Democratic 2020 presidential candidates have condemned a spate of antisemitic attacks and incidents over the holiday period, with Vermont senator Bernie Sanders telling a crowd at a Menorah-lighting ceremony, “If there was ever a time when we say no to divisiveness, this is that moment”.
Sanders, who was raised Jewish and lost relatives during the Holocaust but does not often talk about his religion, made his comments after an intruder stabbed five members of New Jersey’s Hasidic community at a rabbi’s home in Monsey, Rockland county, about 30 miles north of New York City, on Saturday night. The attack was called an act of “domestic terrorism” by New York governor Andrew Cuomo.
“We’re seeing people being stabbed yesterday in New York City because they were Jewish,” Sanders told a congregation at an event in Des Moines, Iowa, to light a public menorah on the final night of Hanukah.
Sanders described the latest attack, one of seven in as many days in the New York area, as part of an alarming rise in antisemitism in the United States and globally.
“If there was ever a time in American history where we say no to religious bigotry, this is the time. If there was ever a time when we say no to divisiveness, this is that moment,” he added, warning of a rise in tolerance against people targeted for their race, religion or identity.
His remarks came hours after a separate incident in which a gunman opened fire on a church in White Settlement, Texas, killing two parishioners.
As political leaders grappled with the aftermath of the Monsey attack, alleged assailant Grafton Thomas, 37, is reportedly being investigated in connection with an earlier stabbing of a Jewish man near a synagogue in the same area. Grafton pleaded not guilty to five counts of attempted murder on Sunday.
Grafton was reportedly covered in blood when he was arrested in Harlem following the attack, and is undergoing psychiatric evaluation. In a statement issued by attorney Michael Sussman, his family said: “Grafton Thomas has a long history of mental illness and hospitalizations. He has no history of like violent acts and no convictions for any crime.”
“He has no known history of antisemitism and was raised in a home which embraced and respected all religions and races. He is not a member of any hate groups. We believe the actions of which he is accused, if committed by him, tragically reflect profound mental illness,” the statement said.
Antisemitic crimes rose 22% percent in 2018 compared with 2017, according to NYPD figures, and have risen again in 2019. The Anti-Defamation League recorded 1,879 antisemitic incidents in 2018, including an attack on Pittsburgh’s Tree of Life synagogue that left 11 dead and six wounded.
On Sunday, Donald Trump joined those decrying the 7th night of Hanukah “as horrific”.
“We must all come together to fight, confront, and eradicate the evil scourge of anti-Semitism,” Trump tweeted.
Other candidates in the 2020 election race were united in their responses to the attack.
“I’m heartsick for the victims of this horrific attack. This is unfortunately just the latest of a series of anti-Semitic attacks in New York and New Jersey,” Massachusetts senator Elizabeth Warren wrote on Twitter. “We must fight anti-Semitism and make clear that hateful bigotry has no place in our society.”
Cory Booker, senator for New Jersey, where six people were killed in a shooting that targeted a kosher supermarket earlier this month, said: “The increasing frequency of antisemitic attacks is horrifying. We must all join to stop them in their tracks and root out the hatred and ignorance at their core.”
Former vice-president and 2020 contender Joe Biden offered his “deepest sympathies” to the victims, their families and the Jewish community.
“The horrifying rise of antisemitism is tearing apart the fabric of our communities and the soul of this nation,” Biden messaged. “We’ve got to stand together as a country and fight these flames of hatred.”
South Bend mayor Pete Buttigieg said his “prayers are with the victims of these horrific acts of antisemitism and hate. This cannot be tolerated.”
Entrepreneur and 2020 candidate Andrew Yang said: “Antisemitism is a horrifying scourge that has no place in America’, adding, “I have many Jewish friends and I can’t imagine how it must feel to have one’s community targeted in such a despicable fashion. It turns a time of celebration to one of fear and mourning.”