County execs announce island-wide task force to combat anti-Semitism

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Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced her plans for an island-wide task force to combat antisemitism and hate symbols in light of swastikas being spray-painted at the Welwyn Preserve. (Photo courtesy of the office of the county executive)

In conjunction with Suffolk County counterpart Steve Bellone, Nassau County Executive Laura Curran announced an island-wide coalition that will combat antisemitism and hate symbols.

The announcement was made on Monday at the county’s Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center in Glen Cove.

Over 40 elected local and state officials, religious members, and community activists were present to address the most recent examples of anti-semitic graffiti that were spray-painted on the center’s premises last week.

“The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center and the community were shocked and saddened when graffiti including swastikas appeared on the grounds of Welwyn Preserve,” Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center Chairman Steven Markowitz said. “The Holocaust did not start with concentration camps and gas chambers. It started with bullying, name-calling, discrimination, and graffiti. Seemingly small, innocuous actions can lead to much worse if left unchecked.”

The graffiti consisted of one swastika spray-painted in red on a tree, and another on a rock, accompanied by the name “Tommy.” It was the second act of graffiti that the center has been the victim of over the past two weeks.  While no one has been identified or charged for spray painting these symbols of hate, Markowitz said that the investigation with local and county police is ongoing.

A statement issued by the center said that they learned about the graffiti on Wednesday, the same day they hosted a public event on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Against Israel movement.

Glen Cove Mayor Timothy Tenke decried the graffiti in a statement distributed Friday morning.

“The City of Glen Cove does not and will not allow hatred or intolerance of any kind,” Tenke said. “Hate and intolerance have no place in our city, and it is now time to stand up as leaders and educators so we can prevent such thought from continuing.”

Town of North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth, in an email to Markowitz, called the graffiti “shocking.”

“We need to, once again, stand together against these anti-Semitic acts as well as all acts depicting prejudice and hate,” Bosworth wrote. “How painful to see this, especially at the center which promotes tolerance and serves as a tribute to those who lost so much during the Holocaust.”

Isma H. Chaudhry, chairperson of the Board of Trustees of the Islamic Center of Long Island in Westbury, called the graffiti “disgusting” and “disturbing” in an email to Markowitz.

“Please tell us how we can help,” Chaudhry wrote. “We are standing with our Jewish brothers and sisters in solidarity against these hateful symbols of anti-Semitism.”

“White nationalism, racism, and anti-Semitism in America are very real,” Congressman Tom Suozzi (D-Glen Cove) said. “ It is a growing threat to our nation and we must do all we can to fight it. I will fight hate from my hometown to Washington DC.”

Suozzi and others who spoke recognized the importance of implementing educational programs for the youth of the nation.  He also spoke on the already-established nationwide program the Never Again Education Act, which was implemented in schools two years ago. 

The bill’s main goal is to create and maintain a Holocaust education program website containing resources for middle grades and high schools. Markowitz spoke on other ways to educate the youth in the area, especially those who do not know the severity of their actions.

“The Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center will get calls from schools about kids that are saying hateful things or drawing hate-filled symbols, but may not even know what is wrong about it,” Markowitz said. “We bring children here and have them sit down with a Holocaust survivor so that they learn more about why those words or symbols are hurtful to the Jewish community.”

In light of the most recent instance of vandalism, Curran introduced the bi-county task force which will continue to expand education initiatives for the youth and adults to learn about tolerance.

“The acts of vandalism at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center are unacceptable forms of bigotry,” Curran said.  “We may have been able to wash away the graffiti, but we cannot wash away the feelings that these symbols leave.”

“This task force will provide a platform to bring together people from all communities and actually implement proposals that will have a positive impact on our daily lives,” Bellone said. “I want to thank my friend and colleague County Executive Curran for her leadership on this issue and so many other stakeholders who are teaming up during this important moment in time.”

Aside from developing educational programs centered around tolerance and diversity, Curran said that the task force will be working closely with law enforcement.  According to Curran, the goal of working with local and county police departments will be to combat hate crimes, collaborate with community groups, and make the island’s message of tolerance widespread.

This bi-county coalition will work to educate our communities about the negative impacts of anti-semitism and hatred as well as stress the value of the diversity of our population,” Curran said.  “We cannot allow anti-Semitic and hateful acts, whether they come in the form of graffiti, speech, discrimination or violence, to become normalized and find comfort in our communities.”

Curran said that the positions within the task force have not been filled yet, but they will be on a volunteer basis, not a part of any payroll. In the coming weeks, leaders will be convening to develop a comprehensive implementation plan for outreach and education to confront issues of discrimination, hatred, and bigotry throughout Long Island.

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