ADL Urges NY to Reinstate Law Prohibiting Masks

ADL Urges NY to Reinstate Law Prohibiting Masks
Pro-Palestinian protest

‘Anti-mask laws help ensure that individuals cannot hide behind anonymity to engage in criminal activities, terrorize, or otherwise disturb the peace’.

By Batya Jerenberg

Jewish groups are backing a call to reinstate an old law banning masks in public in New York so that antisemitic demonstrators who break the law can be more easily arrested, The New York Post reported Wednesday.

“A mask law will make a difference,” Anti-Defamation League (ADL) Regional Director Scott Richman told the New York daily.

“It effectively tanked the Ku Klux Klan,” he noted, referring to the white supremacist hate group that in its heyday had millions of members across the U.S. who were famed for wearing white, hooded robes when they lynched people or burned crosses on their lawns. “Nobody wanted their face to be seen.”

The New York law, which had been on the books for some two centuries, was rescinded during the Covid-19 pandemic, when health officials demanded that people mask up in 2020 to prevent the spread of the disease.

Jewish Community Relations Council head Mark Treyger told The Post that now was the time to act.

“This is a crisis, an emergency,” he said. “We need a comprehensive plan to stop the rising tide of antisemitism to protect Jewish New Yorkers and all New Yorkers.”

“We are experiencing and seeing the Nazi playbook come to life in 2024.”

According to ADL data, New York, home to the largest Jewish community in the world outside of Israel, has seen antisemitic incidents shoot up by hundreds of percentage points after the ongoing Israel-Hamas war was sparked on October 7 by the terrorists’ surprise invasion in which they slaughtered 1,200 people and took 252 hostage in a rampage that it had planned for years.

Last month, Staten Island Assemblyman Michael Reilly introduced legislation in Albany to amend the mask law, making it a misdemeanor punishable by 90 days in jail or up to one year if there is injury to another person or theft or damage of property.

He said he was propelled to demand a change in the law by the “risk to public safety.”

This included the violence of many anti-Israel protestors on college campuses over the last two months, who have physically and verbally threatened Jewish students, vandalized school property, and committed other criminal acts while covering their faces with medical masks, Arab-style keffiyehs and other cloths to hide their identities.

“If you’re truly out there for peaceful assembly, then there’s no reason to cover your face,” Reilly said. “For those that cover their face, their intentions are to do something that is not peaceful.”

Other acts that angered him and fellow legislators have been the repeated illegal blocking of bridges and highways during some of the 2,000 anti-Israel protests that have wracked the city since the beginning of the war.

The high number was reported in a March meeting of the New York City Council.

Earlier this month, the conservative Manhattan Institute issued its own model legislation, saying that “Anti-masking laws are critical tools for maintaining public safety and accountability.”

“By mandating visibility,” its brief said, “anti-mask laws help ensure that individuals cannot hide behind anonymity to engage in criminal activities, terrorize, or otherwise disturb the peace. This is particularly important during public demonstrations, when the potential for violence can escalate quickly and when knowing the identity of those involved becomes crucial for law enforcement.”

In contrast, the American Civil Liberties Union said it was “a big problem” to use “arcane” anti-mask laws “to target people who wear face coverings while peacefully protesting Israel’s war in Gaza.”


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