Yesterday, Senator Ted Cruz transformed himself into a knight in shining armor and rode to the defense of the Constitution. This wasn’t valiant so much as unnecessary, but we’ll get to that. In a letter to Attorney General William Barr, Cruz recommended that the Justice Department keep close tabs on New York City, where, he says, City Hall may well be discriminating against Jews.
From the Associated Press:
Texas GOP Sen. Ted Cruz is urging the Justice Department “to closely monitor New York City” for potential religious discrimination amid the pandemic after its mayor singled out “the Jewish community” following the breakup of a large gathering of Orthodox Jews.
I wrote about Mayor Bill De Blasio‘s Twitter outburst here.
In his letter,
Cruz lauded a Justice Department memo issued this week asking federal prosecutors to keep watch on state and local orders crafted to help stop the coronavirus that risk infringing on individuals’ civil liberties. [Cruz wondered] whether one faith “is being singled out for special burdens.”
“This is dangerous in and of itself,” Cruz, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee’s Constitution subcommittee, wrote to Barr. “But it is especially dangerous to single out the Jewish community in a city that is experiencing a substantial rise in violent anti-Semitism. The Department of Justice should not hesitate to closely monitor New York City to ensure that the mayor’s rhetoric does not translate into constitutional violations,” Cruz added.
In a relentlessly partisan political climate, this is one of the few times that politicians and pundits on the right are reaching for the high ground on the issue of anti-Semitism, by attacking a prominent Democrat. Usually that dynamic happens in the other direction, frequently with good reason.
Cruz’s letter makes no mention of the context of De Blasio’s remarks, but the backstory is simple. The mayor, who manages a city that has perhaps the highest number of COVID-19 deaths in the world, had grown upset over ultra-Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn continuing to gather in large numbers for cultural and religious reasons. The city government expects everyone in New York to heed the social-distancing guidelines; so when Hasids ignored the rules again on Tuesday, with a packed outdoor assembly to honor the just-deceased Rabbi Chaim Mertz, De Blasio took to Twitter to voice his exasperation. He announced that he’d instructed the NYPD to summons or arrest people in “the Jewish community, and all communities” who weren’t following the rules.
Subsequently, De Blasio got mobbed online by people who saw (or pretended to see, for political reasons) the mayor’s words as evidence of anti-Semitism and Nazi inclinations. He explained in a press conference that he’d meant no disrespect to Jews and that he’d spoken out “with love, but it was tough love.”
Conservative Jews and right-wing Christians are making common cause on the subject of COVID-related church and synagogue closings. They cried foul at the end of March — not completely unreasonably, for my money. Back then, De Blasio had warned religious violators that if they persisted, he might close down their houses of worship permanently. Cruz lambasted De Blasio after that warning, too, saying
“Who the hell are you to permanently shut a church or synagogue down?”
That was a defensible response. Mayors don’t have that kind of longterm power.
Cruz’s latest letter, on the other hand, is a just a bandwagon affair. He saw a chance to spin political hay from the mayor’s inartful tweet, and went for it. To the extent that it distracts City Hall from fighting the horrendous epidemic, it’s really not helping.
By the way, Ted Cruz has been repeatedly accused — spuriously, as far as I can tell — of anti-Semitism. It’s surely deeply unpleasant to have that charge thrown in your face by hyper-vigilant, grudge-nursing offense-takers. Too bad that Cruz has turned into one himself.
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