Jewish leaders are slamming the state Health Department for sending a truck through Long Island neighborhoods with the message, “Polio is Spreading in Israel. Get Immunized Now.”
State Assemblyman Ari Brown (R-Cedarhurst) complained that the public service ad smacks of an antisemitic trope of “the Jews spreading disease.”
Many residents in the Five Towns area — Lawrence, Cedarhurst, Woodmere, Hewlett and Inwood — are orthodox or observant Jews with ties to Israel.
“I was appalled, but not surprised to learn that the NYS Department of Health sent a truck to our Orthodox Jewish community of the Five Towns on Long Island, displaying the subtle antisemitic trope of “the Jew spreading disease,’” Brown, who is also the deputy mayor of the Village of Cedarhurst, said in a letter sent Monday to the Health Department.
He said Jews were often blamed for spreading contagious diseases through the course of history.
“The Nazis justified the walling off of the ghettos as a preventive measure against the spread of typhus, while some 300 Jewish communities were destroyed in the mass hysteria associated with the plague,” Brown said.
He also has blamed city and state leaders for exhibiting “disguised bigotry” when targeting orthodox Jewish communities during the COVID-19 lockdowns.
“Now with a New York State Department of Health truck riding around Jewish neighborhoods with the rhetoric of, Polio is spreading in Israel, Get Immunized Now … It’s the same ‘Jews spread disease’ libel,” Brown said.
Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman, who also is Jewish, said, “Disturbing messaging from the [state] Department of Health contained wording that could be perceived as antisemitic rhetoric.”
Blakeman said he was informed that Hochul and the DOH acknowledged poor judgment and removed the “Polio is Spreading in Israel” messaging.
“Congratulations to Assemblyman Brown and Governor Hochul for immediately correcting this troubling message,” the Nassau County leader said.
Department of Health confirms they pulled the polio ad.
“Following Israel’s recent announcement of four new cases of polio, including a paralyzed child, the Department of Health issued a press release urging people who travel to Israel and other countries with circulating poliovirus to get fully immunized against polio,” said DOH external affairs chief Sam Miller.
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.
“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 Department of Health remains committed to serving New York’s State’s diverse communities, and we strongly condemn antisemitism. We will continue to work with our partners to stop the spread of a once-eradicated disease that causes preventable, life-threatening paralysis.”