Revisiting Governor Cuomo’s Hostility Towards Orthodox Jews In Light of His “Fucking Tree Houses” Comment – Reason.com

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Revisiting Governor Cuomo’s Hostility Towards Orthodox Jews In Light of His “Fucking Tree Houses” Comment – Reason.com

Today the New York Times published a detailed profile of New York Governor Andrew Cuomo. One passage offers an unvarnished look at Cuomo’s animus towards Orthodox Jews.

[Cuomo] could also curb the outrage of the electoral campaign and be particularly angry about an event celebrating Sukkot, the Jewish harvest holiday, when believers gather outdoors under makeshift shelters of branches and greenery. “These people and their damn tree houses” According to one person who witnessed it and another person who was notified of his comments at the time, Cuomo reached out to his team. (The spokesman denied both incidents, adding, “His two sisters married Jewish men and he has the highest respect for Jewish traditions.”)

I have five general reactions to this passage. First, I am generally skeptical of anonymous press reports from Republican politicians. But I take the negative coverage of Democrats in an institution like the Times far more seriously. The editors wouldn’t slip up with a quote like that. In addition, federal courts routinely quoted anonymous press reports about President Trump. Do you remember the comment “shit countries”? Under TrumpLaw (which may have expired on Jan. 20) that statement would be a fair game to understand Cuomo’s animus. At least for the purposes of this post, I’ll assume the comment is correct.

Second, a brief background of the vacation. Sukkot, also known as the Feast of Tabernacles, is celebrated every fall in honor of the harvest. During this week-long vacation, Jews eat all of their meals in a tent-like structure known as a sukkah. Often branches are placed over the roofs of these structures. Hence the comment “damn tree houses”. Here, Cuomo mocks and mocks one of the most beautiful traditions of the Jewish people.

Third, when Cuomo said “these people,” he was almost certainly referring to Orthodox Jews. Orthodox Jews will have all meals in the sukkah throughout the week. They build sukkahs in their backyards. In Brooklyn, where space is limited, sukkahs are built on balconies. One must be able to see the stars in the sukkah, so there must be a clear line of sight to the sky. It can get pretty cold in New York in the fall. But people hold on. In my experience, non-Orthodox Jews build a sukkah near the temple for ceremonial purposes, but don’t actually eat outside – especially not in the cold. (That was the experience in my temple of reform growing up. Correct me if I’m wrong.) I suspect Cuomo was invited to eat in an Orthodox sukkah in cold weather and protested.

Fourth, let’s just switch the facts for a moment. What would happen if Cuomo referred to a group of African Americans as “those people” and protested their ceremony in a “damn tree house”? Does anyone think they are still in office?

Fifth, the speaker’s response is all too typical. “His two sisters married Jewish men and he has the utmost respect for Jewish traditions.” This is the anti-Semitic form of “I have a lot of black friends!” This comment does not prove anything. You can have a sister who marries a Jew and is still hostile to Jews. In addition, both of Cuomo’s sisters married non-Orthodox men who are unlikely to eat in “damn tree houses”.

The Jewish people are not monolithic. As the old saying goes, “Two Jews, three opinions.” Today the gap between Orthodox and non-Orthodox Jews is quite wide. I don’t think Cuomo has any animus towards non-Orthodox Jews. This group reliably votes democratically and shares the general values ​​of secular society. I think rather that Cuomo has animus towards Orthodox Jews. This group reliably votes conservatively and has habits and rituals that clash with secular orthodoxy. Most recently, they were unable to attend church services on Zoom. Cuomo has long viewed Orthodox Jews in a transactional way: a simple voting bloc to negotiate with, just like a Union negotiating unit. But now we know what he really thinks of “those people” in “damn tree houses”.

Cuomo’s comment “Fucking Tree People” sheds more light on his infamous October 8 press conference. The second circle summarized its remarks in a helpful way.

Prior to the Order’s enactment, the governor made public statements indicating that the restrictions were partly motivated by concerns about religious gatherings. For example, he noted that the source of the first coronavirus hotspot in New York was “an Orthodox Jewish man who went to a temple” and noted that “Orthodox Jewish gatherings are often very, very large and we saw which person can do in a group. “The governor then said that he would meet with members of the” ultra-Orthodox ” [Jewish] Community, “and if they” don’t agree to enforce the rules, then we will close the institutions. “A day later, he issued the order. Three days after the order was issued, the governor stated that it was” primarily addressed to an “ultra-Orthodox cluster.” Five days later, he said the state had “problems in the Orthodox Jewish community in New York, where because of their religious practices … we are seeing a spread. “He said that state enforcement is necessary because the” ultra-Orthodox communities … are also very politically powerful.

During the governor’s presentation, he added a slide with “Super Spreader” events. It included a photo of Jews in black hats at a mass gathering. Cuomo said the photos were “from the past few weeks”.

However, the photos used were not new. Not even close. One of the photos is from the funeral of the Hassidic Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum in 2006. And the photo wasn’t even from New York City. It was recorded in the Orange County village of Kiryas Joel, where there was a famous Supreme Court case regarding the free exercise clause. The governor’s staff simply found clip art of Jews gathering. The governor’s spokesman blamed a “personnel error”.

Regrettably, Governor Cuomo played on ancient, deeply rooted, and painful anti-Semitic tropes: that Jews spread disease. Over the centuries, Jewish communities have been scapegoated as super-spreaders of “Jewish” diseases such as bubonic plague, tuberculosis, and typhus. This stereotype had led to a series of anti-Semitic attacks during a 2019 measles outbreak in New York. Cuomo could also be understood to mean that Jews are controlled by their rabbis and that Jews are outsiders who should be held responsible for social problems. These tropics are harmful and are a reminder of painful times for the Jewish people.

On October 8th, I wrote a post entitled “Understanding Governor Cuomo’s Hostility Towards Jews.” I stated that Cuomo’s press conference showed hostility towards Orthodox Jews. My contribution was well received in the Orthodox community. I received a lot of emails from people I didn’t know who said I articulated how the Orthodox community saw the then unstoppable governor. The reaction of non-Orthodox Jews was very diverse. They wrote that I do not understand anti-Semitism, that Cuomo is a dear friend of the Jews and that the Orthodox Jewish people deserve to be honored for non-compliance with the COVID protocols.

The “Fucking Tree House” comment should give my critics a break. Cuomo is a friend of some Jews, but not all Jews. For what I’m worth, the Anti-Defamation League gave Cuomo the highest award in June 2020. At close of business, however, neither the ADL nor its President said a word on Cuomo’s remarks. I will have a lot more to say about ADL and anti-Semitism in due course.