Eli Cohen: “The Gag Order was Issued Largely Due to Police Pressure”

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Eli Federman, a local resident, was one of the very few to speak up about the gag order imposed by the Rabonim. His letter was met with a flood of response, both critical and supportive. In a new letter Federman writes that one of those who reached out was Rabbi Eli Cohen, executive director of the CHJCC, and what he had to say was quite surprising.

Eliyahu Federman, Juris Doctor
Executive Articles Editor, NYC Law Review 2009 – 2010
Eli.Federman@Gmail.com

Dear Crown Heights Jewish Community Counsel, Beth Din and fellow members of the community:

I write this public letter to continue the needed debate about the issuing of the edict from the Beth Din on Chof Daled Kislev (December 1) 2010 prohibiting members of the community from filing grievances against the police or even writing about or speaking to the media about allegations of police wrongdoing, without the Crown Heights Jewish Community Council’s (CHJCC) approval.

After my first letter was published, I received an outpouring of support from my fellow Crown Heights Community members. I also received some critical comments suggesting that I have no right to issue public letters because “it could cause trouble.”

The CHJCC reached out to me to discuss my letter and concerns. I asked Rabbi Eli Cohen, Executive Director of the CHJCC, why the Rabbis issued the gag order. I was surprised to hear that the order was issued largely as a response to police pressure and feedback regarding a WABC Channel 7 story related to baseless summonses issued to members of our community and negative comments posted online by community members about the police, not Jewish law or real concerns of the Rabbis. In fact, the edict does not even cite Jewish law and I’m told has no basis in Jewish law.

Rabbi Cohen addressed an e-mail to me, in his individual capacity, where he stated that negative online blog comments about the police “is hurting our ability to work with the department; undermining police morale, and making it harder for Simonetti to persuade his beat cops to …[be]… sensible when interacting with our community on matters like traffic stops (especially before Shabbos), double parking, minor criminal violations (like riding on sidewalks or drinking in public), and the like.” Further, Rabbi Cohen stated that the edict was a message to the community that they should “not go to channel 7 — as one young fellow did recently – and say that the police are mistreating us.” (email dated Dec. 11, 2010). In person Rabbi Cohen made it clear that the edict was issued largely because of police concerns regarding critical comments made by community members against the police.

It is deeply disconcerting that the CHJCC and Beth Din would cave in to inappropriate police pressure, but what is more disconcerting is the fact that the police would attempt to pressure the CHJCC to quell the voices of potential victims in our community. The police should not be pressuring community leaders into silencing their constituents and more important community leaders should not acquiesce to police department directives when those directives would interfere with the rights of members of our community.

This proclamation, how and why it was issued, needs to be further discussed since it strikes at the essence of who we are as a community.

Let me know what you think.

Kol Tuv,
Eli Federman

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