The Village of Great Neck election may have widened a rift between some in the Jewish community, with some observant Jews alleging that the head of a local Holocaust memorial center has a history of “anti-religious animus” against the Orthodox community.
The allegations against Steven Markowitz, the chairman of the Glen Cove-based Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County and head of the Great Neck Democratic Club, date to 2015, emails obtained by Blank Slate Media show.
Markowitz denied the allegations both in emails and via phone, describing them as an unsubstantiated “hate campaign” against him.
Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, in an email exchange with Markowitz, accused him of “anti-religious animus” and making false claims that observant trustees would close the Great Neck Library on Saturday.
He also suggested that James Wu’s campaign for mayor, which Markowitz was involved in, was “full of anti-Semites,” Wu’s resume was exaggerated, and that “You – no one but you – wants a wedge between the Persians, Orthodox and the Chinese. You want this because the Democrats are losing Great Neck.”
Robert Spitalnick, in a separate letter to the editor, alleged that Markowitz was engaged in a “series of anti-Semitic whispering campaigns intended to keep Orthodox Jews out of public office in this town.”
He made reference to a screenshot of an alleged email from Markowitz in 2015, the year Pedram Bral was first elected mayor, which said, “Have no reluctance to tell people that this election is about an attempt by right wing Orthodox groups to take over the village.”
“Most people are unaware and are generally apathetic,” the email goes onto say, “but not when you scare them a little.”
Spitalnick also pointed to an unsuccessful school board trustee bid by Nikolas Kron in 2017, his own bid for Great Neck Library board, and alleged – citing unnamed sources – Markowitz announced something “to the effect that ‘the Orthodox are trying to take over’ and would ‘close the Library on Saturday.’”
“This kind of bigotry has no place in our community,” Spitalnick said. “Someone who engages in attacks on candidates based on their religion or ethnicity has no business running a Holocaust Memorial.”
Wiesenfeld, in an email sent to administrators at the Holocaust Memorial and Tolerance Center of Nassau County with the letter from Spitalnick attached, added, “If he is to remain your chair, we’ll contact every donor whom we know.”
In emails to Wiesenfeld preceding the June 18 election, Markowitz said the Wu campaign knew nothing about an “outrageous hate filled message” being falsely attributed to the Wu campaign and said there had been “hate messages warning of a Chinese takeover” and concerns about electing Julia Shields, who is black, as a trustee.
Markowitz, in an email dated June 27, said there were “no dirty tricks against the Orthodox community” in the 2019 Village of Great Neck race or a “scintilla of written or spoken anti-Orthodox sentiment” from the Wu campaign. He also said the charge he claimed the library would close on Saturdays in an Orthodox takeover is “utter nonsense.”
He went on to describe the threat “to influence the donors” to remove their support as “a new low and deserves public condemnation.”
“The Center under my leadership has been one of the most important institutions on Long Island fighting anti-Semitism and other forms of intolerance,” Markowitz said. “Harming the Center – which is totally nonpartisan and works with Jewish groups of all denominations, including Orthodox – because they don’t like my personal political beliefs, and making up ridiculous charges, is unconscionable.”
Markowitz, in a follow-up call, said some people were trying to create the idea that there was an “anti-Orthodox conspiracy” with no basis in fact to rile up support for the mayor. Of the charges that he’s anti-Orthodox, he said: “It’s so outrageous. There’s nothing there whatsoever.”
“This is so hurtful that they would accuse me of something like this,” Markowitz said. “And we bent over backwards in the James Wu campaign to make sure there was nothing said whatsoever to indicate any bias.”
The Holocaust memorial center has received a “significant number of calls and emails and at least one donor that they’ve reached expressed concern” since then, Markowitz said. The general content of these calls is “that I’m unfit, I’m a hate monger, I’m an anti-Semite, unfit to lead,” he said.
Of the allegations that he initiated a campaign against Kron, Markowitz said he was going to support him in the campaign and thought “he would’ve made a very good candidate.”
As for the email from 2015, Markowitz said he never wrote it.
“None of this is based on reality,” Markowitz said. “It’s all based on a hate campaign.”
In an earlier conversation with Blank Slate Media publisher Steve Blank, Markowitz said he did not remember writing the email.
He later cited a list of accomplishments, including strong opposition to the Boycott Divestment Sanctions movement against Israel, the Holocaust center’s fight to combat religious and racial intolerance, and creating the inter-synagogue rabbinic dialogue in Great Neck more than 20 years ago.
During the campaign, there was also a flyer trying to suggest “the sad truth behind Wu’s Campaign” was one of Asians trying to expel Jewish people from Great Neck.
There was also a letter to the editor supposedly written by “Mandy Lee” on June 11, which alleged a Wu supporter said, “We must slap Jews now. It will take generations to expel them out!” It then contended that a leader of an Asian civic group suggested opening crab restaurants in the village.
A woman named Mandy Lee then said someone falsely used her name to submit the letter, which she said had a clear goal of “trying to divide our community by providing false information and persuade voters.”
Local Asian civic groups like the Northshore Asian Civic Association and the Great Neck Chinese Association also condemned the letter.
NACA in particular said that such discussions occurred in Wu’s campaign group.
“We want to make ourselves very clear: The racial remarks are repulsive and fabricated with distorted details,” NACA said. “NACA has zero tolerance for such racial divide and moral ambiguity.”