‘Angry and Afraid’: Tensions High in New York Over Israel-Hamas War

Tensions were high in Muslim and Jewish communities around New York City, with impassioned protests and rallies on both sides in recent days drawing thousands as Israel girded for a ground invasion of Gaza.

On Saturday, a protest calling for Israel to stop killing civilians in Gaza drew about 5,000 people in the Bay Ridge neighborhood of Brooklyn, home to a significant Palestinian population, and 19 people were arrested, some of them after clashing with the police.

The protest followed a large pro-Israel demonstration near Times Square on Thursday and a pro-Palestinian demonstration on Friday at which 139 people were arrested while blocking traffic, according to the police.

“So many people in New York City have family back home, and they’re scared to death and they’re angry and afraid,” Justin Brannan, a city councilman for Bay Ridge, said on Sunday, adding, “I think it’s important that we acknowledge that justice for one group won’t come at the cost of erasure of another.”

His opponent in an upcoming City Council race, Councilman Ari Kagan, noted that someone at the Bay Ridge rally carried a sign that included a drawing of a trash can with the Israeli flag inside. “Pure hate & a call for violence,” he wrote on X, formerly called Twitter.

There were at least four demonstrations on Sunday, the police said, in Midwood and Flatbush, Brooklyn; Jackson Heights, Queens; and near Central Park in Manhattan.

Antisemitic and anti-Islamic attacks have added to the unease and anxiety felt by New Yorkers. New York City is home to the largest population of Jews outside of Israel and to one of the country’s largest Muslim communities.

On Friday night, the police announced the arrest of two men who they said were part of a larger group that shouted anti-Muslim slurs while attacking three other men on Oct. 11. They were charged with assault, menacing and aggravated harassment, all as hate crimes.

Gov. Kathy Hochul, who recently visited a kibbutz in southern Israel, opened a hotline for hate crime complaints.Credit…Baz Ratner for The New York Times

Earlier this month, the Council on American-Islamic Relations, or CAIR, released a statement in which it “condemned alleged anti-Palestinian attacks in Brooklyn and called on public officials and the media to end anti-Palestinian incitement.”

The head of a group that monitors antisemitic activity in New York City said that hate incidents had more than doubled since Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked Israel and Israel struck back — from about one every other day to more than one a day. The incidents include shouting slurs, shooting Jewish men with BBs and graffiti of swastikas.

On Friday, Gov. Kathy Hochul, who traveled to Israel last week to show support, rolled out a hotline where New Yorkers can report incidents of hate and bias.

Mitch Silber, executive director of the group that tracks antisemitic bias, the Community Security Initiative, said that while the increase in hate was concerning, there have been no serious threats of deadly violence in New York and that his group had been counseling Jewish institutions to “keep calm and carry on.”

He said his organization had received hundreds of calls from New Yorkers seeking extra security or police officers at their synagogue.

“People are calling the N.Y.P.D. bomb squad because they got a package from Gaza that turns out it’s olive oil,” he said. “It feels like pure panic mode the community is in, and part of our job is to do a little anxiety alleviation.”

A pro-Israel demonstration in Washington Square Park on Tuesday.Credit…Ahmed Gaber for The New York Times

Mr. Silber, a former intelligence official for the New York Police Department, said he had also had to assuage the fears of Jewish leaders asking if Hamas might attack New York. He said that unlike Al Qaeda or Isis, Hamas did not appear to have “external operations capability” to attack far-off targets. The main potential danger in New York, he said, is a lone attacker.

On Wednesday, the Police Department suspended training operations so that it could make every on-duty officer available immediately for emergencies.

At the protest in Bay Ridge, Seterah Jalali, 25, holding a sign that read “Kurds for Palestine,”

Nineteen people were arrested on minor charges at the protest in Bay Ridge on Saturday, the police said.Credit…Ahmed Gaber for The New York Times

said, “In mainstream media, it seems that everybody is on Israel’s side 100 percent, but things like this remind me of the solidarity that is there.”

The 19 people arrested on Saturday in Bay Ridge were cited for minor infractions, the police said — disorderly conduct, obstructing governmental administration and resisting arrest. A video posted on Instagram by Within Our Lifetime, which organized the protest, showed a uniformed police officer throwing punches as he waded into a crowd of protesters.

Broader cultural scuffles have percolated.

On Friday, 92NY, formerly known as the 92nd Street Y, abruptly postponed an event featuring the novelist Viet Thanh Nguyen after he signed an open letter criticizing Israel. A city councilman from Queens, Robert Holden, called on the homeless-services nonprofit WIN to punish a staff member who was seen at a pro-Palestine rally.

And Representative Ritchie Torres, a Democrat from the Bronx, was the subject of a “Wanted for Genocide” poster circulated by Bronx Solidarity with Palestine. “I won’t shy away from fighting for my Jewish constituents who feel threatened by the deadliest massacre of Jews since the Holocaust,” he wrote on X.

Sabir Hasko and Chelsia Rose Marcius contributed reporting.

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