New York Weighs Face Mask Ban in Response to Antisemitic Attacks

The New York governor says she is motivated, in part, by a recent antisemitic incident by masked protesters on the New York City subway.

Jose F. Moreno/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP
Anti-Israel protesters at Drexel University in Philadelphia. Jose F. Moreno/The Philadelphia Inquirer via AP

Governor Hochul is considering a ban on facemasks on the New York City subway system to deter crime, specifically antisemitic attacks, after a recent incident that saw several protesters harassing Jews. After a video of the incident went viral, Ms. Hochul said she wants a solution to prevent such attacks in the future. 

“We will not tolerate individuals using masks to evade responsibility for criminal or threatening behavior,” Ms. Hochul said at a press conference. “My team is working on a solution, but on a subway, people should not be able to hide behind a mask to commit crimes.”

Ms. Hochul’s comment came in response to a video of masked protesters on the subway haranguing other riders. One protester asked: “Raise your hand if you’re a Zionist — this is your chance to get out.” Another said, “I wish Hitler was still here. He would have wiped all you out.”

Masks have become common at anti-Israel protests across America, and have been a staple of many public demonstrations since the Covid pandemic and the George Floyd protests of 2020. Ms. Hochul says New York will not stand idly by while there is “a group donning masks that took over a subway car, scaring riders and chanting things about Hitler and wiping out Jews.”

For more than a century, the Empire State had a law that banned masks and face coverings from being worn at protests due to law enforcement’s inability to identify someone if they committed a crime. Governor Cuomo worked with the state legislature to repeal the law in 2020 shortly after the pandemic began. 

Mayor Adams says that those who wear masks at anti-Israel protests to conceal their identity are no better than the Ku Klux Klan, who hid behind their white hoods. “Dr. King did not hide his face when he marched for the things he thought were wrong in the country. Those civil rights leaders did not hide their faces. They stood up. In contrast to that, the Klan hid their faces,” Mr. Adams said during a radio interview. 

Civil liberties groups are already concerned that Ms. Hochul could try to reimpose such restrictions with or without the help of the New York state legislature, which has recessed for the remainder of the year. The governor does have the power to call a special session of the legislature, however. 

“The Governor’s concerns about masks disguising criminal activity won’t be quelled by banning anonymous peaceful protest. Mask bans were originally developed to squash political protests and, like other laws that criminalize people, they will be selectively enforced — used to arrest, doxx, surveil, and silence people of color and protestors the police disagree with,” the executive director of the New York Civil Liberties Union, Donna Lieberman, said in a statement to the Associated Press. 

“A mask ban would be easily violated by bad actors and, if someone engages in unlawful actions, the judgment should be made based on the criminal behavior, not their attire,” Ms. Lieberman said.

The reemergence of the face mask as a protest staple, especially since October 7, has more to do with public health and personal safety than it does hiding from law enforcement, those who are wearing them claim. One anti-Israel activist who is planning on leading a march at the Democratic National Convention in August, Olan Mijana, told Semafor that the face mask is meant to communicate to President Biden that he is wrong to say that the Covid pandemic is over. 

“To us, the optics are communicating that we deny the Biden administration’s narrative about Covid — that it’s no longer a big deal,” Ms. Mijana said. “It’s about collective safety, and it’s also about connecting this Covid neglect to the very issues that we’re marching on the DNC for.”

Pro-Israel activists have called for Ms. Hochul and other public leaders to take a stronger stance against masks at protests in order to ensure that there are consequences for those who engage in antisemitic behavior. The director of the Anti-Defamation League, Jonathan Greenblatt, visited the famous Columbia University encampment to decry the anti-Israel demonstration.

“No masks on campus,” Ms. Greenblatt said in a video posted from Columbia. “This isn’t Fallujah — this is Morningside Heights.”


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