BROOKLYN — “There have been a lot of people who have taken positions that they believed were principled and who have been criticized for it, “ said Joe Hynes, the Brooklyn District Attorney.
He should know.
Hynes has taken on his own Democratic Party boss and sent him to jail. Likewise, a corrupt judge and the so-called “Mafia Cops.”
Now Hynes is under fire again.
This time for launching a novel initiative designed to pierce a cultural version of “Omerta” in the ultra Orthodox Jewish community, where an intimidating code of silence seemingly protects pedophiles and sexual offenders at the expense of victims.
The historical cultural ban on cooperating with authorities — traditonally oppressors of the Jews — is known as "Messira," a Hebrew epithet for informant.
”Either you make a decision that you have made the right choice and you continue,” he added. “Or you become a wimp.”
“And whatever else people think of me,” the six-term DA continued, “I have never been a wimp.”
Three years ago, as allegations of child sexual abuse rocked the community and Hynes was urged to do more, he and his sex prosecutors put their heads together.
The mission was to develop a strategy to attack an imposing veil of secrecy where traditional approaches had fallen short, he said.
Hynes came up with “Voice of Justice,” or Kol Tzedeck in Hebrew, which appealed to victims to come directly to his office with complaints. He promised to do all he could to keep their identities from coming out, including not publicizing the names of defendants.
The reasons were logical, he told “On The Inside.”
Within the ultra Orthodox community, residents were told to keep their dirty laundry among themselves and to bring complaints of sexual impropriety to their rabbi, who would decide on a course of action.
If the cops were brought in, and a suspect was arrested and identified publicly, word immediately spread through the community — and the intimidation of the victims quickly followed. Ostracism and even harsher realities befell them and their families.
They were shunned. Marriages were not permitted. Children were tossed out of schools. Families were booted from synagogues. Businesses were financially hurt or destroyed. Landlords kicked families out of their homes.
And forget about the emotional toll.
“It is absolutely vile,” Hynes said of the re-victimization and the often knee-jerk rallies held to defend the accused.
Hynes said if he was fighting the Mafia, he could suggest witness protection.
“But that is not an option here,” he said. “These people can’t change the way they look. Their way of life is this community and they are subject to the most horrific type of harassment.”
No prosecutorial plan, however, is perfect, Hynes said.
“I knew there would be flak” over his adopted method of not publicizing the sex crime arrests, he said.
“I should have made it clearer from the beginning we were not embargoing names,” he explained.
“They are in the public record and we are just making it more difficult for defendants and their friends to identity the victims.”
Some critics say he is shielding names to curry favor for support from the politically active Jewish community.
“If you think I am giving preferential treatment to these people, don’t you think I have a strange way of showing my gratitude for their support?” he said. “I have locked up 102 of them.”
Hynes believes the recent spotlight, including the darts thrown at him, has brought welcome attention to the problem and a suggestion from former Mayor Ed Koch that he go after the intimidators if they cross the legal line.
“I thought it was a good idea,” he said of a new task force that he expects will lead to arrests for strong arm tactics.
“And I hope it will have a chilling effect,” he said. “If we get lucky with the task force, the break may be monumental.
“We are going to keep going forward,” he concluded. “And if the day comes when the pattern of intimidation has been dramatically reduced, I don’t care how much abuse I get.”