April 14, 2024
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Government Leaders Respond to Antisemitism On Yonkers Basketball Court

Scene of Roosevelt High School girls basketball player attack against Leffell Lions’ team.

On Thursday January 4, Yonkers’ Roosevelt High School girls basketball team forfeited their game with The Leffell School after a Roosevelt player made antisemitic slurs against Leffell. Some slurs allegedly included, “I support Hamas, you f—ing Jew.” After the incident, Yonkers’ girls basketball coach was fired and a player dismissed.

In a statement, Yonkers Public Schools Interim Superintendent Dr. Luis Rodriguez and Yonkers Mayor Mike Spano offered apologies from Yonkers Public Schools and the City of Yonkers to Leffell’s students and community. “We do not and will not tolerate hate speech of any kind from our students and community. The antisemitic rhetoric reportedly made against student-athletes of The Leffell School are abhorrent, inappropriate and not in line with values we set forth for our young people.”

The school’s immediate and ongoing investigations of game officials, coaches, students and school officials led to the dismissals. If other students were involved, further action would be taken by the district, where appropriate. Mayor Spano convened religious, educational and civic leaders, offering school and community counseling and training to prevent recurrences. The New York Post reported after Robin Bosworth, Leffell senior and basketball player described the incident in their school newspaper, recounting the game’s hostile environment. Some Leffell girls were injured. “Players on the opposing team started shouting ‘Free Palestine,’ other antisemitic slurs and curses at us.” Bosworth wrote. “Attacking a team because of their school’s religious association is never acceptable. Due to the current war in Israel and the world’s rise in antisemitism, this felt extremely personal to me and many members of my team.” The Post also noted Roosevelt Athletic Director Kyle Calabro’s apology to Leffell Head of School Michael Kay.

Westchester County Executive and Congressional Candidate George Latimer addressing high school basketball antisemitism.

In a letter to the state’s Board of Regents, Greenburgh Town Supervisor Paul Feiner wrote, “Reportedly, security guards were needed to escort the Hartsdale team safely off the court. As history has taught, silence from good people, particularly from leaders, can lead to horrendous consequences.” He called on the Regents to investigate this incident, whether actions of the Yonkers School District and High School were sufficiently keeping the Regent’s standards, to develop guidelines for codes of conduct required by the state’s Education Law, and to develop guidelines for school districts’ appropriate public responses and disciplinary actions for behavior on school grounds which subjects anyone to abuse and hate for one’s religion or ethnicity.

Westchester County Executive George Latimer stated:

During the course of that game, individuals on the Roosevelt side, as part of their effort to win and intimidate, used antisemitic chants and comments, tied into their strategy, a horrific example of hate speech. This type of thing we do not tolerate in Westchester County under any circumstances. We go through that process to make sure results are grounded in reality, not hearsay. We’ve been very clear, as a county government. We do not tolerate hatred under any circumstances. We do not tolerate antisemitism or racism, anti-Hispanic, anti-Asian, anti-LGBTQ community behavior or anything that involves a disability of an individual, the gender or gender identification of an individual. People have to be judged and treated as who they are, and the way they conduct themselves in an everyday setting. We’ve taken proactive steps with our Human Rights Commission and the County Youth Bureau, to open dialogue and promote understanding and discussion prior to hosting the Section One basketball tournament in February. We want to make sure players, staff and patrons understand we won’t tolerate any of that. We hope, as we get to the bottom of this incident, those who conducted themselves in an inappropriate way have the proper result come their way. We want to make sure it’s based on fully proper investigation and not just news reports. This is a troubling time. Under the guise of free speech, which we believe in, you have a right to express yourself. Hate speech has become part of the way we conduct ourselves and is not acceptable. We’re going to work for positive results in this case because youth basketball was involved. Your age does not allow you to behave in a different way than we expect you to behave as an adult in this society. We’re all expected to show proper maturity and respect to each other.

These sentiments were echoed by the Westchester County Board of Legislators. In their statement, the board reiterated its commitment to Westchester County’s diversity and youth. “We will not tolerate hate in any form.”

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