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June 15, 2020 4:25 am

An Open Letter to Eliot Engel’s Primary Opponent

avatar by Avi Weiss


New York congressional candidate Jamaal Bowman. Photo: Jamaal Bowman for Congress/Facebook.

Mr. Bowman,

News reports indicate that you were recently endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (AOC) (D-NY), whose record on Israel is deeply distressing and disappointing. Following your expression of gratitude regarding her endorsement, I began looking into your position vis-a-vis Israel.

You’re quoted as saying that American aid to Israel should be conditional on exploring Israel’s human rights record. I am of the opinion, as noted by others, that there is no country anywhere facing the same threats as Israel that has a better human rights record.

I am especially alarmed that at no time have you mentioned Palestinian violations of human rights — specifically, the Palestinian Authority (PA)’s policy of funding the families of those who have committed murderous terrorist acts.

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Those murderous acts have not spared your own district. Just a year and a half ago, Ari Fuld, son of Rabbi Yonah Fuld, was knifed to death by a Palestinian terrorist.

And let us not forget the countless other American victims of Palestinian terrorism, including Taylor Force, an American veteran who was murdered in Tel Aviv by Palestinian terrorists. In 2018, the Taylor Force Act was passed in Congress. The bill calls for America to decrease aid to the PA until it stops supporting terrorist families.

Due to the PA’s “pay to slay” policy, the families of these terrorists will be receiving financial support from the PA for life. Knowing that their families will receive money, this policy has also inspired others to commit more heinous acts of terror.

Countless Riverdalians now live in Israel, including my daughter and her family. Some live in the town of Efrat, just south of Jerusalem, in Gush Etzion. In the center of Gush Etzion, many, including Ezra Schwartz, a teenager from Boston, were viciously murdered by Palestinian terrorists.

Furthermore, the human rights abuses of the PA (and the Hamas terrorist organization, for that matter) don’t merely extend to Israelis, but Palestinians as well. In fact, according to a 149-page report released in 2018 by Human Rights Watch, the organization describes what it calls “arbitrary arrests” and “systematic torture” by the PA and Hamas towards innocent Palestinians.

Mr. Bowman, you have said before that “this is not about singling out Israel and targeting Israel.” Yet it seems to me, at least in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that this is exactly what you are doing.

And so, in light of all this, my questions are very specific: Do you support the Taylor Force Act? Are you prepared to say that you oppose the PA’s policy of financially supporting families of terrorist murderers? And will you condemn the human rights abuses of the PA and Hamas?

Additionally, your position on BDS is not clear.

Most recently, there was a bill in Congress entitled “Opposing efforts to delegitimize the State of Israel and the Global Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement targeting Israel.” When the time came to vote on it, 398 Congresspersons voted yea, 17 voted nay. Reps. AOC, Ilhan Omar (D-MN), and Rashida Tlaib (D-MI) were among the few nay votes.

How would you have voted on this resolution? How can we be sure that having received a strong endorsement from AOC (who also co-sponsored a different pro-BDS resolution proposed by Omar), that you don’t support her on this issue? Are you able to definitively commit yourself to never supporting BDS?

Speaking of Reps. Omar and Tlaib, you tweeted that “@IlhanMN @RashidaTlaib do not hate Israel.” As many know, both Omar and Tlaib have made highly antisemitic statements in recent years, and their antisemitism has been condemned by the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center, among many others. Do you still stand by your defense of these Congresswomen?

Mr. Bowman, you have raised questions about Israel’s human rights record and labeled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as “authoritarian.” However, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. It has just gone through its third election in 18 months. Yet you’ve said nothing about the PA, whose president, Mahmoud Abbas, is now in his 15th year of a four-year term. Will you similarly label Abbas an authoritarian?

I look forward, and I believe our community looks forward, to hearing your responses to the specific questions that I’ve raised.


Rabbi Avi Weiss

Avi Weiss is the founding rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and longtime activist for Jewish causes and human rights. He is the author of Spiritual Activism: A Jewish Guide to Leadership and Repairing the World.

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