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In Brooklyn race for Congress, a chorus of candidates condemns BDS

Out of eight candidates, State Rep. Yuh-Line Niou was the only one to defend the BDS movement at a public forum

Almost all of the eight Democratic candidates vying for the right to represent Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan neighborhoods in Congress strongly denounced the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement during a candidate forum in Brooklyn on Tuesday. 

Their stances on BDS and Israel matters to many Jewish voters, who represent about 22% of the 10th District, which includes the Borough Park and Park Slope neighborhoods in Brooklyn and the Lower East Side and East Village in Manhattan. The primary is set for Aug. 23.

“I categorically denounce the BDS movement. It is anti-Zionist, it is antisemitic,” said candidate Dan Goldman, former lead counsel for the House Democrats in the first impeachment trial of former President Donald Trump. “And let’s make something really clear: It’s not a First Amendment issue.” 

Some Palestinian activists have argued that those opposed to BDS have tried to quash their right to speak on the issue. 

Omar Barghouti, the co-founder of the BDS Movement, has stated that the goal of BDS is to apply economic pressure on Israel to end its occupation of the West Bank and to abolish  Israel as a Jewish state. 

A 2021 Pew Research survey showed that American Jews overwhelmingly support the establishment of an independent Palestinian state living peaceably alongside a Jewish and democratic state of Israel. A recent poll showed that more Americans who have heard at least something about BDS oppose than support it.

“We disagree with a lot of things just like we disagree with democracy at home, but we must have unconditional support for Israel,” Goldman, who is Jewish, said to applause. 

The BDS supporter

Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou, who appeared virtually because she was exposed to a campaign staffer who tested positive for the coronavirus, sought to clarify her recent defense of the BDS movement. 

Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou speaks at a candidate forum for New York’s 10th Congressional District co-hosted by the Forward at Congregation Beth Elohim (CBE) in Brooklyn on July 26, 2022. Photo by Gili Getz

“I share the movement’s commitment to human rights, equality and freedom for everyone in the region,” she said. “I do not support calls to oppose the BDS movement. At the same time, I do not always agree with every single statement that’s made or all of its demands, nor do I embrace all of its tactics.” 

“No movement is perfect, just like no person is perfect,” she said. 

But Niou, who has the backing of the Working Families Party and a number of officials affiliated with the Democratic Socialists of America, refused to say whether she herself would or would not engage in boycotts or commit to traveling to Israel as a member of Congress. 

“I personally have not participated,” she said of BDS boycotts. “But I think that it’s a movement that needs to be heard.” 

The anti-BDS chorus

Rep. Mondaire Jones, a first-term congressman from the Hudson Valley who moved to the redrawn district to run for reelection, said he has a long record of opposing BDS, going back to the time he was in college, and said he has the courage to forcefully advocate for a two-state solution. 

U.S. Rep. Mondaire Jones at a candidate forum for New York’s 10th Congressional District co-hosted by the Forward at Congregation Beth Elohim (CBE) in Brooklyn on July 26, 2022. Photo by Gili Getz

He recalled that on his first trip to Israel earlier this year — sponsored by the liberal pro-peace group J Street — he confronted then-Prime Minister Naftali Bennett, “looked him in the eyes” and said, “There’s an entire generation of young American Jews that has some real issues with what your government has been doing.”

Former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman said she is “totally opposed to the BDS movement” and that she is a strong advocate for human rights. Holtzman, 80, told the crowd she fondly remembers the day Israel was created in 1948 when she and her twin brother sat on their grandmother’s lap listening to radio coverage. “I never want you to forget this day as long as you live,” she recalled her grandmother telling them. “And so I haven’t,” Holtzman added, noting her role in building the feminist movement in Israel.

City Councilwoman Carlina Rivera said she doesn’t support “BDS policy” because it doesn’t advance the ultimate goal of a peaceful two-state solution. “We can have a safe and secure Israel and, of course, a free and independent Palestinian state,” she said. Rivera traveled to Israel in 2018 with colleagues on a trip sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York. 

City Councilmember Carlina Rivera speaking at a candidate forum for New York’s 10th Congressional District co-hosted by the Forward at Congregation Beth Elohim (CBE) in Brooklyn on July 26, 2022. Photo by Gili Getz

Assemblymember Jo Anne Simon echoed those remarks and said she’d love to visit Israel. 

The other Jewish candidates – Brian Robinson, a small business owner, and Maud Maron, a former public defender — also expressed their opposition to BDS, declaring that anti-Zionism is antisemitism.

The candidates also addressed the rise in antisemitic attacks against Jews in New York and shared their views on the government’s role in enforcing secular education standards in yeshivas, as well as their favorite bagels and kosher eateries in the district. 

Rabbi Rachel Timoner, left, and Jacob Kornbluh, moderators of the candidate forum for New York’s 10th Congressional District co-hosted by the Forward at Congregation Beth Elohim (CBE) in Brooklyn on July 26, 2022. Photo by Gili Getz

The forum was hosted by the Forward in partnership with Congregation Beth Elohim, a large Reform synagogue in the district, New York Jewish Agenda, and the Jewish Community Relations Council of NY. It was co-moderated by this reporter and Rabbi Rachel Timoner, the senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Elohim.

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