(JTA) — Thomas Lopez-Pierre wants you to know he cares about Jews. That’s why the New York City Council candidate removed the phrase “greedy Jewish landlords” from his campaign materials.
But if you’re Jewish, he said, you do need to stand up to those landlords. Otherwise, you’re just like Germans who allowed the Holocaust to happen.
“Good Germans looked the other way as German Jews were carted off by the Nazis,” he said. “In the same way, New York Jews look the other way as Jewish landlords engage in racial economic cleansing in New York City.”
Was he really equating gentrification in Harlem to the Holocaust? Of course not, he said. Comparing those things is far too tricky.
“I’m not comparing the damage that was done to each particular group, because we would be here for a lifetime trying to weigh which one is worse,” he said.
Lopez-Pierre is running a primary campaign against Democratic City Council member Mark Levine, who since 2014 has represented a district covering much of West Harlem in Upper Manhattan. Bashing “greedy Jewish landlords” used to be at the center of Lopez-Pierre’s campaign. He defended the term at length in April in the face of a media firestorm, accusing Jewish landlords of committing “ethnic cleansing” of Black and Latino residents of upper Manhattan.
Recently, Lopez-Pierre says he’s had a change of heart. He stopped using the “greedy Jewish landlords” term, because Jews told him it was stereotyping and offensive. He even made a video about the decision in front of Ramath Orah, a modern Orthodox synagogue on Manhattan’s Upper West Side.
But don’t worry! He still believes everything he believed in April.
That much was made clear to me in my bizarre, 20-minute phone conversation Tuesday with Lopez-Pierre. His sensitivity to anti-Semitism and Jewish concerns might extend to his campaign slogans, but it doesn’t go further.
“Jewish landlords target black and Latino neighborhoods with money from Israel to exploit, for greed, the displacement of black and Latino tenants in New York City as a whole,” he said.
Later, he added, “You can’t focus on the individual. Too many landlords of Jewish descent own real estate in black and Latino communities, and they are focused on horrible, horrible racism and ethnic cleansing.”
He still uses a photo of two guys wearing kippot and guilty expressions as his Twitter wallpaper (the photo was taken at a 2016 court appearance by three New York landlords And his Twitter bio hasn’t actually changed all that much. It used to say, “Jewish landlords OWN 80% of private rental buildings in Upper Manhattan; GUILTY of GREED for pushing Black/Hispanic tenants out.”
Here’s what it says now:
“(((Greedy landlords))) in Upper Manhattan; GUILTY of GREED for pushing Black/Hispanic tenants out.”
In case you’ve been blissfully ignorant of Twitter for the past year, those triple parentheses, called “echoes,” are used by white supremacists to identify Jews online. Lopez-Pierre says he didn’t know that. But he also says that he did kind of know that, and used the parentheses to get media coverage.
“You’re saying you were OK using an anti-Semitic dog-whistle to get press attention?” I asked him.