Demonstrations in Borough Park over new COVID-19 regulations were politically-motivated rallies fueled by President Donald Trump’s campaign rather than genuine protests over the new rules, Gov. Andrew Cuomo argued on Friday.
“[President Trump] exploits divisions … I also believe his campaign is fomenting the ultra-Orthodox in Brooklyn,” Cuomo said.
The two nights of chaos in Borough Park came after Cuomo announced he was closing schools and limiting religious gatherings to 10 people in COVID-19 hotspots. Some of the city’s highest rates of COVID-19 are in Orthodox communities, with Borough Park’s daily positivity rate of more than eight percent as of Friday.
At the demonstrations, protesters blasted the synagogue restrictions as arbitrary and even discriminatory — particularly since they came in the middle of the Jewish high holidays.
Some attendees, who danced in the streets holding Trump flags, got violent towards Hasidic dissenters, critically injuring one man who was filming the scene, and attacking a reporter.
Heshy Tischler, a bombastic radio personality who helped organize the demonstrations, said on Twitter that he will be arrested on Monday for inciting violence on the reporter.
During a conference call with reporters, Cuomo suggested that the outcry was a stunt among local Trump supporters connected, in some manner, to the campaign itself.
Cuomo played an excerpt of a robocall that purportedly went out to homes in Borough Park. The message claimed that community leaders had recently been in touch with representatives of the Trump campaign, who had called for a rally against Cuomo.
“Come to 13th Avenue and hold big signs — ‘Cuomo killed thousands’ — as many as possible, as big as possible,” said the unidentified speaker on the robocall. “The Trump campaign is urging us to hold as many and as big signs as possible. Please send this message around. Make it go viral.”
“The more signs we have, the bigger the national outcry will be,” the speaker said.
Cuomo also read off a tweet from local activist Heshy Tischler, whose name was also mentioned in the robocall, published on Oct. 7. In the tweet, Tischler asked, “Urgent: who can print ‘Cuomo hates Jews’ and ‘Cuomo killed thousands’ on flags?”
Tischler wore a shirt at the Oct. 7 protest with a Trump bumper sticker on the front, and posted a short video on his Twitter account the next day showing signs with messages similar to what was heard in the robocall.
Cuomo called the alleged link between the demonstrations and the Trump campaign as “ugly, divisive, poisonous, disgusting, painful.” He suggested that Tischler and others involved in organizing the protests were participating in Trump’s “divide and conquer” strategy, fomenting division in the community.
“There is no question that the president of the United States is a divisive force,” Cuomo said. “His campaign was premised on division. His campaign was the oldest political strategy in the book, used by the Roman empire: divide and conquer.”
The governor said these actions also undermined efforts to get COVID-19 under control in a community overwhelmed by new cases — putting the lives of their neighbors in jeopardy.
“Here the Trump campaign wants to inflame division. Meanwhile, they’re putting lives at risk,” Cuomo charged. “What’s the Trump campaign saying? Play politics. It’s disgusting.”