Mayor calls out antisemitism in Northampton’s public discourse

  • Northampton Mayor Gina Louise-Sciarra speaks during the city’s inauguration ceremony at the Academy of Music on Monday, Jan. 3, 2022. Carol Lollis / Gazette Staff

Staff Writer
Published: 1/6/2022 9:10:18 PM
Modified: 1/6/2022 9:09:38 PM

NORTHAMPTON — Mayor Gina-Louise Sciarra on Thursday publicly condemned “a disturbing increase in the use of antisemitic language and images in Northampton public discourse during the COVID-19 pandemic” and encouraged others to speak up against hate.

Sciarra’s statement reaffirms the city’s support for the Jewish community while blaming a rise in bigotry in part on “the cowardly ability to hide behind anonymity” and attend a remote public meeting from “anywhere.” She said the city has also seen a recent rise in anti-Asian behavior and other forms of racism.

“We must speak up against the words and actions of those who sow hatred toward any group,” Sciarra wrote. “They are a threat to the safety and peace of our community and beyond.”

Sciarra referred specifically to a virtual Board of Health meeting on Dec. 28 at which the board heard three hours of public comment about a proposed vaccine mandate to enter bars and restaurants. A man who identified himself as David Rosenberg criticized the idea and called board members “unelected, rich, Jewish doctors.”

Another person using the name “JEWS WILL NOT REPLACE US” displayed three swastikas in their Zoom meeting photo.

Remote access, Sciarra wrote, “has opened up city meetings and civic engagement to so many in our community who weren’t able to previously participate.” The city cannot censor free speech, she said, but “that does not mean that we do not denounce hateful and derogatory comments or images.”

During Thursday’s City Council meeting, many councilors spoke in support of Sciarra’s statement and the city’s public health officials.

Ward 1 Councilor Stanley Moulton referred to the antisemitic comments as “unconscionable and shocking,” while council Vice President Karen Foster of Ward 2 called out the bigotry as well as “patently false information” shared by some members of the public about the COVID-19 pandemic and vaccines.

Ward 7 Councilor Rachel Maiore said that “flagrant antisemitic comments and misinformation” feed “an environment of intimidation and fear and trying to shut people down.”

Ward 6 Councilor Marianne LaBarge commended Public Health Director Merridith O’Leary and the Board of Health.

“I know for a fact that they will make the decisions that are going to be right for our city,” LaBarge said.

Also Thursday, state Sen. Jo Comerford, D-Northampton, issued a statement of support for local boards of health who are facing “near constant criticism,” which has “crossed a bright line and has been marred by both violent rhetoric and antisemitic slurs.”

Comerford urged all residents to “pull together,” trust science and show compassion to each other during “this truly difficult time.”

Brian Steele can be reached at bsteele@gazettenet.com.
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