New York State Senator James Skoufis in a committee meeting, June 8, 2020. (New York Senate Media Services) (New York Senate Media Services)
James Skoufis

State senator James Skoufis walks back tweet that Jews described as “inflammatory.”

By Pesach Benson, United with Israel

A New York state senator who singled out Jews over a case of polio has walked back his comments in the face of an uproar, the New York Jewish Week reported on Thursday.

It came amid the backdrop of an Orthodox Jewish man in Rockland County being diagnosed with polio. The man’s case is the first in the U.S. in a decade, local health officials said on Thursday. It was also disclosed that the man had not been vaccinated against polio.

In response, Democratic State Sen. James Skoufis, whose district includes part of Rockland County, posted a statement on Twitter — that was subsequently removed — vowing to “bring the full force of the law down on those who have skirted these requirements.”

Skoufis specifically mentioned yeshivas in Ramapo, a town in Rockland County, has having “a history of non-compliance with the state’s vaccine laws.”

The senator stressed that “Additional enforcement is required in light of today’s news.”

Yossi Gestetner, a Rockland County activist tweeted back calling Skoufis’ tweet “hateful and inflammatory.”

Gestetner, who battled similar misperceptions about the Jewish community during a 2019 measles outbreak, told the New York Jewish Week that he was concerned that the senator’s comments could fuel antismemitism.

“People have real concerns about vaccines,” he told the Jewish Week. “Even if they’re wrong, the government should go out there and show them the benefit of these vaccines rather than just yelling at people.”

He acknowledged vaccine hesitancy among the Orthodox of Rockland County, but stressed that this is not unique to that community.

“People have real concerns about vaccines,” he said. “Even if they’re wrong, the government should go out there and show them the benefit of these vaccines rather than just yelling at people.”

Skoufis has since removed the tweet and met with local Jewish leaders.

“I truly appreciate the sensitivity on the ground and the need to make sure the language used like that in my statement from today better reflects that sensitivity,” Skoufis said on Twitter.

Polio is a viral disease that affects the nervous system, causes muscle weakness and often paralysis. In most cases, it enters the body when contaminated hands touch the mouth. There is no cure, but polio can be prevented with a vaccination.

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