ALBANY — President Donald Trump helped facilitate divisions that fueled violent Brooklyn protests last week, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said, after releasing a robocall Friday that, after referencing Trump’s campaign, encouraged hundreds of people to rally against the state’s new coronavirus measures with accusatory signs.
Protests in southern Brooklyn, home to many of New York City’s Orthodox Jewish residents, turned violent last Tuesday and Wednesday after Cuomo ordered tougher social-distancing, maximum-capacity and mass-gathering rules, including limiting houses of worship to 10 people in the 2.5-mile geographic radius surrounding COVID clusters spiking in parts of Brooklyn, Queens, and Orange and Rockland counties.
The rules went into effect Friday and will remain in effect for two weeks.
The man on the robocall, who uses the name Chaim Hersch Golderberger, says he just hung up the phone with people in touch with the Trump campaign and that “they’re urging everybody to come out with signs: ‘Cuomo killed thousands.’”
“Come to 13th Avenue and hold big signs — ‘Cuomo killed thousands’ — as many as possible, as big as possible,” he continues. “The more signs we have, the bigger the national outcry will be tonight on 13th Avenue or wherever else Heshy Tischler goes. Everybody should hold a sign ‘Cuomo killed thousands.’ The Trump campaign is urging us to hold as many and as big signs as possible. Please send this message around. Make it go viral.”
The call circulated this week in community groups with hundreds of members on the popular Facebook application WhatsApp.
Cuomo played the robocall recording twice for reporters during a telephone coronavirus briefing Friday.
“How ugly — how divisive,” Cuomo said. “How poisonous and how disgusting. How hurtful. How painful. This is New York that just showed solidarity and unity that was unprecedented. For seven months, I’ve been saying let’s listen to our better angels, let’s listen to commonality. The anecdote to community spread is community.”
Heshy Tischler, a community activist running for New York City Council, appeared to follow the robocall’s lead, and posted on Twitter: “urgent: who can print ‘Cuomo hates Jews’ and ‘Cuomo killed thousands’ on flags?” at 2:06 p.m. Wednesday.
That night, Tischler was caught on camera urging hundreds of protesters to attack Jewish Insider reporter Jacob Kornbluh for reporting on other members of the Hasidic Jewish community for not following state COVID-19 mandates to remain socially distant or wear face masks in public.
Kornbluh, a member of the Hasidic Jewish community, was attacked by a mob Wednesday night while reporting on a Borough Park demonstration protesting the state’s shuttering of schools and businesses due to a spike in COVID-19 cases.
Kornbluh posted on social media he was hit in the head and kicked during the melee.
Cuomo called on police and prosecutors to crack down on violent anti-lockdown protests in Brooklyn’s Orthodox Jewish community. The NYPD must do more to tamp down chaotic demonstrations that have run wild in Borough Park recently over new coronavirus regulations, the governor said.
“Peaceful protest is peaceful protest; criminal behavior is criminal behavior,” Cuomo said. “Prosecute criminal behavior. NYPD: Arrest people who are in the midst of criminal behavior. District attorney: Prosecute a person for criminal behavior. The law is the law. ... The law does not recognize political circumstances.”
A group of city rabbis, along with Kornbluh, held a Zoom press conference Friday calling for the arrest of Tischler.
“We’re calling upon the NYPD and Mayor (Bill) de Blasio and Brooklyn DA Eric Gonzalez to immediately arrest and bring charges against Heshy Tischler,” said Rabbi Rachel Timoner.
“It was discouraging to see that I was subject to violence when I was clearly doing my job number one as a journalist, but also as a member of this community to observe a scene where people in my community have voiced their frustration in some of the measures that was outlined by the governor and the mayor,” Kornbluh said during the call.
Dozens of protesters set fire to heaps of masks piled on 13th Avenue in Brooklyn on Tuesday and Wednesday nights.
Judge Kiyo Matsumoto of the U.S. District Court of the Eastern District of New York denied a request for restraining order late Friday against the governor’s orders in COVID-19 hot spots statewide.
“Plaintiffs failed to show, among other things, a likelihood of success on the merits of their claim that Executive Order 202.68 is unconstitutional or otherwise violates the Free Exercise Clause,” according to the ruling.
Democratic Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer made similar comments about Trump, inciting division Friday after two of 13 men in two militia groups were arrested on state and federal charges in connection with a plot to kidnap Whitmer and overthrow the Midwestern state’s government.
“There is no doubt he is exploiting division to help his campaign,” Cuomo said of Trump. “I also believe his campaign is fomenting the ultra-orthodox in Brooklyn. ‘Well, that’s wild speculation by the governor’ — no. I don’t do wild speculation.
“The Trump campaign wants to inflame divisions. Meanwhile, they’re putting people’s lives at risk,” the governor said. “Some of those people will die. What’s the Trump campaign saying? Play politics. It’s disgusting.”
Whitmer serves on the National Governor’s Association executive committee, working closely with Cuomo, who was appointed as the association’s chairman in August.
“There is no question the president of the United States is a divisive force,” Cuomo said. “He has been since the day of election. His campaign was promised on division. His campaign was the oldest strategy in the book: Divide and conquer.”
Cuomo reviewed Trump’s history of exploiting divisive behavior or actions regarding class and race, drawing parallels to the president’s comments after an August 2017 Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Va., where Ku Klux Klan and other neo-Nazi groups clashed with counterprotesters. After the rally, where one counterprotester was killed following a car attack, Trump referred to the white supremacists and counterprotesters as “good people on both sides of the argument.”
“No — the KKK are not good,” Cuomo said. “Racism is not good. Discrimination is not good. It violates our principles. It’s anti-American behavior. He has advocated anti-American behavior to further his political goals.”
Trump’s behavior should outrage New Yorkers and the press, Cuomo said.
“New Yorkers should be outraged by this kind of racist, vitriolic poison that is being spread,” he added. “Yeah, the Trump campaign is fostering it. I’m not surprised. New Yorkers are repeating it. I am surprised. All good, decent New Yorkers should be outraged because it’s wrong and it’s not who we are.”
Tribune News Service contributed to this report.