Dec. 1, 2023 By Bill Parry
Hours before Israel resumed retaliatory strikes against Hamas in the Gaza Strip after a seven-day cease fire came to an end on Dec. 1, Assemblymember David Weprin urged Department of Education Chancellor David Banks to implement a comprehensive plan of action to address the “appalling student behavior” after hundreds protested at Hillcrest High School in Jamaica on Nov. 20.
After learning a Jewish 9th grade teacher attended a pro-Israel rally, video of the antisemitic rampage went viral over the weekend and on the morning of Monday, Nov. 27, Weprin demanded greater accountability from the DOE with other Queens elected officials at the agency’s Ozone Park offices.
Later that day, Weprin went to the school, which is located in his district, to learn more about the incident and what steps will be taken during a “listening session” with around 60 students, the schools chancellor and Queens Borough President Donovan Richards.
“I was made aware that multiple students were suspended for their participation, but I believe that the NYC DOE discipline code must be revised to punish egregious breaches of conduct and threats or acts of hate,” Weprin said in a lengthy statement released on Nov. 30. “This incident explicitly targeted a Jewish educator based on her religious identity, all while disrupting the learning and wellbeing of thousands of other students. It is imperative for our students to understand that actions have consequences.”
Following the listening session, Richards told QNS that the students were getting their news from social media.
“They want their Tik Toks, they’re not getting their news from MSNBC or CNN,” he said, echoing Mayor Eric Adams, who said on Nov. 28 that social media is “hijacking our children,” teaching them how to ride on top of trains, how to steal cars and how to shoot guns.
“Social media is filled with so much trash, so many lies, so many distortions, and that is where they get their news,” Adams said. “They don’t pick up the tabloids. They’re not listening to and reading the papers. They’re reading these algorithms that are feeding their pain.”
Weprin took it a step further.
“We are failing our city’s youth if we do not teach them how to think for themselves and how to avoid succumbing to mob mentalities. Schools should be able to talk about what is happening in the world, in a safe environment, where students can share their opinions and agree to disagree,” Weprin said. “New York City public schools pride themselves on their diversity, but we need to teach the lesson that differences must be respected. Every school should be required to spend time discussing world events so that students share opinions that are factually based and can make informed decisions before acting.”
He added that the Hillcrest rampage was one of several antisemitic incidents in Queens that have occurred since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel, including “threats against Jewish students at Queens College and St. John’s University.”
Weprin said these incidents have broad implications for the future of the city, pointing to an address on the rise of antisemitism by Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer on Nov. 29. Schumer called it a “five-alarm fire that must be extinguished,” describing the “fears and anxieties of many Jewish Americans” who feel “targeted and isolated” since the Hamas attacks in which more than 1,200 people were slaughters and 240 were kidnapped and held hostage in the Gaza Strip.
“The Anti-Defamation League estimates antisemitic incidents have increased nearly 300% since Oct. 7. The NYPD has recorded a 214% increase in New York City,” Schumer said. “Many of the people who have expressed these sentiments in America aren’t neo-Nazis, or card-carrying Klan members or Islamist extremists. They are in many cases people that most liberal Jewish Americans felt previously were their ideological fellow travelers. More than anything, we are worried — quite naturally given the twists and turns of history — about where these actions and sentiments could eventually lead.”
Schumer said he was compelled to speak as the highest-ranking Jewish elected official in America and the highest-ranking Jewish elected official ever in American history.
“[Schumer’s] call to action against all forms of hate resonates deeply with our community’s commitment. As we move forward, let us do so with a collective determination to eradicate prejudice in all its manifestations,” Weprin concluded. “Our community’s strength is rooted in our unity and our steadfast commitment to ensuring justice and safety for all.”