NEW YORK, Oct. 4 (JTA) – It is not unprecedented for violence in the Middle East to spill over to America in the form of clashes between Jews and Arabs.
But this week, in the wake of a series of attacks targeting Jews in the New York area, local Jewish and Arab leaders are taking unprecedented steps to ease the tension.
New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani convened Arab and Jewish leaders Wednesday, warning that the city would tolerate neither hate attacks nor “group blame,” in which one community is collectively stereotyped or scapegoated by another.
At the same time, the two groups pledged to issue a joint “statement of unity” in which they pledge to work together to inform their communities and soothe tensions.
“Never before have we sat together to minimize the potential for illegal activity connected with the situation in the Middle East,” said Michael Miller, executive vice president of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, an umbrella organizations of 60 Jewish groups.
At least 10 attacks have been reported against Jews in Brooklyn this week, according to police officials.
But while some of the incidents appear to be related to the Israeli- Palestinian violence gripping the Middle East, city and police officials emphasized that no incident has been confirmed as a hate crime.
“It’s absolutely necessary to clarify information, dispel rumors and get more accurate information out to the people,” said Lt. David Nagel, a liaison between the New York City Police Department and the Jewish community.
Jewish leaders agreed, and were cautious not to either exaggerate or downplay the current climate.
“Jews in New York are not under siege,” Miller said.
Nevertheless, police patrols around synagogues will be stepped up in advance of Yom Kippur, which begins Sunday evening.
And on Wednesday, the New York JCRC and the Anti-Defamation League issued separate advisories urging vigilance and special security precautions as the Yom Kippur holiday approached.
The most serious incident reported by mid-week involved a 50-year-old Orthodox man who was insulted then stabbed on Sunday, the second day of Rosh Hashanah, reportedly by a Palestinian American, as he left synagogue with his son.
A second reported incident is more dubious, officials say. A Jewish man claims he was roughed up Monday in the subway by three men holding a Palestinian flag. However, there were apparently no witnesses.
Nationwide, there appeared to be no incidents of violence, though there have been a number of fiery anti-Israel demonstrations this week, coupled with the occasional anti-Semitic epithet.
Outside the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco, an Israeli flag was burned and trampled.
In South Paterson, N.J., another flag was set alight. At a Milwaukee protest, a curious onlooker who refused to accept a leaflet said he heard something about “Jew boys.”
In New York, meanwhile, cooperation between the Jewish and Arab communities will include Arab American leaders speaking to Jewish audiences, and vice-versa, according to Michael Nussbaum, co-president of the New York Metropolitan Region of the American Jewish Congress.
“Out of a negative came a positive,” Nussbaum said of the dialogue.
“No crime of hate can be tolerated. Any attack due to race or religion or ethnicity is an attack on the fundamental beliefs that all Americans cherish.”
If attacks do occur, Nussbaum said, “Arab leaders are very concerned that there should not be a blanket charge against the entire community.”
The need for intercommunal cooperation is clear, several leaders said.
While Jews live and work side by side with the burgeoning Arab, Christian and Muslim communities in many neighborhoods, and relations are mostly harmonious, “the proximity is so close and the interaction so regular, of course there are some on both sides who are untrusting,” said one Jewish official who did not want to be identified.
“There is justifiable concern that there might be some spillover from the tension in the Middle East onto the streets of New York.”
This is not unusual, the official said. Whenever there is a flare-up of violence between Israelis and Palestinians in the Middle East, New York experiences a surge in reportedly related attacks.
However, said the source, “some are true, some are not.”
One incident now cited as a cautionary tale occurred Monday, when a yeshiva student in a Brooklyn pizza parlor said he saw three Arab-looking youths laughing at him. He looked down, saw his hand bleeding and initially thought he’d been slashed. Later, he realized he’d cut it on an open soda can.
Nevertheless, a rumor swept through the tight-knit neighborhood that “a Jewish man had been stabbed by three Arabs” in the pizza parlor.
“Rumors take hold of the truth, and the truth suffers. The media ran ahead with the facts, though they are still under investigation,’ said Nussbaum.