Home » This trend calls into question whether there was any political interference with the apportionment results released by the Census Bureau

This trend calls into question whether there was any political interference with the apportionment results released by the Census Bureau

At least 45 people were killed and some 150 more injured in a crush at a religious festival of ultra-Orthodox Jews in northern Israel, where tens of thousands of faithful had convened in one of the country’s largest events since the pandemic began.

The chaos at Mount Meron began early Friday at the festival of Lag BaOmer, which features bonfires and dancing around the Galilee tomb of a 2nd century rabbi.

According to witnesses, at around 1 a.m. local time, in an area of the complex where the ultra-Orthodox Hasidic community of Toldos Aharon was holding its celebration, participants were pushing through a slippery staircase. Suddenly, a row of people fell to the floor, piling atop of one another.

Witnesses said people were asphyxiated or trampled in the tightly packed corridor. The stampede occurred in the men’s section of the gender-segregated festival, Reuters reported, quoting medics, who said that casualties included children.

Officials had limited the number of bonfires at the site this year in an attempt to control crowds because of COVID-19 concerns.

“There weren’t a lot of bonfires this year, and I believe that’s why everyone came all at once,” said a young survivor, identified as Avraham, speaking to Israeli Channel 12 television from his hospital bed.

Hezi Levi, the director general of Israel’s Ministry of Health, told NPR that he was concerned about a potential virus outbreak because of the large crowds.

“I expressed yesterday my concern of gathering together of hundreds of thousands of people who are coming to celebrate the Lag BaOmer, and we spoke about a scenario that might be very dangerous regarding corona,” Levi said. “We are not sure that everybody is vaccinated. We know children under 16 years old are not vaccinated. And it’s very dangerous to transfer the disease.”

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Despite warnings from Israeli health officials, local media estimated the crowd at this year’s festival at around 100,000 people.

Another witness told Haaretz newspaper, “It happened in a split second; people just fell, trampling each other. It was a disaster.”

Rescue officials put the death toll at 45. Zaki Heller, a spokesman for the Magen David Adom rescue service, said 150 people had been hurt in the stampede, six of them were in critical condition.

Authorities struggled to identify the dead, asking families to bring medical records and photographs of their relatives to Israel’s central morgue.

Relatives continued to search for their missing loved ones Friday morning, after buses evacuated crowds from the site overnight and cellphone service collapsed in the area. Israelis posted photos of their relatives, and the Israeli president’s office set up an emergency hotline to help families searching for missing relatives.

More than a dozen House Republicans Friday are questioning Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo on whether there “was any political interference” in the final census numbers used to decide how many House members each state will get for the coming decade.

The letter, first obtained by Fox News, is led by Rep. James Comer, R-Ky., the ranking member on the House Oversight Committee.

The Republican House members cited gaps between the number of House seats some right-leaning states were projected to gain — or some left-leaning states were projected to lose — and the final results announced this week.

They told Raimondo, overseeing the Census Bureau, that they “have questions about the methodology and the role the Biden White House may have played in releasing these numbers.”

“The apportionment population results released by the Census Bureau are strikingly different from the population evaluation estimates released just months ago on December 22, 2020,” the GOP members wrote. “Remarkably, the differences benefit traditionally blue states – which gained population compared to the estimates – over red states which tended to lose population compared to the estimates.”

They added: “For example, New York was estimated to have a population of 19,336,776, but was attributed an apportionment population much greater than that of 20,215,751, a difference of nearly 900,000 individuals. Likewise, states such as New Jersey and Illinois experienced large population increases of hundreds of thousands of individuals compared to the December estimates, while states such as Arizona, Florida, and Texas experienced large decreases from the December estimates.”

The House Republicans’ letter was the first high-profile allegation that the Biden administration may have interfered with the census. There’s been no other evidence besides the departure of the final numbers from December estimates to indicate it did.

