With 160,499 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and more than 12,000 confirmed deaths, New York City is now the epicenter of the global pandemic. Who’s to blame? Let’s ask our mayor:
“My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple,” Bill de Blasio tweeted late last night. “The time for warnings has passed. I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups. This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period.”
Ah, so that’s the cause of the trouble. It’s the nasty Jews! The sweaty hordes threatening their innocent neighbors with their diseased bodies and souls, as they did yesterday for a funeral for which the community coordinated with the NYPD. It’s true that throngs crowd Central Park daily, that in Riverside Park it’s nearly impossible to avoid maskless joggers panting their spit well within 6 feet of you. It’s also true that just yesterday hundreds of New Yorkers stood very closely together to watch the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds perform a flyover tribute to health care workers.
None of these other people are problematic, though—presumably because they aren’t a danger to others. The danger to others—the danger that must be broadcast to the mayor’s 1.5 million Twitter followers and to 8 million New Yorkers, some of which have spent the past few years growing increasingly and violently anti-Semitic—is the Jews. It’s the Jews.
Don’t, for example, think for a second of blaming the mayor himself, who on March 2—long after Iran and Italy were both ravaged by the plague, and after New Yorkers already began dropping dead of the virus—tweeted that he was “encouraging New Yorkers to go on with your lives + get out on the town despite Coronavirus,” adding a flippant movie recommendation to boot.
Also, you should probably ignore that the mayor’s bungling of this crisis is already singled out as a world historical case study in disastrously inept management. After fighting parents, teachers, and his own advisers and insisting that the city’s schools must remain open, de Blasio suddenly caved. On the morning of March 15 he went on television to assure New Yorkers that the schools won’t be shut; that same afternoon, he shut them down. According to the NYC Department of Education, 68 school employees have died of COVID-19. The morning after he shut down the schools, Hizzoner hit the gym, flouting the very social distancing guidelines his own administration had issued. The subway, as a recent MIT study has confirmed, continues to spread the virus quickly and efficiently to all corners of the city. Members of the mayor’s own staff, according to multiple reports, are nearing revolt, describing a constantly quibbling boss who refuses to listen to evidence and is incapable of resolution. Multiple municipal agency heads have told Politico that the mayor did not provide any guidelines regarding how they were supposed to conduct their work remotely. His calculations, several aides reported, seemed motivated largely by how they might be interpreted by his political base.
Yes, but focusing on that isn’t really fair! The mayor has been hard at work, day and night, on this problem, he assures us. Sure, he continues to travel from his Upper East Side mansion—which is surrounded by a park—to his favorite Brooklyn park for leisurely strolls, often without a mask, infuriating many of his constituents who are obeying his administration’s orders, sheltering in place, and avoiding precisely such precarious outings.
But mayors have complicated jobs! It’s true that the heads of other major American cities faced similar challenges and virtually all rose to the task, keeping the number of dead down everywhere but here. Cook County, Illinois, home to Chicago, has reported 1,347 deaths to date. Los Angeles has reported 1,000. King County, Washington, home to Seattle, reported 429. San Francisco reported 23. You might think, even after accounting for all other variables—New York’s high density, say—that the catastrophe visited on New York City wasn’t simply the work of the coronavirus but a man-made disaster, in fact one man’s self-made disaster. But you’d be mistaken. He isn’t the problem at all. The problem is this small and already-targeted minority, trust me.
What? What’s that? This doesn’t make any sense?
Of course it doesn’t. Stop twisting yourselves into pretzels of befuddlement and shocked-shocked confusion about the mayor’s actions. If it walks like a worse-than-useless bigot and talks like a worse-than-useless bigot and tweets like a worse-than-useless bigot, I’ve got news for you: It’s not the effective and tolerant mayor of a great city. De Blasio might’ve been capitalizing on the behavior of a few Hasidic Jews when he railed against “the Jewish community” at large, but anti-Semitism doesn’t differentiate between those in long beards and black hats and Jews who are clean shaven and bare headed. In singling out the Jews for spreading the virus, the mayor was targeting all of us, making us all less safe.
Bill de Blasio is responsible for the thousands of deaths from COVID-19 he could’ve prevented by doing his job, and he is also responsible for the lives he continues to put in danger—the millions of New Yorkers increasingly unsafe and uncared for, and the victims of the violence some of them will cause others because their own worst fears and biases have been stoked. Everyone will suffer, everyone will pay—everyone but the one man who caused it all.
Liel Leibovitz is editor at large for Tablet Magazine and a host of its weekly culture podcast Unorthodox and daily Talmud podcast Take One.