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Prominent Jewish journalist assaulted at ultra-Orthodox Brooklyn virus protest

A prominent Haredi journalist was assaulted on Wednesday while covering his community’s protests against New York coronavirus shutdowns that largely target the city’s Orthodox Jewish neighborhoods.

Jacob Kornbluh, a political reporter for Jewish Insider and a member of the ultra-Orthodox community, was chased and repeatedly hit by a large group of demonstrators who apparently blamed him for highlighting community infractions of coronavirus restrictions.

Videos posted to social media from the second night of protests showed a large crowd, at first surrounding Korbluh, and chanting “moser,” or “informer.” Then as he tried to leave they pushed, shoved, hit and cursed him.

The incident was apparently instigated by Harold “Heshy” Tischler, an Orthodox Jewish activist and Brooklyn City Council candidate, who has been leading the protests.

“I was just brutally assaulted, hit in the head, and kicked at by an angry crowd of hundreds of community members of the Boro Park protest — while yelling at me “Nazi” and “Hitler” —after Heshy Tischler recognized me and ordered the crowd to chase me down the street,” Kornbluh tweeted, adding that he was filing charges against Tischler.

New York Congressman Jerry Nadler condemned the incident: “While this may be a small minority within a small community, it is disgusting and those responsible must be held to account for such violence.”

Anti-Defamation League chief Jonathan Greenblatt also condemned the attack,

“Violence and incitement are inexcusable,” he said. “Differences should be settled by exchanges of ideas. The Jewish community must strive for civility and dialogue.”

Kornbluh is the second Jewish journalist to be attacked while covering the protests.

On Tuesday night, crowds of young men held a raucous protest in the heavily Orthodox neighborhood of Borough Park, setting masks on fire and blocking a city bus. One member of the community who was taking a video of the protest was beaten unconscious and taken to the hospital.

It’s not the first time Kornbluh has raised the ire of the community for highlighting coronavirus infractions, after reporting in April on a synagogue that was operating despite the lockdown.

Kornbluh and two other community members were targetted in fliers put up around the neighborhood declaring them “mosrim,” informers who betray fellow Jews to secular authorities. Some who shared the flyer on Twitter even quoted the medieval Jewish philosopher Maimonides, who wrote that it’s permissible to kill a moser.

The insular ultra-Orthodox community frequently tries to intimidate ultra-Orthodox Jews who speak out about internal problems.

Mesirah – literally “handing over” in Hebrew – is considered a serious infraction in ultra-Orthodox communities, which typically prefer to handle sensitive issues internally. (One who is guilty of mesirah is a moser.) Whistleblowers who have sought to draw attention to the problem of sexual abuse in the ultra-Orthodox community, or to the lack of basic secular education, have been branded mosrim – a label that can lead to all manner of social banishment.

Wednesday night’s protests were the second night of protests amid anger and resentment in New York City neighborhoods facing new coronavirus shutdowns, with some residents saying the state is unfairly targeting Orthodox Jewish communities as it tries to stamp out hot spots before they spread.

Protests erupted in Brooklyn’s Borough Park neighborhood Tuesday night after Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced new restrictions on schools, businesses and houses of worship in some parts of the city and state. And frustration and grievances kept simmering the next day and into Wednesday night.

“I understand you need to wear a mask. I understand you social distance. What bothers me is: You pick on the good people,” said Brooklyn resident Meir Nimni.

He argued that Orthodox Jewish gatherings were being singled out for a clampdown, noting that huge crowds convened this spring for racial injustice protests where destruction and violence sometimes broke out.

“Everybody here wants to live, and everybody cares” about stopping the virus, Nimni said. But he saw a double standard that’s “just not fair.”

Rabbi David Zwiebel, executive vice president of an Orthodox Jewish umbrella organization called Agudath Israel of America, said the group was contemplating a court fight if the state wasn’t open to changing a new 10-person limit for houses of worship in areas where new coronavirus cases are most concentrated.

The restriction comes amid Jewish holiday of Sukkot. Many large events this season have already been canceled or rearranged, Zwiebel said, but the 10-person cap “would basically wipe out the entirety of the spirit of the holiday.”

“We are now, you know, on the precipice of an enormous sense of despair,” Zwiebel said.

Cuomo insists the new restrictions are based solely on science and coronavirus case clusters in areas that, in his view, have flouted the state’s existing virus-safety rules.

After becoming the nation’s deadliest coronavirus hot spot this spring, New York wrestled its outbreak down to a steady and relatively low level over the summer.

But infections have been rising in recent weeks, and hospitalizations are starting to follow. There has been an average of 659 COVID-19 patients in hospitals statewide over the past week, up from 426 for the week ending Sept 6, Cuomo said. During an early April peak, nearly 19,000 coronavirus patients were hospitalized statewide.

He said a few areas are disproportionately driving the worrisome trends, with over 5% of coronavirus tests coming back positive in 20 hot spot ZIP codes, compared with about 1.3% statewide.

In one Brooklyn ZIP code, 18% of everyone who has gotten a coronavirus test since Oct. 1 has tested positive, compared with a rate of about 3.9 percent citywide, according to city data.

The Democratic governor said wider “spread is inevitable” if the clusters don’t get under control.

“There’s always opposition. And we move forward anyways. And we’ll continue to do that,” he said on a conference call with reporters.

The new rules, set to take effect Friday, involve parts of Brooklyn and Queens in New York City, sections of Orange and Rockland counties in the Hudson Valley and an area within Binghamton, near the Pennsylvania border. Many of the areas are home to large enclaves of Orthodox Jews.

The plan sets up color-coded, concentric zones where the severity of the measures varies. In the hearts of the hot spots, schools can’t teach in person, and all nonessential businesses will be closed, among other measures. Surrounding areas face less stringent restrictions, such as limits on gatherings and restaurant diners.

Criticism sharpened into street protests Tuesday night, when videos posted on social media showed hundreds of Orthodox Jewish men gathered in the streets of Borough Park, in some cases setting bonfires by burning masks.

Video posted on social media showed a crowd swarming and knocking down a man holding a camera. Another video showed protesters rushing another man who had been filming the unrest, and pummeling him. A relative told The Associated Press he was taken to the hospital unconscious but was doing “much better” Wednesday and was expected to be released. The relative spoke on the condition of anonymity for fear of reprisals.

Police said there were no arrests.

Header: Members of the Jewish Orthodox community speak with NYPD officers on a street corner, Wednesday, Oct. 7, 2020, in the Borough Park neighborhood of the Brooklyn borough of New York. Gov. Andrew Cuomo moved to reinstate restrictions on businesses, houses of worship and schools in and near areas where coronavirus cases are spiking. Many neighborhoods that stand to be affected are home to large enclaves of Orthodox Jews. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

Source: TOI