Standing Up to Antisemitism in Queens, and Calling on Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez to Do the Same
Raja Abdulhaq and Nerdeen Kiswani were scheduled to speak at the Church of the Redeemer in Astoria, Queens on the evening of May 14. Caleb De Jong, a member of the church board and of the Democratic Socialist Party, used his positions to organize the event in honor of the Palestinian “Nakba [catastrophe] Day.”
By portraying the speakers as Palestinian “human rights” activists, and characterizing the evening as an “educational forum,” De Jong had no difficulty persuading the church to host the speakers. However, when Astoria residents learned about the event, the plans began to change.
Unsurprisingly, Reverend Canon Juan A. Quevedo-Bosch was unfamiliar with Abdulhaq and Kiswani’s antisemitic and violent rhetoric, which includes calling for “armed resistance” and an “intifada revolution” in Israel — or, more precisely, terror against Israeli civilians. He did not know that when a Palestinian terrorist killed an Israeli civilian by “car ramming” and Palestinians celebrated in the streets, Kiswani wrote: “I will not be ashamed or embarrassed by this. These celebratory actions are what keep the resistance moving forward … no apology needed.”
When the reverend and the church community learned these facts, they called a meeting of the board members, who then voted to cancel the event.
As expected, the cancellation did not sit well with De Jong or the Queens Democratic Socialist Party, who took no responsibility for misleading the community. On the contrary, they began to lash out with hateful online tantrums, exposing the venom that fuels their campaign to eliminate Israel — a violent campaign thinly veiled by their deceptive claims to be promoting Palestinian human rights.
Their first tantrum appeared on Twitter in a comment reminiscent of the term “dirty Jews.” Accompanied by a photograph of a small group holding an Israeli flag in front of the Church of the Redeemer, the Queens Democratic Socialist Party wrote: “Garbage Zionists threatened violence and intimidation that led to the cancellation of ‘Palestinian Expulsion and Resistance.’”
A similar inversion of the truth, albeit more restrained, appeared in a May 23 column by Alex Kane in Jewish Currents. In a disingenuous claim, Kane described the canceled evening of anti-Israel propaganda as a “community gathering to hear Palestinian-Americans speak about the Nakba.”
He then went on to flaunt his BDS badge of honor, as he described the Nakba as “Israel’s 1948 ethnic cleansing of Palestine,” an imagined event frequently mentioned to spark anti-Israel outrage among new recruits of the BDS campaign. Finally, Kane quoted Meera Shah, a senior staff attorney at Palestine Legal, who described the Jewish community’s expressions of concern to the church as “bullying and harassment,” and “repression against speech advocating for Palestinian human rights.”
Fortunately, by choosing not to provide a time and place for Jew-hatred — and a forum for those who support the murder of Israelis — the Church of the Redeemer set an important precedent that should be followed by colleges and universities across the country. The First Amendment does not obligate American churches, schools, or universities to provide a platform for speakers who endorse violence, and who encourage hostility and divisiveness in their communities.
It is my hope that Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the United States Representative for Astoria and a Democratic Socialist, will set another precedent by addressing the aforementioned events. To help encourage her to do so, a group of concerned citizens has written her an open letter that describes our community’s contact with the Church of the Redeemer, while raising objections to being referred to as “Garbage Zionists.”
Melissa Landa Ph.D has been addressing the pernicious tactics and goals of the BDS campaign for four years. Most recently, she founded and directs the new anti-BDS organization Alliance for Israel.