update deskU.S. News

As antisemitic mobs attack, Jewish leaders call to ban masks in New York

"We should not descend to this chaos and allow any tolerance for this disgusting, abhorrent behavior," says Gov. Kathy Hochul.

Anti-Israel activists rally outside the New School in Manhattan, April 25, 2024. Credit: rblfmr/Shutterstock.
Anti-Israel activists rally outside the New School in Manhattan, April 25, 2024. Credit: rblfmr/Shutterstock.

New York is seeing calls to prohibit masks and implement a mask ban similar to the kind that helped combat the Ku Klux Klan decades ago.

With the number of antisemitic and anti-Israel incidents sharply rising across New York City, many Jewish leaders as well as some non-Jewish politicians have begun to call for the reinstatement of the “anti-mask” ban that was in place in New York until 2020, when it was repealed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

New York State Assemblyman Mike Reilly (R-Staten Island) posted on X, “As calls grow to reinstate the mask ban, I want to remind you that Republicans have been advocating to do this since 2021.”

Reilly began the process of re-introducing the ban nearly one month ago when he introduced a bill in the state legislature.

“I was among those who warned that its repeal would be abused by criminals and those looking to cause mischief,” Reilly continued “That’s exactly what played out during the chaotic and sometimes violent protests at Columbia and New York University (NYU), which is why I introduced legislation, A10043, that would outlaw the deceptive wearing of masks at protests and other public assemblies.

“The State Legislature left Albany without completing its work. I implore Governor Kathy Hochul to immediately convene a special session so that lawmakers can pass my bill and bring us one step closer towards the restoration of public safety.”

In an interview with the New York Post, Scott Richman, regional director for the Anti-Defamation League, said, “A mask law will make a difference. It effectively tanked the Ku Klux Klan. Nobody wanted their face to be seen.”

The governor

Support for the idea of reintroducing the mask ban has reached the highest levels of the state’s government. Governor Kathy Hochul said during an interview on CNN on Wednesday night, “There was a ban on masks before the pandemic that you couldn’t have face coverings that didn’t serve a purpose. For example, a surgical mask for someone who is elderly or ill—the pandemic removed that from our state law. It was repealed at the time, but I absolutely will go back and take a look at this and see whether it can be restored because it is frightening to people.”

The governor then addressed the video that has been making its way around social media showing a kaffiyeh-wearing mob walk onto a New York subway car and threaten “Zionists” with violence, demanding that they get off the train. 

“You’re sitting on a subway train and someone puts on a mask like this and comes in—you don’t know if they’re going to be committing a crime, they’re going to have a gun, or whether they’re just going to be threatening or intimidating you because you are Jewish, which is exactly what happened the other day. Absolutely unacceptable in the State of New York,” Hochul said.

Attacks involving masked people threatening Jews have taken place recently at the Brooklyn Museum, on public transportation including MTA trains, and the Nova music festival exhibit in the city’s financial district.

Following the protest at the Nova exhibit, Mayor Eric Adams posted a three-minute video on social media in which he promised to arrest any protesters who break the law and said that since Oct. 8, the New York City Police Department has made more than 2,850 arrests at Israel- and Gaza-related protests.

Another Jewish leader in NYC, Mark Treyger, the head of the Jewish Community Relations Council, posted on his social media accounts, “There is vile and antisemitic hate graffiti on the streets of NYC in 2024. These are intentional and incendiary messages of intimidation and hate targeting Jewish people—that are part of a larger strategy to normalize antisemitism and disassociate Jewish identity from everyday life—which is literally a page out of the Nazi playbook. Law enforcement must hold those responsible accountable to the fullest extent.” 

The N.Y. mask ban would prohibit groups from covering their faces in public and carry with it a 15-day jail sentence for violators.

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