The state’s Department of Health parked a truck with a large billboard in the Five Towns on Long Island this week encouraging Orthodox Jews to get vaccinated.
Assemblyman Ari Brown (R-Cedarhurst) saw this as the “department’s subtle bigotry” and an expression of antisemitism and expressed anger.
The sign, displayed across one full side of the truck, said: “Polio is spreading in Israel. Get immunized now.”
It was parked Monday in a parking lot at the kosher supermarket Gourmet Glatt, according to Brown’s statement. He sent a letter to Associate Health Commissioner Sam Miller.
To some, this is reminiscent of the intense campaign during the Covid-19 pandemic that was aimed at the communities where the virus was spreading most rapidly. The Orthodox religious community has been known to refuse any vaccination and there had been outbreaks of measles in those communities, even before the Covid-19 pandemic became an urgent issue. According to The New York Times, in addition to religious objections there is also the fear that vaccination will affect fertility negatively.
Ari Brown stated, “I will fight antisemitism and will not be silent whether it’s from a government official, media, academic institution, or whomever. I would appreciate an expeditious response,” he wrote.
The lawmaker did hear back from the health department.
“He couldn’t have been nicer and apologetic,” Brown told Patch. “He knew there was a mistake. He was kind. Right away, he pulled it back.”
Brown said the sign was removed. “After hearing feedback that mobile van ads intended to reach New Yorkers in their communities could be interpreted as blaming the communities themselves for the spread of polio, the Department immediately pulled those ads.”
The health department said the impetus for the billboard was four recent polio cases in Israel, including a paralyzed child.
“With Passover near and travel to Israel expected to increase, the Department also launched a public awareness campaign this month reminding New Yorkers planning travel to Israel to protect themselves and their families by getting immunized,” Miller wrote.
Brown said this was not an isolated issue about one message on a truck, and referred back to the Covid-19 controversy.
“Governor Cuomo did the exact same thing with COVID. He created these red zones and if you looked at the red zones, they were only around the Jewish areas,” Brown said. “So, there’s an extra heightened sensitivity here.”
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