Controversy Over Prominent BDS Activist Linda Sarsour Reaches New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand
Jewish leaders and pro-Israel activists have expressed concern over a contribution to Time Magazine by New York Democratic Senator Kirsten Gillibrand that praised Linda Sarsour – a Palestinian-American political activist and vocal advocate for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement targeting Israel.
In a short piece accompanying the magazine’s “100 most influential people” list for 2017, Gillibrand paid tribute to “four extraordinary women — Tamika Mallory, Bob Bland, Carmen Perez and Linda Sarsour” for organizing the Women’s March on Washington, DC on January 21.
“The images of Jan. 21, 2017, show a diverse, dynamic America—striving for equality for all. The moment and movement mattered so profoundly because it was intersectional and deeply personal,” Gillibrand wrote. “These women are the suffragists of our time.”
The depiction of Sarsour as a fighter for the rights of all women jarred with Jewish community leaders, who pointed to her insistence that pro-Israel sentiments have no place among progressives, and her assertion, in an interview with The Nation, that one cannot be both a feminist and a Zionist.
“I salute the progressive women who reject this phony, false, hateful choice,” Rabbi Abraham Cooper of the Simon Wiesenthal Center told The Algemeiner. “Someone who says that Jews need not apply if they have an affection or an affiliation with Israel isn’t a progressive.”
Cooper urged Gillibrand to reconsider her positive view of Sarsour. “I think the Jewish community in New York and across the US has a lot of respect for the senator, but she may want to reevaluate the statement in Time magazine,” Cooper said. “If someone is in effect saying you have to make a choice between being a progressive woman or a Zionist, the senator, reflecting on such comments, would I hope make a different type of statement.”
“Linda Sarsour spends most of her waking hours working to delegitimize Israel and its supporters,” said Daniel Mariaschin, the Executive Vice President of B’nai B’rith International. “We’d ask Senator Gillibrand to recognize that you can’t compartmentalize on these things. It isn’t enough to say, ‘you know, she worked on the Women’s March, and therefore she deserves this kind of recognition.'”
Sen. Gillibrand’s office did not respond to The Algemeiner‘s request for comment.
The senator’s Time article has appeared in the midst of another Sarsour-related row, this time over the City University of New York (CUNY) Graduate School of Public Health’s decision to invite her to speak at its forthcoming commencement event.
Barbara Aaron, chief of staff to the school’s dean, Ayman El-Mohandes, said she was “delighted to confirm that Linda Sarsour will indeed speak at our June 1 commencement at [Harlem’s] Apollo Theater.” This followed protests over the invitation from prominent New Yorkers, among them Democratic state Assemblyman Dov Hikind.
“She is someone who associates with radical Islamists. She is someone who has said, clearly, she thinks throwing rocks at cars in Israel is a good thing,” Hikind said last week.
Sarsour’s public profile has risen dramatically over the last year, as she emerged as a leading voice opposing President Donald Trump. She has made frequently inflammatory comments on social media regarding Israel and the Middle East, declaring on Twitter that there is “nothing creepier than Zionism.”
Although Sarsour has since deleted, though not apologized for, some of her more injudicious tweets, these have been archived on Facebook. Among them is an incitement to violence against the prominent anti-Islamist writers Ayaan Hirsi Ali and Brigitte Gabriel. In that tweet, Sarsour stated that the two women were “asking 4 an a$$ whipping. I wish I could take their vaginas away – they don’t deserve to be women.”
Hirsi Ali, who was born in Somalia and has championed the rights of women in Islamic societies, is a victim of female genital mutilation – a well-known fact that Sarsour would have been aware of when she composed her tweet.
“For a champion of hate to be speaker at a commencement is intolerable – Sarsour is an outrageous choice,” Rabbi Meyer May, Executive Director of the Simon Wiesenthal Center, told The Algemeiner. “I would think a school of public health would find someone who actually speaks to public health issues, not someone who advocates (Islamic) sharia law.”
Sarsour has dismissed critics of her positive stance on sharia law as “Islamophobes.” In one tweet – again since deleted – she spoke glowingly of “10 weeks of PAID maternity leave in Saudi Arabia. Yes PAID. And ur worrying about women driving.”
According to the World Economic Forum’s Global Gender Gap report for 2016, Saudi Arabia ranks at 141 out of 144 countries when it comes to women accessing “resources and opportunities.”
Given Sarsour’s troubling record, Rabbi May said, CUNY should encourage its students to “use the critical thinking abilities we’ve taught you, and think about what you know about her while you sit and listen to her.”
— With additional reporting by Rachel Frommer