Department of Justice letter argues that Bill de Blasio is being unfairly strict with social distancing for Orthodox Jews


(JTA) – A top Justice Department official sent a letter to New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio last week that claims the mayor has enforced uneven social distancing rules that “favor certain secular gatherings and disfavor religious gatherings.”

The letter, which was shared Tuesday by Agudath Israel, an organization representing haredi Orthodox Jews, specifically cited the mayor’s focus on dispersing Jewish community gatherings.

“During the period in which all gatherings were banned, you reportedly sent police officers to break up numerous gatherings of the Jewish community in New York, including reported outdoor gatherings for funerals,” the letter reads.

In April, de Blasio took heat for directing a tweet at “the Jewish community” after a funeral that drew thousands to the streets of Brooklyn. Dozens of Jewish organizations condemned de Blasio’s tweet, accusing him of “scapegoating” the entire community.

The letter, which was sent Friday, accuses de Blasio of being more lenient with secular gatherings, such as the George Floyd protests. The letter came as Orthodox camp directors are suing Governor Andrew Cuomo for closing sleepaway camps and three Orthodox Jews have sued Cuomo and other New York officials over restrictions imposed on houses of worship.

Agudath Israel praised the letter, accusing the mayor of applying a “double standard” in New York City.

“Agudath Israel of America appreciates the Department of Justice’s acknowledgement of this issue and for calling out the incongruous behavior of Mayor de Blasio,” they wrote in a press release Tuesday.

The letter was signed by Eric Dreiband, assistant attorney general for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division.

“Your recent statements and actions have raised substantial concerns about New York City’s commitment to evenhanded application of robust First Amendment protections,” Dreiband wrote to de Blasio.

Geoffrey Berman, the former U.S. attorney for Manhattan who was abruptly dismissed over the weekend, apparently refused to sign the letter, a move which contributed to his dismissal, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Once an ally of the city’s Orthodox communities, De Blasio has been the subject of several protests organized by Orthodox Jews in recent weeks. Last week, Orthodox lawmakers led protests calling on the mayor to open New York City’s playgrounds and later cut the chains off the playgrounds themselves. Another group of protesters gathered Monday night near Gracie Mansion, the official mayoral residence, to protest the lack of action over fireworks being set off every night in Brooklyn.

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