Victimizing the Victims

By Jeffrey Page

I’ve been waiting seven days now for a former schools superintendent in Orange County to demand a retraction of quotes attributed to him by The New York Times. Surely he will say he was misquoted, or that his comments were taken out of context, or that the Times story was just dead wrong.

I don’t know the man but eagerly await his response because without it, he might be seen as an educator with some very bizarre beliefs about anti-Semitism and swastika display, and student violence.

The story, which ran on Nov. 8, was about the appearance of swastikas on school property and the continual physical and verbal harassment of Jewish students in the Pine Bush School District, and the fact that the parents of three Jewish children in the district have brought a federal law suit alleging that the Pine Bush district did little if anything to eradicate anti-Semitism employed against their children. Note: The charges were roundly denied by Pine Bush residents at a public meeting this week though The Times quoted a deposition by a Pine Bush principal who said, “There are anti-Semitic incidents that have occurred that we need to address.”

As a result of The Times story, Governor Cuomo ordered the state police and the Division on Human Rights to investigate. State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman is conducting his own probe. So is Preet Bharara, the U.S. attorney for the Southern District of New York.

The community of Pine Bush and its school district of course will be vindicated or damned, but in the meantime, former Superintendent Philip G. Steinberg’s words speak for themselves.

The Times reported that Steinberg – who is Jewish and said he had been the victim of anti-Semitism in his life – had the gall to question the Jewish plaintiffs about their faith and about their original decision to move into the Pine Bush district. Instead of taking strong action against anti-Semitism, Steinberg acknowledged to The Times that he told the plaintiffs, “I said to them, ‘If being Jewish is so important to you, why would you move into a community that does not have a synagogue?’”

Aside from its being one of the more vile questions you’re likely to hear a public official ask a resident, Steinberg apparently was unaware that most communities in Orange County have no synagogues. So where would he suggest a Jewish family live?

It doesn’t end there He used a classic anti-Semitic stereotype when he descried the law suit against the district as “a money grab.”

And in response to a complaint about the alleged harassment of two Jewish girls, Steinberg said: “I have said I will meet with your daughters and I will, but your expectations for changing inbred prejudice may be a bit unrealistic.”

Changing “inbred prejudice” may (or may not) be unrealistic, but asking a school administrator to take responsibility for changing unacceptable student behavior is simply asking him to do his job.

Steinberg, perhaps unwittingly, raises a fundamental question: If anti-Semitism is inbred in Pine Bush – which it probably is not – what actions did he take to eradicate its manifestations, such as physical harassment, Nazi salutes, and a swastika remaining posted on a bulletin for weeks after it was reported?


2 Responses to “Victimizing the Victims”

  1. MichaelKaufman Says:

    I had the same reaction to Steinberg’s remarks. The Record’s coverage on this has been abysmal, focusing almost entirely on the community’s denial that a problem exists save for a few “bad apples.” I haven’t heard that lame excuse since Abu Ghraib.

  2. Jo Galante Cicale Says:

    I believe this is the same school district that lost a mega suit filed by the family of a Latino, bi-racial kid who was totally bullied. Jeff, do you recall street rumors, years ago, about Pine Bush being a bastion for the KKK? From my perch in Ellenville, Pine Bush was known for its “inbred” intolerance. This super should be fired and ashamed to call himself Jewish.

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