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Protesters display swastika, Star of David outside Jewish politician’s office to oppose vaccine rules

The Washington Post logo The Washington Post 11/16/2021 Jaclyn Peiser
Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, D-Bronx, debates legislation during a vote in the Assembly Chamber in Albany, N.Y., in 2019. Dinowitz called the items some protesters displayed outside his office on Sunday despicable. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink) © Hans Pennink/AP Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, D-Bronx, debates legislation during a vote in the Assembly Chamber in Albany, N.Y., in 2019. Dinowitz called the items some protesters displayed outside his office on Sunday despicable. (AP Photo/Hans Pennink)

New York Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz expected anti-vaccine mandate protesters outside his office in the Bronx on Sunday. The Democrat even warned constituents to “please avoid the area” if they were concerned about potential exposure to the coronavirus.

But Dinowitz did not anticipate that some demonstrators would show up sporting antisemitic symbols.

“The display of swastikas and yellow Stars of David outside my office today is repugnant and offensive,” Dinowitz, who is Jewish, tweeted Sunday.

The protest outside Dinowitz’s office was organized by Rob Astorino, a Republican and former Westchester County executive running for governor of New York. The gathering was in response to a bill Dinowitz, who represents part of the Bronx in the state legislature, sponsored last month that would require children to receive covid vaccinations to attend school. Dinowitz helped pass vaccine mandate legislation in 2019, when he co-sponsored a bill that banned religious exemptions for school vaccine requirements following a measles outbreak largely centered in the ultra-Orthodox Jewish community in Brooklyn.

The use of Nazi symbols sparked outrage among Dinowitz’s colleagues in the state Assembly. It also marked the latest incident in which antisemitic comparisons have been used to criticize pandemic policies. Anti-vaccine activists have falsely equated the coronavirus vaccine to medical experiments performed by Nazis and have used the yellow Star of David as a symbol of what they say are oppressive public health measures in the form of mask and vaccine mandates.

Last week, attendees at a Kansas government hearing wore Stars of David and claimed their actions were not “offensive” or “controversial,” but rather a “reminder [that] everything Hitler did … [was] in accordance with the laws of his country,” according to the Kansas Reflector. In late September, the mayor of Anchorage said it was “actually a credit to” Jews when anti-maskers wore Stars of David to an assembly meeting. He later apologized.

And in July, the leader of the Oklahoma Republican Party compared private companies requiring employees to get a coronavirus vaccine to the Nazis forcing Jews to wear the Star of David on their clothes. He later doubled down on his comments, saying the symbol took away Jewish people’s freedoms, just like the vaccine card.

Anchorage mayor defended anti-maskers wearing yellow Stars of David, claiming it’s ‘actually a credit to’ Jews

Dozens of people attended this weekend’s protest in the Bronx. Many told local media they did not oppose the vaccine — in fact, some said they were vaccinated themselves.

“This is not about vaccinations. It’s not anti-vax. It’s about anti-mandate,” one woman told PIX11. “All parents should have a choice about whether their children are vaccinated or not.”

But some of the protesters evoked hateful imagery. Dinowitz tweeted pictures that showed a woman standing near Astorino, holding a sign with a swastika that said “Nuremberg Code,” along with messaging claiming coronavirus vaccines violate the medical ethics standards put in place after Nazi doctors experimented on concentration camp victims. Dinowitz also shared an image of a man with a yellow Star of David pinned to his chest and holding an American flag.

“People are perfectly free to express their opinion on vaccines or any issue, but to openly display Nazi symbols outside the office of a Jewish legislator is despicable,” Dinowitz tweeted.

The assemblyman went on to accuse Astorino of inaction.

“All Republican leaders should condemn this unacceptable use of anti-Semitic imagery,” Dinowitz tweeted. “I am sorry to any constituents who passed by this repugnant display outside of my office today.”

Astorino responded on Twitter with an image of the woman who held the swastika sign. She is seen shaking Astorino’s hand with another sign that says “Fear is the real virus” tucked under her arm. In her left hand, less visible, she is holding the poster with a swastika.

“Not only didn’t I see the sign, [the] woman holding it had a different sign when I met her prior to the event,” Astorino tweeted. “Regardless of who the woman was or why she was there, if I saw the sign I would have stopped and had it removed. Absolutely inappropriate.”

Staten Island protesters foreshadow fight against children’s vaccine mandates, warning of possible violence

Several state lawmakers spoke out on Twitter, condemning the antisemitic imagery and offering Dinowitz their support.

Amanda Septimo, a Democratic assemblywoman, called the displays “disgusting” and “unfair.”

“This is what happens when we normalize vile hate speech in politics & allow constant trivialization of the Holocaust. Anti-Semitic words & displays lead to anti-Semitic violence,” she tweeted.

Democratic Assemblyman Michael Benedetto tweeted that the behavior of those protesters is “vile and disgusting.”

“It also shows just how extreme the anti-vax movement has become,” he wrote. “They aren’t going to win anyone over by these deeply offensive actions.”

Newly elected New York Mayor Eric Adams, another Democrat, also spoke out about the incident.

“Displaying Nazi symbolism anywhere at anytime is unacceptable,” he tweeted, adding that he stands with Dinowitz, “the Jewish community, and decent people across the City in condemning this antisemitism.”

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