This protest definitely exists.
Tensions boiled over as hundreds of people took to the streets of Borough Park in response to a provocative tweet by a local legislator denying the existence of Palestine.
Protestors and supporters alike gathered outside the district office of City Councilman Kalman Yeger (D-Midwood) on March 28 in response to the post, in which he also called a U.S. Congresswoman anti-Semitic.
“Palestine does not exist. There, I said it again. Also, Congresswoman [Ilhan] Omar is an anti-Semite. Said that too. Thanks for following me,” read the March 27 tweet.
One local Rabbi joined the condemnation of the lawmaker, calling the comments unrepresentative of the Jewish community.
“I certainly believe that what he is doing is unjust. It’s contrary to the opinion of masses of Jewish people, worldwide, but including in Brooklyn, New York,” said Rabbi Dovid Feldman. “We have so many people here in Borough Park who are so terribly upset by this bigotry which is being pushed on the account and in the name of our community.”
Other protesters, who slammed the bigoted comments, called for Yeger’s resignation.
“He should resign. He should apologize for what he said. He should explain why he said that. Bigotry is not acceptable in our city,” said Ahmed Jaber, founder of the Arab American Association of New York.
Many others called on council leadership to remove Yeger from the Committee on Immigration, saying his publicly circulated comments proved his inability to serve in the role.
“I think for the leadership of city council to leave him in any position [of control] sends a very clear message, not only to Palestinian New Yorkers, but also to Arab Americans and Muslims, who are all part of this group that is targeted,” said Anna, who declined to provide her last name. “When you say Palestine doesn’t exist it’s a message to those New Yorkers that they don’t matter. That’s one reason why his remarks are so outrageous.”
The committee’s chairman hinted at his openness to Yeger’s removal from the assignment in a statement released a day after the tweet.
“As for Council Member Yeger’s membership on the Immigration Committee, I see a future without him on the committee,” said Carlos Menchaca.
Yeger’s detractors, however, were met with fierce opposition from his supporters in the community, who significantly outnumbered the protestors. Rabbi Feldman attributed the disparity to coercion from pro-Yeger backers, who waved Israli flags and ‘Make America Great Again’ paraphernalia.
“Well if we would have the ability to have local people come out here and not be intimidated, we might even outnumber them. And if we wouldn’t, we would at least have a nice minority,” he said. “But unfortunately people are intimidated.”
Feldman specifically called out Dov Hikind, the former assemblyman, for what Feldman believes are radical Zionist views and rhetoric.
“I got several phone calls in the last hour and a half from people that encouraged us to come out because these local people are afraid, and they are intimidated by Dov Hikind, who is an outspoken radical extremist. He openly supports the settlement movement, which is the far extreme element of the state of Israel,” he said.
Hikind joined the counter protest, railing against calls to reprimand Yeger. When asked whether the councilman should resign or be removed from the immigration committee, Yeger chalked the controversy up to a mere difference of opinion.
“Absolutely not. What happened to people having a different point of view? It’s become that ‘it’s my point of view, or no point of view,’” he said. “Everyone is so worried about every word that comes out of their mouths, it’s become ridiculous.”
The protests began shortly before 6 p.m., lasting several hours as community members spilled off the sidewalk outside of a building near 16th Avenue and 45th Street. Feldman called the demonstration a success for the attention it drew throughout the community, but balked at the prospect of changing Yeger’s attitude.
“I’m not sure whether he heard us or not,” he said. “But he definitely doesn’t care.”
Councilman Yeger’s office did not respond to multiple requests for comment.