press that the crowd was broken up without any arrests.

Afterward, the mayor posted a series of tweets denouncing the "absolutely unacceptable" behavior and warned "the Jewish community, and all communities" that any violation of social distancing guidelines would not be tolerated.

"Something absolutely unacceptable happened in Williamsburg tonite: a large funeral gathering in the middle of this pandemic," de Blasio wrote on Twitter. "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."



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"My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed," de Blasio added. "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."

Several critics and Hasidic and Jewish leaders reacted to the mayor’s tweets with outrage, accusing de Blasio of singling out the members of the Orthodox community to stereotype when others have also violated social distancing rules.

For example, people have been seen not following social distancing during crowded days at city parks and, on the same day as the funeral this week, many people gathered to watch a flyover by military planes honoring essential workers. Photos of those groups, however, show they were not all as tightly clustered as in the Tuesday funeral.

The Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council shared photos of the crowds in a tweet and said that “people failed to social distance at a funeral the same day that thousands of New Yorkers failed to distance for 45 minutes to watch a flyover.”

"What??? This has to be a joke. 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??" Chaim Deutsch, a City Council member who represents a section of Brooklyn with a large Orthodox Jewish population, wrote on Twitter.

"Has he been to a park lately? (What am I saying - of course he has!)," Deutsch added, referring to de Blasio's well-known preference for Prospect Park in Brooklyn.

The councilman continued, "Obviously everyone should be social distancing and being extremely careful - and almost everyone has been! With data trending in a positive direction, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel IF - and only IF - people continue to be vigilant."

"But singling out one community is ridiculous," he wrote. "Every neighborhood has people who are being non-compliant. To speak to an entire ethnic group as though we are all flagrantly violating precautions is offensive, it’s stereotyping, and it’s inviting antisemitism. I’m truly stunned."

Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt also tweeted his disappointment over de Blasio's remarks.

"Hey @NYCMayor, there are 1mil+ Jewish people in . 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," Greenblatt wrote. "This erodes the very unity our city needs now more than ever."

In a statement to The New York Times, de Blasio’s press secretary, Freddi Goldstein, disputed that his tweets reflected a double standard. (A spokesperson for de Blasio did not immediately respond to PEOPLE's request for comment.)

“The mayor has been one of the staunchest supporters of the Jewish community since his earliest days in public service,” Goldstein said. “There were thousands of people gathered today, putting their lives and the lives of others at risk. It is his responsibility to all New Yorkers to speak up.”

“If I see it in any other community, I’ll call that out equally,” de Blasio told reporters at a Wednesday news conference, according to the Times. “If in my emotion I said something that in any way was hurtful, I’m sorry about that, that was not my intention. But I also want to be clear, I have no regrets about calling out this danger and saying I want to deal with it very, very aggressively.”

“The notion that people gather in large numbers and even if they didn’t mean to would spread a disease that will kill other members of the community is just unacceptable to me,” he said.

Public gatherings of any size have been banned in the state of New York for over a month by Gov. Andrew Cuomo in an effort to stop the virus.

As of Wednesday morning, more than one million people in the U.S. had been infected by the coronavirus and at least 53,000 had died, according to a Times analysis. New York has been the epicenter of the virus in America, claiming more than 295,000 of those cases and more than 17,000 deaths.

Earlier this week, Cuomo said that New York's numbers had started to descend from their peak. He outlined his plan for the state's reopening, telling reporters during a news briefing that lower risk businesses upstate would be the first to get back to work as early as mid May, CNN reported.

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