Editorial: Responding to hate in Nassau, again

Originally published in The Island 360 on August 02, 2022.

The latest display of hate, bigotry and stupidity in Nassau County took place last week with the distribution of an antisemitic flyer to homes in Rockville Centre and Oceanside

One side of the flyer contained “The Protocols of the Learned Elders of Zion,” a fabricated antisemtic text purporting to describe a Jewish plan for global domination. Call it the Big Lie circa 1903.

The lies contained in the protocols have been used to whip up antisemitism for more than a century. Distillations of the work were assigned by some German teachers, as if factual, to be read by German schoolchildren after the Nazis came to power in 1933.

The other side of the flyer showed the photos of 12 presumably Jewish Biden administration officials with the Israeli flag beside each name.

The first part of the headline above the photos said “Let’s Go Brandon” – a political slogan for “F*** You Joe Biden. The second part of the headline said “Every Single Aspect of the Biden administration is Jewish.”

Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, who is Jewish, said at a press conference the poster is believed to have been distributed by the Goyim Defense League, a network of antisemitic internet trolls and conspiracy theorists using the Hebrew word for non-Jew in its title.

Blakeman, Gov. Kathy Hochul and other local officials swiftly condemned the fliers.

“The antisemitic trash being spread around Rockville Centre and Oceanside this week is just the latest in a long string of recent incidents impacting our community that is driven by antisemitism and hate,” said state Sen. Anna Kaplan, an Iranian Jew who immigrated to the United States. “We all need to stand together and send a strong message that we will never accept these groups or their shameful, un-American beliefs in our community.”

We have heard similar words from Kaplan and other officials in the past, but she is right.

Antisemitism and bigotry in word and deed must be confronted whenever it occurs. To do otherwise is to encourage its spread.

Unfortunately, this has not been consistently done in the face of antisemitism and other forms of bigotry in Nassau County.

So it was encouraging to hear Blakeman’s forceful response to the flyer distributed last week and the special legislative task force he formed in January to confront antisemitism.

Along with the causes and prevalence of county antisemitism, the task force has advocated preventative measures like community collaboration and education.

Blakeman, who served as the Nassau County Republican Party’s liaison to the Trump campaign, said Monday there was no place for hate in Nassau County.

“Let me tell you something, this is coming from the first Jewish county executive in Nassau County,” said Blakeman. “We will not tolerate that kind of hate speech.”

We were also encouraged to hear Nassau Count Police commissioner Patrick Ryder say the county police are collaborating with local authorities to find out who disseminated the flyer. He said that the Anti-Defamation League has contacted them and promised to help.

“It’s not accepted here in this county. We have zero tolerance for it,” he said. “And we’re going to do everything we can to make sure that there is an arrest.”

But neither Blakeman nor any other Nassau Republican has always expressed opposition to hate groups.

They said nothing in November 2021 when members of the Proud Boys, a right-wing extremist group known for violence and bigotry, marched without a permit down Sunrise Highway and into Rockville Centre. They then stormed stores shouting slogans and passing out flyers detailing the group’s fringe philosophies.

In May 2022, when the Proud Boys returned to Rockville Centre, Blakeman offered a relatively tepid response that did not mention the group’s name.

“There is no place in Nassau County for hate based on race, religion, or ethnicity,” Blakeman said.

Other Republicans were silent.

It is hard not to conclude that the Republicans’ silence had nothing to do with former President Donald Trump and his connection to the Proud Boys.

The Proud Boys rose to prominence in September 2020 when Trump was asked about his regularly encouraging white supremacist groups during a presidential debate.

He answered: “Proud Boys Stand back and stand by. Somebody has to do something about Antifa and the left.”

More than 40 members of the Proud Boys have been indicted in connection with the assault on the Capitol Jan. 6, among them several of its leaders who are now facing charges of seditious conspiracy.

The organization was also prominently featured at the first hearing of the Jan. 6 House Committee, which suggested that the Proud Boys played an instrumental part in fomenting the storming of the Capitol.

Members of the Proud Boys were pictured next to insurrectionists wearing T-shirts reading “6MNE” shorthand for 6 million is not enough and “Camp Auschwitz.”

Until Trump’s comments at the presidential debate, the Proud Boys were best known as one of the main participants in the “Unite the Right” protests in Charlottesville, Va. The protests were intended to block the removal of a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee, who led a war against the United States to preserve slavery.

They included a march in which tiki-torch carrying protesters chanted “Jews will not replace us” – shorthand for a conspiracy theory that Jews were behind the entry of brown people into this country in an effort to replace white workers.

Did the lack of a more forceful response by county Republicans to the Proud Boys’ two visits to Rockville Centre lead to the distribution of antisemitic flyers in Rockville Centre and Oceanside last week?

We don’t know.

But amid the rise in antisemitic acts and other forms of bigotry we are now seeing, silence is not acceptable.

We applaud Blakeman for forcefully speaking out against the flyer. We urge him and other Nassau Republicans to continue to do so even if it risks offending the party’s national leader and some of his supporters.