New York State Assemblyman Jeffrey Dinowitz, a Democrat, said he was disgusted and offended by Nazi imagery used at an event outside his district office Sunday in opposition to a bill he is sponsoring.
Assembly Bill A8378, which is sitting in committee, would amend the state public health law to add COVID-19 to the required immunizations to attend school. The bill is also sponsored by Assemblyman Richard Gottfried, a Manhattan Democrat, and Assemblyman Phil Steck, a Colonie Democrat.
Republican gubernatorial candidate Rob Astorino spoke at the event, surrounded by protestors — including parents and their kids — in support of his anti-mandate message, some shouting out that they don’t co-parent with the government.
Protestors lingered after the speech, some chanting together “Let’s go Brandon,” a euphemism for “F*** Joe Biden” — which they also chanted.
More than one protestor surrounding Astorino, at 3107 Kingsbridge Ave., were seen using Nazi imagery, which Astorino claims he did not notice.
One woman held a sign with a swastika drawn on it, to the right of Astorino, the former Westchester County executive. Another protestor, who is identified in a YouTube video as Daniel Atha, wore a yellow star, representing the badge Jews were forced to wear under the Nazi regime as a prelude to the systematic killing of 6 million Jews. Atha is the former director of conservation outreach at the New York Botanical Garden, who left the Bronx institution after 27 years when it implemented a vaccine mandate in August.
“The display of swastikas and yellow Stars of David outside my office today is repugnant and offensive,” Dinowitz tweeted on Sunday. “People are perfectly free to express their opinion on vaccines or any issue, but to openly display Nazi symbols outside the office of a Jewish legislator is despicable.”
In another tweet, Dinowitz pointed a finger at Astorino, saying he stood beside the symbols and didn’t say a word about them.
But Astorino tweeted that he didn’t see them and that there is no comparison to the atrocities of the Holocaust.
“Not only didn’t I see the sign, [the] woman holding it had a different sign when I met her prior to the event,” Astorino said in another tweet. “Regardless of who the woman was or why she was there, if I saw the sign I would have stopped and had it removed. Absolutely inappropriate.”
Phil Oliva, a spokesman for Astorino’s campaign who ran for Congress as a Republican in 2016, told the Bronx Times there was “no way” Astorino saw the imagery, echoing the candidate’s sentiments from Twitter.
The YouTube video of the event, posted by Manny Grossman, calls the gathering a rally for medical freedom. Grossman said he was fired from the New York Botanical Garden as an educator about a year ago after 10 years after he shared his thoughts with students about Bill Gates.
New York Botanical Garden could not be reached Monday evening.
Atha referenced the pandemic as a “scamdemic;” Grossman called it a “plandemic,” and in the video’s description, Grossman calls Dinowitz a “total fascist.”
“We have a genuine concern about what might become a law if he gets his way,” Astorino said of Dinowitz at the protest. “… We’re here because we do not believe that a COVID-19 vaccine mandate is proper public policy for our kids.”
Dinowitz tweeted on Saturday in advance of what he termed an “anti-vax event,” directing people to avoid the area if they are concerned about the risk of transmitting COVID-19 “or other preventable diseases.” In a statement, he said Astorino’s position is “obviously anti-vaccine, as evidenced by the anti-vaccine signs and statements from the 40-50 people who attended his rally.”
But Oliva said the 54-year-old Republican and his wife both received the COVID-19 inoculation, and their children have other vaccines. Astorino is against all COVID-19 vaccine mandates but encourages adults to discuss the vaccine with their doctors, and thinks they should strongly consider getting it if they are older or have health issues, Oliva said.
Astorino told Dinowitz on Twitter to have the “guts” to meet and learn “why so many parents oppose your mandate.”
Dinowitz said in a statement he refused “to be cowed by anti-Semites or anti-science extremists” and that vaccine requirements have “a demonstrably positive impact on vaccination rates, and vaccination rates have a demonstrably positive impact on reducing fatalities and hospitalizations from preventable diseases.”
Reach Aliya Schneider at firstname.lastname@example.org or (718) 260-4597. For more coverage, follow us on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram @bronxtimes.