Letitia James
Letitia JamesReuters

The attorney general in New York state has accused an upstate town of discrimination for its attempt to block a real estate development that is partly owned by Hasidic Jews.

In papers filed Thursday in US District Court for the Southern District of New York, Letitia James accused officials of Chester and Orange County of “a concerted, systematic effort” to block hasidic families from moving to the town.

“Blocking the construction of homes to prevent a religious group from living in a community is flat out discriminatory,” James said. “This campaign to deny housing to members of the Jewish community is not only a clear violation of our laws, but is antithetical to our basic values and blatantly anti-Semitic. New York has a longstanding commitment to ensure equal housing opportunities for all residents – regardless of race, gender, or religious identity – and we will ensure this commitment is upheld.”

With the filing, James is inserting the state into a lawsuit that began in July when developers accused the town of blocking the project because they didn’t want Jews moving there.

According to the suit, a 117-acre parcel in Chester was approved for residential development under a previous owner. But in 2017, when the property was sold to The Greens at Chester, which is partially owned by hasidim, the town began imposing restrictions aimed at limiting or even scuttling the project — moves the lawsuit claims violate the federal Fair Housing Act.

“We remain deeply concerned by the blatant anti-Semitism arising out of Orange County,” Evan Bernstein, the regional director of the Anti-Defamation League, said Thursday, according to The Associated Press.

Local officials deny their actions are driven by anti-Semitic animus.

“We are not full of bigots, we are not anti-Semites,” Alexander Jamieson, a former town supervisor who is named in the lawsuit, told The New York Times. “This is just about the size of the houses. The other stuff is just smoke and mirrors. It’s just a distraction.”