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.
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, the passage of New York’s bail reform law in 2019 led authorities that December to more or less empty the jails of those being held without bail in anticipation of its implementation on January 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 timing was also particularly troubling because it coincided with a wave of antisemitic 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. She was not committed to a hospital, but 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.
Recently, Jews in the Riverdale section of the Bronx 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.
In the days after Burnette’s release, the Anti-Defamation League, which continues to pose as the defender of the Jewish community against antisemitism, 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.
The reason for this is that 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, the ADL would have linked it to Trump and given 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. It 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.