In a battle of Jewish views, Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D-Boro Park) and City Councilmember Brad Lander (D-Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Kensington) traded sharp views on Bay Ridge Palestinian-American Linda Sasour‘s upcoming June1 keynote address to the graduating class of the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate Center for Public Health & Health Policy (SPH).
Meanwhile, neither First Lady Chirlane McCray, Sarsour or Mayor Bill de Blasio returned inquires into their relationship, in which the Administration gave Sasour’s organization, the Arab American Association Of New York (AAANY) hundreds of thousands of taxpayer dollars or if the de Blasio Administration exerted any pressure on CUNY to invite Sarsour as the keynote speaker.
McCray, along with the City’s Department of Health and Mental Hygiene Commissioner Mary Bassett are part of the June graduation ceremony. The de Blasio Administration, through McCray’s ThriveNYC and the Mayor’s Fund For New York [which McCray headed], gave the money to the AAANY in March of 2016. Sarsour founded the AAANY and was its’ executive director when the money went to the organization.
The money was reportedly for non-clinical mental health support to clients in three target populations: expectant parents and/or parents of children up to the age of four; out of school and out of work young adults ages 16 to 24; and/or unemployed or underemployed adults ages 18 and over.
KCP anecdotally visited the AANY several times and never saw any active caseworkers there. Additionally, there have been several reports that the organization held political meetings at the AANY headquarters, 7111 5th Avenue, a violation of federal laws for registered non-profits that receive government funding.
Sarsour, born and raised in Bay Ridge, was the co-organizer of the recent National Women’s March on Washington, and has become a nationally known figure involved in various political causes including Palestinian rights, BlackLivesMatter and feminism.
She is highly in favor of the controversial Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel under the argument it will help end Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. Both the state of Israel and many people who support Israel feel the BDS movement singles out Israel without looking at the entire complexity of the situation in the Middle East and is inherently anti-Semitic.
Additionally, Sarsour has publicly argued that any woman who believes in the state of Israel (a Zionist) can’t be a feminist. She also reportedly has ties to the Palestinian Party, Hamas, that does not recognize Israel or its right to exist and has made several tweets indicating she supports armed resistance to Israel.
Hikind’s sees Sarsour’s views on Israel to be condoning terrorism, and he, along with a large number of mainstream Jews, believe Sarsour is strongly anti-Semitic.
“Linda Sarsour’s record of advocating for terrorists speaks for itself. If she had only called Arabs who hurl rocks at moving cars ‘the definition of courage,’ that would have been enough,” said Hikind. “But there’s so much more. Sarsour publicly called for violence against Ayaan Hirsi Ali, a feminist Muslim author who opposes violence. She recently shared a stage with and praised Rasmea Yousef Odeh, a member of the Popular Front for the Liberation of Palestine convicted by an Israeli court for her role in the murder of two students, Leon Kanner and Eddie Joffe, in a Jerusalem supermarket bombing.
Hikind is demanding that CUNY not allow her to speak as it is a taxpayer-funded public university.Having already called on CUNY Chancellor James Milliken to step in and rescind this invitation, Hikind today called on Governor Andrew Cuomo to prevent Sarsour from speaking.
“Governor Cuomo has been a great supporter of Israel and the Israeli people,” said Hikind. “Our Governor has stood firm against the racist BDS movement. He recently visited Israel stating, ‘If you really care, you show up.’ Now I ask the Governor to intervene in this outrageous choice.”
But Lander, a progressive, yesterday wrote to CUNY Chancellor James Milliken and SPH Dean Ayman El-Mohandes in support of Sarsour being the keynote speaker.
“Though I am tempted not to “defend” her from accusations — because it validates disingenuous accusations — I can assure you she is no anti-Semite,” wrote Lander. “She has visited my synagogue (Congregation Kolot Chayeinu in Brooklyn), my rabbi and I have taken part in many of her events, and she has stood with us against anti-Semitic hate crimes on numerous occasions. Most recently, when the Jewish cemetery in St. Louis — where my own grandparents are buried — was desecrated, Linda immediately reached out to me, and organized an overwhelming Muslim response that raised tens of thousands of dollars for its restoration.
“I do not agree with Linda on every issue, of course. We are New Yorkers, after all! We have strong, and divergent, views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. I know that she supports the “Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions” (BDS) movement. She knows that I oppose it. That does not make me an Islamophobe. And it does not make her an anti-Semite,” he added.
In response to KCP inquires on the school’s decision to invite Sarsour to speak, CUNY Spokesperson Emily Gest released a letter that El-Mohandes sent yesterday to SPH Faculty and students stating Sarsour is “a leader who has been successful as a community organizer, recognized by national leaders, and who has emphasized women’s health issues in the New York area.”
“I hope you all join me in my firm view that a diversity of viewpoints and an open exchange of ideas is at the heart of our country’s strength, and our university’s strength. It is why we at CUNY are so committed to academic freedom, a bedrock principle of our university,” he wrote.
Cuomo’s office did not return inquiries at post time.