U.S. Attorney General William Barr vows crackdown on anti-Semitism to Jewish leaders in Brooklyn

BOROUGH PARK, Brooklyn (WABC) -- U.S. Attorney General William Barr told a gathering of Jewish leaders in Brooklyn Tuesday that he is "extremely distressed" about recent acts of intimidation and violence against Jewish communities and said federal authorities will be lowering their levels of tolerance for acts of anti-Semitism moving forward in order to more aggressively prosecute hate crimes cases.

"It strikes at the very core of what this country is about," Barr said during a meeting at the Boro Park Jewish Community Council. "I've always felt it is particularly pernicious because it does target people based not only their ethnicity but also on their religious practice."

As a part of the new effort, Barr announced new federal charges unsealed against Tiffany Harris, a woman accused of slapping three Orthodox Jewish women in Brooklyn in December.

Harris had been released on bail when she allegedly attacked another women and was released on bail again.

"We are charging her federally," Barr said, inserting the federal government into the highly charged debate in New York over the state's new bail reform law.

The federal complaint said Harris knew she was walking through the "Jewish neighborhood," and she allegedly told police she recalled slapping the women, cursing at them and saying to them, "(Expletive) you, Jews."

The incident was one in a series of acts alleged to have been motivated by anti-Semitism that alarmed New York's Jewish community just before the New Year, including the Dec. 29 stabbing of five people at a Hanukkah celebration in Monsey.

In addressing what he described as a nationwide uptick in anti-Semitic acts, Barr sought to tie the issue to government actions that have attempted to restrict the curriculum of religious schools, stepping into another politically charged debate in New York about Orthodox Jews in Brooklyn who have come under fire for maintaining yeshivas that do not properly teach secular courses.

Barr told the group of leaders he was concerned that a deterioration of values and a "spiritual hollowing out that's been occurring in the western world" was a broader concern of his in working to address acts of harassment and violence against religious groups.

"One worries whether barbarism is right below the surface," Barr said.

Another initiative announced by Barr was a directive he said would be sent to U.S. attorney's offices across the country, calling for them to "initiate or reinvigorate" their outreach to Jewish communities and provide points of contact for Jewish leaders to report hate crimes and law enforcement concerns.

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