Amid signs of a ripple effect of Middle East tensions in New York, Mayor Rudolph Giuliani called on Jewish and Arab leaders to work together to keep the peace here.
Some 45 Arab and Jewish leaders gathered at City Hall Wednesday morning in the wake of a series of suspected bias attacks that may be linked to the current violence in Israel and the Palestinian-controlled territories.
"We know there is a tremendous amount of cooperation that is going on [between Arabs and Jews] and we wanted to make sure that was apparent to everyone in the city and make sure it was something we could further," Mayor Giuliani said at a press conference following the meeting.
"Everyone has great sympathy and great concern about what’s going on in the Middle East. People are entitled to express that concern and entitled to their own political views about how it should be resolved. However, none of that justifies violence or illegal activity."
Michael Miller, executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, told The Jewish Week Wednesday morning "As we speak, Arab and Jewish leaders are sitting around a table working on a joint statement. We are working together to ensure civility in the city in reaction to the tragic events of the Middle East."
Said Howie Katz, director of the Anti-Defamation League’s New York region: "We’re very concerned that the violence in Israel and the Mideast may be spreading to New York. Tensions are really high."
On Sunday, the second day of Rosh HaShanah, Boris Elkon, 50, said he was attacked on his way home from ritual tashlich ceremony by a man who said he was a Palestinian and told him to "get out of here." Elkon was slashed with a box-cutter and received two stitches at Maimonides Medical Center before being released. The attack took place on Eighth Avenue in Sunset Park, which borders the Orthodox enclave of Borough Park.
In another incident Monday, an Orthodox man said he was harassed by a group waving Palestinian flags on a Brooklyn-bound F train. The men may have been returning from a demonstration that took place outside the Israeli Consulate in Midtown Monday morning. The man said he was pushed off the train at the Forth Hamilton station.
The Police Department’s Bias Crime task Force is investigating those reports, but no suspects had been arrested as of Wednesday morning.
In a third incident, a school bus bearing Yiddish markings was torched Sunday night outside a yeshiva run by the Vizhnitzer chasidic movement. Police reportedly have not found evidence of a bias crime in that incident.
But Borough Park Assemblyman Dov Hikind said his office had been inundated by calls either reporting incidents of bias or offering information about previous acts.
"They all told stories involving Palestinians and anti-Semitic threats of death," said Hikind. "People said they personally witnessed this stuff." Hikind said he forwarded the messages to the police.
"There are a lot of Arabs living in proximity to many Jewish neighborhoods and we generally have not had any problems," said Hikind. "All of this happened in the past couple of days."
Hikind said he was not acquainted with Muslim clerics or community leaders in his neighborhood, and had not reached out to any of them as of Tuesday but would seek to do so. He said he was troubled by a TV report featuring an angry Palestinian woman standing near a local mosque who said that if she had a gun, she would use it against local Jews.
Participants in Wednesday’s meeting included representatives from major Jewish organizations such as the UJA-Federation, the JCRC, ADL and American Jewish Congress as well as the New York Board of Rabbis. Arab-American participants included Husam Rimaii, president of the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, Brooklyn; Dr. Rami Ramadan, president of the Arab American Council; Imam Ezekiel Pasha of the Malcolm Shabazz Mosque in Harlem and Dr Abdel Mesbah, president of the Association of Middle Eastern Affairs, according to a list provided by a City Hall source.
Hikind, who has been feuding with the mayor, was not invited to the meeting.
The JCRC’s Miller said his group has a long history of working with the Arab American Family Support Center in Brooklyn and the Pakistani American Federation of New York.
Borough Park Councilman Noach Dear said he had been in touch with the mayor and top police officials and was confident the incidents were being taken seriously.
"Law enforcement officials will do everything they can to protect the community and will not tolerate any type of bias crime," said Dear in a statement.
On Tuesday, Giuliani issued an appeal for "all New Yorkers to not engage in a sense of group blame against Jewish people, which becomes anti-Semitism, which is vile and horrible, but also not to engage in group blame against Palestinians just because some might be behaving violently."
The mayor also promised swift action against the perpetrators. "We’ll make every effort to catch the people responsible for the attacks and make an example out of them." Giuliani said. "The American Jewish Congress condemned the reported attacks as the work of "a few desperate individuals … seeking to bring the current Mideast crisis to the streets of New York."