A New York Senator caused an uproar on Thursday after he singled out Jews for criticism in the wake of a case of polio that was diagnosed in in an Orthodox Jewish man in Rockland County, just north of New York City, reports the New York Jewish Week.
The case is the first case of polio in the United States in a decade.
Local health officials announced the case Thursday and said they would begin a drive to increase vaccination against the potentially deadly virus. They said the victim was experiencing paralysis, a hallmark of the disease, and that he had not been vaccinated against it.
Sources told the New York Jewish Week that the man is part of Rockland County’s substantial Jewish community.
State Sen. James Skoufis, a Democrat whose district includes part of Rockland County, released a statement in a since deleted tweet in which he called to “bring the full force of the law down on those who have skirted these requirements.”
Skoufis singled out Ramapo Yeshivas as having “a history of non-compliance with the state’s vaccine laws.” Ramapo is one of the Five Towns of Rockland County, in which the source said there are over 120 Yeshivas.
“Additional enforcement is required in light of today’s news,” Skoufis said in his statement.
Skoufis’ statement drew criticism from within the Jewish community. Yossi Gestetner, a Rockland County resident whose Orthodox Jewish Public Affairs Council worked to combat negative publicity stemming from the measles outbreak in 2019, tweeted that Skoufis’ statement was “hateful and inflammatory.”
“I missed your tweet calling out LGBTQ+ by name and as a community for Monkeypox,” Gestetner wrote, referring to the outbreak of a different virus that is underway. “So why treat visibly Jewish people this way? Every elected Dem should condemn you.”
Gestetner told the New York Jewish Week that he recognized that there is vaccine hesitancy within the Orthodox community, but rejected the notion that vaccine hesitancy “is just an Orthodox community issue.”
Skoufis later walked back his initial statement and said on Twitter that he met with members of the Rockland County Jewish community to discuss the situation.
“Earlier tonight, I reached out to leaders in the Rockland Jewish community to discuss their thoughts on the situation as well as some of the concerns with proposed ways forward,” he wrote.
“I truly appreciate the sensitivity on the ground and the need to make sure the language used like that in my statement from today better reflects that sensitivity.”
“No community should be singled out on an issue we are all concerned with and I committed to continuing the dialogue to ensure next steps are appropriate, relevant, and in the best interests of all,” stressed Skoufis.