The mayor of New York City has issued an apology to the Jewish community, saying he was trying to use “tough love” while speaking out against people who attended a funeral for a local rabbi.

Bill de Blasio said a tweet he posted in the wake of the massive funeral for Rabbi Chaim Mertz — which was reportedly attended by over 2,000 people in Williamsburg, Brooklyn — came out of “frustration” and “anger” since those in attendance were not adhering to the city’s social distancing guidelines.

"I regret if the way I said it in any way gave people a feeling of being treated the wrong way, that was not my intention," the mayor said during a press conference on Wednesday.

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He added: "It was said with love, but it was tough love.”

The large gathering of Orthodox Jewish residents were mourning the death of the 73-year-old rabbi, who passed away from complications of Covid-19, when city officials broke up the funeral on Tuesday night.

Mr de Blasio then posted a statement online that read: “My message to the Jewish community, and all communities, is this simple: the time for warnings has passed.”

“I have instructed the NYPD to proceed immediately to summons or even arrest those who gather in large groups,” he continued. “This is about stopping this disease and saving lives. Period.”

That statement prompted swift backlash from the city’s Jewish communities, including New York City Councilman Kalman Yeger, who is Jewish.

The councilman wrote in a tweet: “Mr. Mayor, your words are unacceptable.”

“To condemn our entire community over one group of people is something you would not do to any other ethnic group,” he added, “and I know you long enough to know that you know this.”

Councilman Chaim Deustch also slammed the mayor in a series of tweets, saying Mr de Blasio was “inviting anti-Semitism” with his harsh words for those mourning on Tuesday night.

“This has to be a joke,” the councilman wrote. “Did the mayor of NYC really just single out one specific ethnic community (a community that has been the target of increasing hate crimes in HIS city) as being noncompliant?? Has he been to a park lately? (What am I saying – of course he has!)”

He added: “Singling out one community is ridiculous. Every neighbourhood has people who are being non-compliant. To speak to an entire ethnic group as though we are all flagrantly violating precautions is offensive, it’s stereotyping, and it’s inviting antisemitism. I’m truly stunned.“

Mr de Blasio continued to express sympathy over the way his comments caused anger, saying he has “a lot of love” for the Jewish community.

“If in my passion and in my emotion I said something that in any way was hurtful, I’m sorry about that,” he said. “It was not my intention," he told reporters.

Still, the mayor noted that he will continue to “very aggressively” call out any gatherings that violate the city’s social distancing guidelines.

New York City has found itself at the epicentre of the coronavirus pandemic in the US, with more Covid-19 cases than anywhere in the country. Over one million people have contracted the novel virus in the US, and nearly 61,000 people have died.

More than 18,000 people have died in New York City.

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