A group of Queens politicians from the local, state and federal level banded together with the New York City Council’s Jewish Caucus on Friday to condemn the NYC DSA for asking candidates in the 2021 City Council elections seeking their endorsement if they would promise to not visit Israel if elected to office.
The lawmakers, which included Jewish and non-Jewish members of the city council, state assemblymembers and senators, and even a congresswoman, called the question anti-Semitic. Some went as far as calling it an act of hate. The question does not belong in New York City and New York City politics, they said.
“This is rank anti-Semitism and has no place in our city,” a statement from the Jewish Caucus of the City Council, which includes Queens City Councilmembers Karen Koslowitz (D-Rego Park, Forest Hills, Kew Gardens, Richmond Hill), Rory Lancman (Kew Gardens Hills, Pomonok, Electchester, Fresh Meadows, Hillcrest, Jamaica Estates, Briarwood, Parkway Village, Jamaica Hills, Jamaica) and Barry Grodenchik (D-Bayside Hills, Bellerose, Douglaston, Floral Park, Fresh Meadows, Glen Oaks, Hollis, Hollis Hills, Holliswood, Little Neck, New Hyde Park, Oakland Gardens, Queens Village), read, noting that Israel was the only country singled out in the NYC DSA’s questionnaire.
“No political organization should etch into its platform such blatant anti-Semitism as a pledge not to visit the Jewish state, and no candidate for public office should seek the support of an organization that does,” it continued.
The question read, “Do you pledge not to travel to Israel if elected to City Council in solidarity with Palestinians living under occupation?” It was included in a questionnaire sent out to the candidates. The NYC DSA also asked the candidates if they supported the controversial Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Movement and if they did not, to explain why.
By asking candidates to pledge to not go to Israel, the NYC DSA was showing it’s true anti-semitic colors, said Grodenchick.
“I see they are no longer even trying to hide their antisemitism,” he wrote in a tweet. “I have spent many months of my life in #Israel and hope to go back there soon. This question is despicable and only serves to try and tear our city apart. Forever no!”
Assemblymember Stacey Pheffer Amato (D-Broad Channel, Hamilton Beach, Howard Beach, Lindenwood, Ozone Park and the Rockaway Peninsula), who called the question a “horrific example of anti-Semitism,” wondered if candidates for other offices were being asked the same question.
“I wonder, what did the congressional and state legislative questionnaires look like?” she wrote.
The NYC DSA clarified in a statement released Friday that they only opposed the official expenses-paid trips offered to city councilmembers, referring to the annual trips sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) for local lawmakers and business people.
They called those trips “political junket which fosters ties between local officials and the Israeli state,” and noted that Israel is the only country that councilmembers are taken to regularly.
“Given that there has been an explicit call from Palestinians to not go on such government junkets, and to put pressure on Israel to end the cccupation and discrimination through boycott, divestment and sanctions we asked prospective candidates whether they would respect that call,” the statement read.
They are not opposed to trips to Israel for personal reasons or to visit family they said.
Councilmember Donovan Richards (D-Arverne, Brookville, Edgemere, Far Rockaway, Laurelton, Rosedale, Springfield Gardens), who went on a JCRC trip in 2015, said it was a great opportunity. He would recommend it to everyone.
“The experience was an eye opener on so many issues that both the Israeli and Palestinian people face,” Richards tweeted.
The NYC DSA was wrong to single out Israel in their questionnaire, said State Senator Joseph P. Addabbo, Jr. (D-Howard Beach, Ozone Park, Woodhaven, Glendale, Middle Village, Maspeth and parts of South Ozone Park, Ridgewood, Woodside and The Rockaways).
“We do not ask people not to travel to China or other countries that suppress human rights,” he said. “At a time like this, we should be working to foster better relations around the world. A credible public servant should not be judged by what countries they visit, but their genuine intent to help the people.”
But Zohran Mamdani, a DSA backed candidate who won the Democratic nomination for the 36th Assembly District in the recent primary elections, pointed to a 2016 ban by Cuomo for taxpayer funded travel by state employees to places where human rights were violated.
“It’s not hate to honor a boycott when asked by a righteous movement,” he tweeted.