The letter is also signed by Reps. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio; Jody Hice, R-Ga.; Glenn Grothman, R-Wis.; Michael Cloud, R-Texas; Ralph Norman, R-S.C.; Paul Gosar, R-Ariz.; Virginia Foxx, R-N.C.; Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio; Clay Higgins, R-La.; Fred Keller, R-Pa.; Andy Biggs, R-Ariz.; Andrew Clyde, R-Ga.; Scott Franklin, R-Fla.; Jake LaTurner, R-Kan.; Yvette Herrell, R-N.M.; and Byron Donalds, R-Fla.

In this image from video provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo speaks during a virtual news conference Monday, April 26. The Census Bureau is releasing the first data from its 2020 headcount. (U.S. Census Bureau via AP)
In this image from video provided by the U.S. Census Bureau, Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo speaks during a virtual news conference Monday, April 26. The Census Bureau is releasing the first data from its 2020 headcount. (U.S. Census Bureau via AP)

According to some estimates, Texas was set to gain three seats. It gained two instead. New York was projected by one estimate to be on the edge of losing either one or two House seats. It lost one seat but was 89 residents short of not losing any, according to census officials.

According to the Census Bureau, differences between the estimates the Republican members cite and the final census apportionment results are “typically interpreted as error in the estimates and are used to inform research and methodological improvements over the decade.” But Comer and the other Republicans on the letter ask Raimondo if the break between estimates and the census results may be the result of something else.

“This trend calls into question whether there was any political interference with the apportionment results released by the Census Bureau,” they write.

The GOP group asks Raimondo for a trove of documents, including communications between the Census Bureau and the White House, and whether the counting of illegal aliens in the congressional apportionment may have had an effect on the final result. Past decennial counts have counted illegal aliens.

Former Attorney General Eric Holder, meanwhile, raised another theory as to why some states showed counts that departed from last year’s estimates, according to the Washington Post. He said that former President Trump’s attempts to add a citizenship question to the census may have lowered Hispanic turnout in right-leaning states with a large Hispanic population.

“I just wonder if it had the impact of suppressing the count,” Holder said.

Acting director of the U.S. Census Bureau Ron Jarmin speaking as a graphic showing the U.S. population as of April 1, 2020, was displayed during a virtual news conference April 26, 2021. (U.S. Census Bureau via AP)
Acting director of the U.S. Census Bureau Ron Jarmin speaking as a graphic showing the U.S. population as of April 1, 2020, was displayed during a virtual news conference April 26, 2021. (U.S. Census Bureau via AP)
But Chris Dick, a former Census Bureau statistician, told the Post it’s difficult to make any judgments about the cause of the unexpected numbers.

“I think we have to be careful,” he told the Post. “I don’t think we have enough information to say the census was flawed, but I don’t think we have enough information to say the census was a success.”

Comer and the other Republicans also raise another concern in their letter, saying their staffs were redirected to the White House for questions about the census.

“When our staff contacted the Census Bureau on the morning of the release with questions about the apportionment count, they were referred by Census officials to the White House for questions,” they told Raimondo.

The Republicans continued: “Yet the statute is clear: it is the Secretary of Commerce who reports the apportionment count to the President, not the other way around. Referring our staff’s questions to the White House about the results produced by the Census Bureau is entirely inappropriate, and raises questions about the level of White House involvement in the process.”

Families of those who died in the stampede are racing to bury the dead before sundown Friday, the start of the Jewish Sabbath when burials do not take place.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu visits the site of an overnight stampede during an ultra-Orthodox religious gathering in the northern Israeli town of Meron, on Friday.
Ronen Zvulun/Pool/AFP via Getty Images
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, who briefly visited Mount Meron around midday Friday, called the tragedy “one of the worst disasters that has befallen the state of Israel.” He said Sunday would be a day of national mourning.

The death toll is similar to number of people killed in a 2010 forest fire, which has been regarded as Israel’s deadliest civilian tragedy, according to The Associated Press.

The Israeli Foreign Ministry said Israel received an outpouring of condolences from Russian President Vladimir Putin, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and representatives of about a dozen other countries, including the Gulf Arab kingdom of Bahrain, which established diplomatic ties with Israel last year.

One act of kindness caught local media attention: Despite the Muslim fast for Ramadan, residents of a Palestinian Arab town in the area set up food and drink for Jewish participants evacuating the pilgrimage site.

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