Thirty Years after the Crown Heights Pogrom, Jews Are Safer—but Not Safe

Aug. 19 2021

Today marks the 30th anniversary of the riots that broke out in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn after a yeshiva student got into a car accident that left one seven-year-old boy dead and another badly injured. Local African Americans responded by attacking the Lubavitch Ḥasidim with whom they share the neighborhood—along with police trying to restore order—and destroying Jewish property. Egging on the violence was the anti-Semitic preacher Al Sharpton, who remains a prominent figure in American public life. Rioters fatally stabbed Yankel Rosenblum and injured 38 civilians and 152 police officers. Ed Kosner recalls:

Rioters—many as young as thirteen and fourteen—ravaged the neighborhood for . . . three nights. “Kill the Jews,” they shouted. “Hitler didn’t do his job.” And: “Get the cops.” One of the mayor’s own community-liaison staffers—a white man—was knocked unconscious with a brick and his car destroyed. Police swarmed the area but were uncharacteristically passive. They separated the blacks and Jews but did little to suppress the violence except pant fruitlessly after the speedy Nike-shod black teens. Ray Kelly was then the chief deputy to [then-Mayor David] Dinkins’s African-American police commissioner, Lee Brown, who came to the job from Houston and spent so much time away from police headquarters that he was known derisively as “Out-of-Town Brown.”

Serious crime in the two precincts that constitute Crown Heights has diminished more than 75 percent in the years since the riots—although Kelly cautions that the way the statistics are now compiled may make the picture brighter than it actually is. Citywide, anti-Semitic incidents have increased significantly, with a late spike after the recent missile exchanges between Israel and Hamas. . . . The perpetrators in these cases appear to be Muslim New Yorkers. African-Americans are involved in about a third of anti-Semitic hate crimes in New York these days, according to police figures. Video footage has also captured several incidences of surprise attacks on Orthodox Jews, suddenly beaten in the streets by black men after having been targeted because of their distinctive dress.

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More about: Al Sharpton, anti-Semitsm, Brooklyn, Chabad

Will Tensions Rise between the U.S. and Israel?

Unlike his past many predecessors, President Joe Biden does not have a plan for solving the Israel-Palestinian conflict. Moreover, his administration has indicated its skepticism about renewing the 2015 nuclear deal with Iran. John Bolton nevertheless believes that there could be a collision between the new Benjamin Netanyahu-led Israeli government and the Biden White House:

In possibly his last term, Netanyahu’s top national-security priority will be ending, not simply managing, Iran’s threat. This is infinitely distant from Biden’s Iran policy, which venerates Barrack Obama’s inaugural address: “we will extend a hand if you are willing to unclench your fist.”

Tehran’s fist is today otherwise occupied, pummeling its own people. Still, it will continue menacing Israel and America unless and until the internal resistance finds ways to fracture the senior levels of Iran’s regular military and the Revolutionary Guards. Netanyahu undoubtedly sees Iran’s growing domestic turmoil as an opportunity for regime change, which Israel and others can facilitate. Simultaneously, Jerusalem can be preparing its military and intelligence services to attack Tehran’s nuclear program, something the White House simply refuses to contemplate seriously. Biden’s obsession with reviving the disastrous 2015 nuclear deal utterly blinds the White House to the potential for a more significant victory.

To make matters worse, Biden has just created a Washington-based position at the State Department, a “special representative for Palestinian affairs,” that has already drawn criticism in Israel both for the new position itself and for the person named to fill it. Advocated as one more step toward “upgrading” U.S. relations with the Palestinian Authority, the new position looks nearly certain to become the locus not of advancing American interests regarding the failed Authority, but of advancing the Authority’s interests within the Biden administration.

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More about: Benjamin Netanyahu, Iran, Joe Biden, U.S.-Israel relationship