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Andrew Yang regrets ‘poor choice of words on BDS’ at Muslim-American forum

Andrew Yang, one of the leading candidates in the New York City mayoral race, clarified his stance on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in a statement to the Forward amid backlash and confusion over recent statements on the matter.

“BDS does not recognize the right of Israel to exist,” Yang said on Friday. “Not recognizing Israel’s right to exist is antisemitic. I strongly oppose BDS, as I’ve said countless times.”

The statement came after the candidate seemed to retract his initial bold stance against BDS. In an OpEd for the Forward in January, Yang described the BDS movement as “rooted in antisemitic thought and history, hearkening back to fascist boycotts of Jewish businesses.” However, on Thursday, during a mayoral forum co-hosted by Emgage, a Muslim-American advocacy group, Yang suggested that he had since learned that BDS is a non-violent movement with the right to protest Israeli policies.

“At the time that that statement was written,” Yang said referring to his OpEd in the Forward, “I had seen materials that suggested that folks who are supportive of BDS had refused to disavow the activities of certain extremist elements that had adopted violent, or at least had not disavowed violent measures towards Israel, which I took as a line that I thought was inappropriate.” Yang told the moderator, Dean Obeidallah, a Palestinian-American and host of The Dean Obeidallah Show on SiriusXM, that “since then, I’ve spoken to people who have made a different argument, along the lines of what you just expressed – which is that BDS is non-violent. I don’t think targeting Israel in this way is the right approach, but I certainly appreciate people who are standing up for what they believe in.”

Yang, a former Democratic presidential hopeful, has made outreach to the Orthodox voting bloc a priority of his campaign ahead of the June 22 mayoral primaries. Rep. Ritchie Torres, a Democrat from the Bronx who made his strong opposition to BDS a key issue during his recent run for Congress, serves as co-chair of the Yang campaign. And earlier this week, the mayoral candidate earned the endorsement of Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal, one of the youngest and most influential Jewish politicians in New York who represents a majority of the Central Queens Jewish community, due to Yang’s bold stance on BDS.

Yang said on Friday that he “used a poor choice of words on BDS” at the forum “and it has caused pain to many people.”

He said that he will reach out to Jewish leaders over the coming days “to make sure they know what’s in my heart.” And he reiterated a pledge that he will travel to Israel as mayor and is looking forward to “furthering the strong economic ties between Israel and NYC.”

A majority of the leading mayoral candidates also told the Forward in a recent survey that they are opposed to BDS, though they would also reject any efforts to criminalize participation in it.

Read the full exchange at Thursday night’s mayoral forum below:

Dean Obeidallah, host of The Dean Obeidallah Show on SiriusXM: This is a freedom of expression question about the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movements — a non-violent movement by people who want to change the policy of the Netanyahu administration. All of you have said you would not criminalize or punish those who are involved. Andrew though — and I know you’re a little bit — I have to tell you being of Palestinian heritage I was stunned that you would equate BDS with pre-Nazi Germany fascism. It caused a lot of pain in our community. A lot of people had questions about that because you can oppose BDS, but to use those terms was stunning to us. You know, for example, my Palestinian grandmother’s land has been taken by Israeli settlers and turned into a settlement. What is that called? The non-violent movement in your view is fascism. So share a little bit about why you call BDS fascist?

Andrew Yang: I believe that BDS is the wrong approach. But I appreciate and would never begrudge people who are standing up for what they believe in. I have a political perspective on it, which is why my response to the questionnaire reads in that way. At the time that that statement was written, I had seen materials that suggested that folks who are supportive of BDS had refused to disavow the activities of certain extremist elements that had adopted violent, or at least had not disavowed violent measures towards Israel, which I took as a line that I thought was inappropriate. Since then I’ve spoken to people who have made a different argument, along the lines of what you just expressed — which is that BDS is non violent. I don’t think targeting Israel in this way is the right approach, but I certainly appreciate people who are standing up for what they believe in.

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