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‘We need accountability’: Queens elected officials, Jewish leaders demand answers on city’s response to antisemitic rampage at Hillcrest High School in Jamaica

Nov. 27, 2023 By Bill Parry

Queens elected officials and Jewish community leaders rallied outside the borough offices of the city Department of Education offices in Ozone Park on Monday, Nov. 27, demanding answers on the city’s lack of transparency over a two-hour antisemitic rampage in the hallways of Hillcrest High School in Jamaica on Nov. 20.

Students were seen on video rioting after they discovered a teacher changed her social media profile picture to indicate that she “stand with Israel” on her own device, on her own time, according to Council Member James Gennaro. Videos of the violent rampage went viral on social media over the weekend, alarming Gennaro and his colleague in government, as well as the Jewish community which has felt isolated and under attack since Hamas terrorists invaded southern Israel on Oct. 7 slaughtering more than 1,200 civilians and kidnapping more than 240 back to the Gaza Strip.

“I saw the violent videos of this riot and the unbelievably virulent expressions of antisemitism. Because of this teacher’s innocuous expression of free speech, hundreds of students rioted with the intent of perpetrating violence on this individual, who was taken by school authorities and barricaded in an office protected by school staff until the police could restore order,” Gennaro said. “… God knows what would have happened had they caught her.”

Gennaro was further dismayed by the slow response by the DOE and the Adams administration.

“The riot happened on Monday, but my office didn’t know about it until Tuesday. And even the Chancellor’s office didn’t know about it until Wednesday,” Gennaro said. “Was this not a big deal? Of course it was; it was a riot in a school against a teacher who quietly stood with Israel, for which she could have been seriously injured or even killed. Had this episode involved a person of any other racial or ethnic group, it would have been reported immediately to the Chancellor’s Office and immediately to the Mayor’s Office and then straight to the media where it would have made headlines. But a Jewish woman? Not so much.”

A DOE spokesman said the agency will hold a press conference outside Hillcrest High School on Monday afternoon.

Assemblymember David Weprin is demanding answers to key questions.

“What is going to happen now? What’s going to happen in the school, are the students going to be expelled? Are they going to be punished? Weprin asked. “We need accountability, we need to have something done to the perpetrators of this riot.”

Weprin added that he wants to know what is going to prevent this from happening again at other schools.

Council Member Joann Ariola urged Mayor Eric Adams to take control and not deplete the NYPD and school safety agents.

City Council Member Joann Ariola rallied with Queens lawmakers and Jewish community leaders outside the offices of the Department of Education in Ozone Park on Nov. 27, demanding accountability for an antisemitic rampage at Hillcrest High School. Photo by Paul Frangipane

“We stand here with a lot of state representatives that fought for better criminal justice reform and I ask all of their woke colleagues to wake up, because if they don’t wake up, then we are going to have this continue,” Ariola said. “We have to ask ourselves why this is happening, because they can do it without any consequences, that’s the real issue at the bottom of this.”

Council Member Vickie Paladino was outraged not only with the Nov. 20 rampage at Hillcrest but also an attack on NYPD school safety officers by students at the school a week earlier, which was captured on video that was leaked to her over the weekend that she posted on social media.

City Council Member Vickie Paladino rallied with Queens lawmakers and Jewish community leaders outside the offices of the Department of Education in Ozone Park Nov. 27, demanding accountability for an antisemitic rampage at Hillcrest High School. Photo by Paul Frangipane

“The DOE has been failing our kids for decades. This has now come to the point where they are literally the inmates running the asylum. There is no accountability,” Paladino fumed. “Our kids are woke? No, our kids are being led by their nose by a system that has failed. Where are their parents? Who is holding them accountable?”

Paladino and Ariola are members of the Commons Sense Caucus in the Council which put out a statement Monday containing chilling details of the Hillcrest rampage.

“Students not only disrupted the school but also horrifyingly threatened to execute a Jewish teacher due to her pro-Israel stance, obtained her personal address, and demanded her dismissal,” they said. “We do not tolerate antisemitism in any form in our city. The safety and rights of Jewish New Yorkers are non-negotiable. The Administration must conduct a complete and transparent investigation to ensure justice is served. The students involved and any Department of Education staff member who neglected their duty or participated in hiding or promoting these events must face consequences for their actions. We must send a clear message: such vile acts have no place in our schools or our society.”

Bronx Council Member Eric Dinowitz, the Jewish Caucus leader, joined his Queens colleague in calling on the DOE to act now before the contagion spreads to other schools.

City Council Member Eric Dinowitz rallied with Queens lawmakers and Jewish community leaders outside the offices of the Department of Education in Ozone Park Nov. 27, demanding accountability for an antisemitic rampage at Hillcrest High School. Photo by Paul Frangipane

“I was a teacher for 14 years and I can tell you that there are swastikas in schools. We do not have a Department of Education that is acting with the urgency of the moment and this is urgent,” Dinowitz said. “Not hearing about this issue for days, finding out on social media or through the New York Post is not acceptable. It’s been an extremely trying time for members of the Jewish community over the past month and a half. What’s going on overseas is not a license to hate anyone.”

Queens Borough President Donovan Richards was meeting with students and staff at Hillcrest High School Monday to discuss the violent rampage. Meanwhile, Queens District Attorney Melinda Katz, an alumnus of the school, posted a statement on X.

“As a graduate of Hillcrest High School, it both angers me and breaks my heart to see young people using violence to try to silence those who stand with Israel,” Katz wrote. “As a Mom, I worry about my sons’ future if we ever accept a nation where bullies decide what others may or may not say.”

Kew Gardens Hills community leader Sorelle Idels rallied with Queens lawmakers and Jewish community leaders outside the offices of the Department of Education in Ozone Park Nov. 27, demanding accountability for an antisemitic rampage at Hillcrest High School. Photo by Paul Frangipane

Kew Gardens Hills community leader Sorelle Idels called the acts of violence by Hillcrest High School students unacceptable and demanded greater transparency, adding that the Jewish people of Queens should not have learned about such outrageous events on TikTok videos.

“We are a peaceful people. We don’t look for trouble. We don’t look to riot. We don’t look to damage. We just want everyone to leave us alone,” she said. “When it comes to Jews, we get stepped all over all the time and who’s standing up for us except for us? It’s not okay. It’s not okay. Who’s to say this won’t happen again somewhere else louder, bigger and maybe the teacher won’t make it to a safe room? This is unacceptable.”

According to the Anti-Defamation League, antisemitic incidents across the nation increased 388%  in the aftermath of the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks. State Senator Joseph Addabbo said more must be done to protect students, safety agents, teachers, administrators, and all those in city schools and elsewhere affected by antisemitism.

“This issue is not confined to a conflict thousands of miles away; it has plagued us for years. To combat it, we must be proactive, not reactive. Just like the rungs of a ladder, every step is crucial for progress,” Addabbo said. “As elected officials, we can increase penalties for antisemitism and incorporate education against it into our school curriculum. Even the haters play a part, as they need to look in a mirror to see if this is the way they want to live their lives. The responsibility also extends to the DOE and universities across our state; they must step up and become integral parts of this effort in our fight against antisemitism. Only when each ladder rung is in place, and we all do our part can we hope to truly achieve the height of eliminating antisemitism and living in peaceful coexistence.”

Additional reporting by Paul Frangipane.

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