(Photo: Robert Kalfus/Vos Iz Neias)
From the halls of renowned academic institutions to the steps of New York’s City Hall, calls for the resignation of New York Police Department (NYPD) chief Ray Kelly have only grown louder in recent weeks. The demands for Kelly’s resignation come in response to the torrent of revelations published by the Associated Press in recent months that exposed the NYPD’s program of spying on Muslims.
But Kelly hasn’t budged, and it’s hard to imagine Mayor Michael Bloomberg giving him the boot. Kelly’s allies are powerful, Bloomberg among them. And one influential group, the mainstream Jewish establishment, has also lined up behind Kelly.
In recent weeks, prominent Jewish institutions and figures have come out strongly for the NYPD and Kelly. The support exists despite the AP revelations that show, among other things, that the NYPD spied on people solely for practicing Islam and that the NYPD traveled to schools as far away as Yale to infiltrate Muslim student groups.
“Those statements of support from Jewish institutions are just playing into fear,” said Marjorie Dove Kent, the executive director of the grassroots group Jews for Racial and Economic Justice (JFREJ). JFREJ is a member of the coalition group Jews Against Islamophobia, which also includes Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews Say No!
The most robust defense of Kelly was an Op-Ed published last month in The Jewish Week. The three authors, top officials for the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, wrote that Kelly was the best police commissioner the city had ever seen.
They praised the NYPD’s focus on Iran as a potential threat to the city, and said that “no evidence has been presented that NYPD Intelligence Division investigations violated” federal court-sanctioned guidelines for the NYPD’s counter-terrorism work. And as Kent notes, the fear of terrorism is a driving force behind the defense of Kelly; the Op-Ed specifically cites the foiled “Riverdale bomb plot” as one case where the NYPD’s prowess was demonstrated, despite evidence that the suspects in that case were entrapped. The JCRC officials also assert that “Jews are in the crosshairs and the NYPD understands it, plans for it and watches out for our community.”
The JCRC’s Op-Ed was followed weeks later by Senator Chuck Schumer’s defense of Kelly, which was amplified in a New York Daily News editorial. “There is nothing wrong with the NYPD collecting and assessing publicly available information from New York, New Jersey, the other 48 states or around the world in the effort to prevent another terror attack like 9/11,” said Schumer. “Looking at public information and following leads is perfectly acceptable as long as any one group, in its entirety, is not targeted based only on its religious or ethnic affiliation.”
The JCRC’s insistence that the NYPD follows federal guidelines has been disputed. And recent evidence has emerged that show that the NYPD focused on Muslims, and Muslims only–evidence that contradicts Bloomberg’s past statements.
The JCRC did not return requests for comment. But one important reason for the JCRC’s support is that the NYPD’s spying operation has focused on the alleged Iranian and Palestinian threat to Jewish institutions in New York City. The AP reported that an internal police memo published in 2006 recommended “increasing surveillance of thousands of Shiite Muslims and their mosques, based solely on their religion, as a way to sweep the Northeast for signs of Iranian terrorists.” The internal document also instructed the NYPD to focus on the Palestinian community, because even though most Palestinians aren’t Shi’a, they may support Iran-backed Hamas.
JFREJ’s Kent said that there are “definitely members of the Jewish community that see” the threat to Israel as one and the same as the threats to Jewish institutions in the US.
In contrast to the JCRC, the Anti-Defamation League (ADL), which has spoken out against Islamophobia in the past, has stayed largely silent on the NYPD spying issue. Requests for comment from the ADL on this story were also not returned. (Commenting on the ADL’s silence on WBAI’s Beyond the Pale, Leonard Levitt, a long-time reporter who has written on the NYPD’s spying program, said, “it’s time for [the ADL] to go out of business”.)
But the ADL, which angered Muslim activists and allies when the group came out against the Islamic community center near Ground Zero, honored Thomas Galati last year (though it was before the AP revelations were published). Galati is a top-ranking officer for the NYPD’s intelligence division, the unit that has carried out the spying on Muslim communities. The press release announcing the honor notes that Galati “traveled to Israel with other senior police officials from the Northeast to attend a counter-terrorism training seminar sponsored by ADL.” The first AP report on the NYPD spying noted that the program was “modeled in part on how Israeli authorities operate in the West Bank.”
Additionally, critics of the spying program say that the Jewish establishment’s full-throated support for the NYPD’s actions may harm Jewish-Muslim relations in the city–something that the JCRC officials say they don’t want to happen.
But as Kent noted, “given the situation that we’re in right now, Jewish communities, Jewish institutional leaders coming out in support of the NYPD will definitely hurt relations between Jews and Muslims in New York.”