Politicians condemn anti-Semitism after Hanukkah attack: 'A crisis of hate'

Saturday's incident comes after a string of violent attacks on Jewish communities in New York and around the country.
Image: New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks at a press conference outside the home of Rabbi Chaim L. Rottenberg after a machete attack during a Hanukkah gathering at the home in Monsey on Dec. 29, 2019.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks at a press conference outside the home of Rabbi Chaim L. Rottenberg after a machete attack during a Hanukkah gathering at the home in Monsey on Dec. 29, 2019.Kena Betancur / AFP - Getty Images

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By Dartunorro Clark

Lawmakers on both sides condemned the rise of anti-Semitic attacks in America after a man stabbed five people at a Hanukkah celebration late Saturday night in New York — the latest violent attack on people of the Jewish faith.

"We have a crisis of hate and intolerance that is only getting worse, and it's all across this country. Hate is the new currency in this nation," New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, told MSNBC on Monday. "And it is an intolerance and an ignorance that is demonizing our differences: race, sexual orientation, religion."

Five people were injured Saturday after a knife-wielding man barged into Rabbi Chaim L. Rottenberg's home in Monsey, New York, home to a Hasidic Jewish community. Grafton Thomas, 37, was arrested in New York City hours after the attack and on Monday slapped with federal hate crimes charges. Authorities said they found handwritten journals containing anti-Semitic writings in Thomas' home.

Saturday's assault comes after a string of violent attacks on Jewish communities in New York and around the country, including a shooting at a kosher grocery store in Jersey City, New Jersey, which left three people dead, including two Hasidic Jews. New York City officials deployed officers to several neighborhoods with majority Jewish residents following the recent attacks.

Cuomo called Saturday's violence an act of "domestic terrorism."

Earlier this year, the NYPD announced that the number of hate crimes in the city jumped 64 percent in 2019, largely fueled by a major spike in attacks on Jews. The department said it recorded 184 hate crimes through June 2 — up from 112 in 2018 — during a period in which the city experienced a sustained decline in overall crimes.

New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio told MSNBC on Monday that anti-Semitism is a "growing crisis" in the nation and explained that the city is offering resources to Jewish communities in the area, including an increased police presence, meetings with leaders of all faiths and adding education about bias to the public school curriculum in some Jewish neighborhoods.

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"I don't see this as just an isolated incident. I see this as a growing crisis that needs to be addressed right down to the foundational level of how we educate our young people and how we bring our communities together to fight hate in common," he said. "We take every hate crime seriously."

The Rev. Al Sharpton also held a press conference at the National Action Network with Black and Jewish leaders to voice outrage at the attack.

“You can't fight hate against you unless you are willing to fight hate against everyone else,” Sharpton said.

Speaking to reporters in New York, Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said it was "time for action" over words and called on the federal government "to strengthen its hand in helping houses of worship defend themselves."

"The current state of hate in America has become a national crisis," he said. "The Monsey attack on the Jewish community was cowardly, callous, calculated" and part of "a rash of attacks on houses of worship of all kinds."

The New York Democrat called for Congress to quadruple the amount of money it spends on the nonprofit security grant program, which provides funding for houses of worship to hire security guards or fund other defensive initiatives. He predicted the move would have “broad bipartisan support.”

“Go to any state, and there will have been violence against a church, a synagogue, a mosque,” Schumer said.

In a Sunday afternoon tweet, Trump called the attack "horrific" and urged the country to confront hate.

"The anti-Semitic attack in Monsey, New York, on the 7th night of Hanukkah last night is horrific. We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism. Melania and I wish the victims a quick and full recovery," he tweeted.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a tweet Sunday she was "heartbroken and deeply disturbed" by the stabbing and the other recent anti-Semitic attacks in the tri-state area. "We must condemn and confront anti-Semitism and all forms of bigotry and hate wherever & whenever we see them," she said.

Republican leaders also expressed shock and condemned the attack.

"Another horrifying anti-Semitic attack. Another terrible reminder that the fight against hate and bigotry, especially anti-Semitism, is far from finished, even right here at home," Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said in a tweet Sunday. "My condolences go out to the victims of last night’s attack in Monsey."

The president's daughter and adviser Ivanka Trump called the attack "an act of pure evil" in a tweet Sunday.

"The vicious attack of a rabbi in Monsey, NY last night was an act of pure evil. As we pray for the victims, may the candles of Chanukah burn bright through this darkness," she said.

Ken Cuccinelli, Trump's acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, received backlash after he claimed, without evidence, in a tweet Monday that Thomas was the "son of an illegal alien who got amnesty under the 1986 amnesty law for illegal immigrants."

"Apparently, American values did not take hold among this entire family, at least this one violent, and apparently bigoted, son," he added.