(May 4, 2021 / JNS) For those who think that the cause of social justice is not merely an element integral to Judaism but its main focus, this is a heady time. The Black Lives Matter movement and ideas like critical race theory have moved from the margins to the political mainstream. The notion that our societal goal should be “equity” rather than equality has given new impetus to measures designed to throw out those practices that can be represented as somehow disadvantaging minorities, even if it was not the result of racial discrimination.
Liberal Jews have been in the vanguard of such efforts and believe that what they are doing is the highest expression of Jewish values. In pursuing “equity,” however, they have ignored not only the best interests of the intended objects of their sympathies but that of others, too. Intersectional ideology and the obsession with rooting out “white privilege” have given a permission slip to anti-Semites to target Israel and its supporters and to falsely label Jews as part of an oppressor class. These woke zealots have also enabled measures with far-reaching consequences that have put at risk the safety of the Jewish community.
One such example was the decision of the state of New York’s legislature to pass a so-called “bail reform” law. The measure was based on the idea that a requirement for bail for those awaiting trial led to far too many individuals being stuck in jail. Such people, who were innocent until proven guilty, were unable to buy their way out of jail by posting a bond assuring authorities that they would show up for their day in court to receive whatever justice the judicial system could offer them.
The fact that many, if not most, of those facing this dilemma were African-Americans as well as being poor convinced many on the left that the system had to be changed. Getting rid of bail became a cause associated with the general desire for criminal justice reform in order to alter a situation in which far too many minorities were imprisoned.
While this effort may have been well-intentioned, its proponents were guilty of being so focused on creating more equity that they ignored why it is that societies have criminal justice systems and jails in the first place: to protect innocent citizens from criminals.
The passage of New York’s bail reform law in 2019 led authorities to more or less empty the jails in December of that year of those being held without bail in anticipation of its implementation on Jan. 1, 2020. Rather than leading to more justice, the only immediate result was more crime. Most of those stuck in jail were, in fact, repeat offenders, and when released went back to committing crimes. The result was a surge in violence that New York City’s Police Commissioner rightly attributed to the new bail law.
The overwhelming majority of those impacted by that crime wave were, of course, minorities whose neighborhoods were made less safe. But leftist advocates of equity weren’t interested. Throughout 2020 and especially after the death of George Floyd in May 2020, they were focused solely on demonizing the police for targeting African-Americans for death though statistical evidence debunked their claims.
The timing was also particularly troubling because it coincided with a wave of anti-Semitic crimes in which Orthodox Jews were largely targeted by African-American assailants in the greater New York area. Indeed, one such perpetrator, a woman named Tiffany Harris, who had been jailed repeatedly for committing assaults against Orthodox Jewish women, was freed again and again. She would successfully claim to be mentally ill. That enabled her to go free without any jail time or being committed to a hospital, and instead just to a course of outpatient treatment. The bail law only enabled her to attack more victims. That may have been justice for the criminal but not for the community she terrorized.
The bail law also had terrible consequences because it didn’t give judges the right to keep violent criminals in jail. The same applies to those who commit hate crimes as New Yorkers were just reminded.
Last month, Jews in the Riverdale section of the Bronx, N.Y., were forced to endure a spate of violent attacks on their synagogues. Between April 23 and April 25, seven different late-night incidents occurred in which an individual later identified as Jordan Burnette, a 29-year-old African-American, threw rocks shattering windows and doors of several synagogues. In one case, he was confronted by volunteers who turned out to defend their shul, and he threw rocks at them before fleeing.
When he was finally caught and arrested, a judge was forced to let him go free.
The Jewish community is understandably upset by this result, leading many to call for a revision to the bail law that would make an exception for hate crimes. But the woke majority of New York’s legislature resisted previous calls to amend the law last year as crime rose in the months leading up to the pandemic lockdown. There’s no reason to believe that they will listen now.
As Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center told JNS the danger is clear. “Change the no-bail laws or New York may become the next Paris! New York must not allow hate-mongers to attack houses of worship with impunity,” he said. “Twenty years ago, we witnessed similar scenarios occur in France, where judges refused to hold those who vandalized synagogues accountable. That soon escalated to fire-bombings violence and even murder.”
The problem is that those who have taken the lead in promoting measures like bail reform in the name of social justice not only drew no conclusions from the dismal results of this legislation with respect to the rest of society, they are also unmoved by the way it endangered Jews.
In the days after Burnette’s release, the Anti-Defamation League, which continues to pose as the defender of the Jewish community against anti-Semitism, said nothing about the case. Since his release, both the group and its CEO, Jonathan Greenblatt, found time to publicly advocate for Facebook to continue its ban on posts from former President Donald Trump and to claim that American police were engaging in “systemic racism” against African-Americans. Although they raise massive funds from liberal donors by seeking to depict Jews as under siege from hate crimes, they were mum about the way those who committed such crimes have benefited from bail reform.
The reason for this is that Jordan Burnette is not the kind of anti-Semite that interests the ADL.
We know that had he been a right-wing extremist, the attacks on synagogues in Riverdale would have been considered a threat to all Jews. Whether or not there was evidence for it, they would have linked it to Trump and Greenblatt fodder for more lectures about white supremacists in which he would have analogized the shattered glass of Riverdale synagogues to Kristallnacht. But since Burnette didn’t fit into that scenario, the ADL has remained silent about a Jewish community being terrorized and then having to endure the sight of their assailant sent back out onto the street.
The shame here goes deeper than the way the ADL has betrayed its mandate. That is merely a symptom of a broader problem in which liberals have sacrificed Jewish security on the altar of woke politics and maintaining alliances with allies like race-baiter Al Sharpton. Doing so doesn’t merely tie them to radical causes that undermine law enforcement and falsely label America as an irredeemably racist nation. It also leads them to treat attacks on Jews by those who can’t be tied to their partisan opponents as something to be minimized or ignored so as to avoid having to confront the consequences of their ideological choices. “Bail reform” hasn’t just hurt New Yorkers. It exposed the Jewish left’s willingness to treat Jewish security as an afterthought.
Jonathan S. Tobin is editor in chief of JNS—Jewish News Syndicate. Follow him on Twitter at: @jonathans_tobin.
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