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May 4, 2017 / Politics / Perspective / Party Line

Pols’ battle over Linda Sarsour’s commencement address

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Local pols are battling over the City University of New York’s decision to give controversial Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour a microphone at the School of Public Health’s commencement on June 1.

Assemblyman Dov Hikind (D–Midwood) is demanding the school rescind its invitation to Bay Ridgite Sarsour, — a staunch supporter of the Boycott Divest and Sanction movement (which seeks to punish Israel’s occupation of Palestinian territories) who headed the Arab American Association of New York and helped lead the Women’s March in Washington — because she is a “terrorism propagandist.”

“This is not about our different points of view on the Middle East,” said Hikind during a phone interview on May 1. “This is about her crossing the line to something I think should be unacceptable to all Americans, all New Yorkers, when she condones and is advocating violence.”

Hikind and others, who are calling on the school’s chancellor James Milliken to rescind the offer are referring to her social media posts from more than a year ago when she tweeted a picture of a young boy with rocks in his hands marching towards a group of armed Israeli soldiers, and called it “the definition of courage.”

“What is the message there?” Hikind said. “She needs to explain that, that’s not acceptable to me and anyone else.”

Hikind also condemned Sarsour for sharing a stage with Rasmea Yousef Odeh, who was convicted by Israeli courts for her role in the murder of two students in Jerusalem, during a summit for the Boycott Divest and Sanction movement in Chicago last month.

“With her record of supporting terrorism she’s just the wrong person for this,” Hikind said. “I would support freedom of speech, for but for someone who advocates for terrorism, shouldn’t that be a little different?”

But Councilman Jumaane Williams (D–Midwood) called out the Assemblyman on Twitter for fear-mongering by implying Sarsour is a terrorist herself, and saying what he is doing now is just as ignorant as the time he dressed in blackface for a Purim party four years ago.

“DovHikind insinuating @lsarsour is a terrorist is dangerous and as irresponsible as a man dressing up in #blackface,” he posted on the social media platform.

Hikind should know better than to throw out such problematic accusations — and what she’s said has never gone so far as to criticize Judaism, only the politics of the state of Israel, said Williams during a phone interview on May 2.

“We all have some things in our past and we shouldn’t throw accusations out there if we live in a glass house, and I think we should be even more responsible,” he said. “Unfortunat­ely we are conflating politics with full on hatred of an entire religion and I think that happens on both sides.”

And Williams urged for peaceful discussion between both parties, because the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is so deeply rooted in historical context that such tweets and name-calling are only adding more fuel to the fire, he said.

“My general hope is that as we move forward on these issue that cooler heads will prevail as we are discussing them because I think that serves better for conversation, people are looking for leadership on this,” Williams said.

And other Jewish pols are reaching out to the University in support of Sarsour giving the keynote address to graduating students, alongside First Lady Chirlane McCray, who will receive an Honorary Doctor of Science during the ceremony.

Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope) penned a letter to Milliken saying he proudly stands with Sarsour, and that her actions speak louder than her words — Sarsour was one of the first to call him after the anti-Semitic vandalism that desecrated tombstones in the Jewish cemetery in St. Louis and organized efforts for its restoration, he said.

Sarsour may support a movement that many Jews do not, but that does not make her anti-Semite, said Lander.

“Linda immediately reached out to me, and organized an overwhelming Muslim response that raised tens of thousands of dollars for its restoration,” Lander wrote in the letter. “I do not agree with Linda on every issue, of course. We are New Yorkers, after all! We have strong, and divergent, views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflicts. I know that she supports the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. She knows that I oppose it. That does not make me an Islamophobe. And it does not make her an anti-Semite.”

Milliken released a statement on April 26 that the University will not un-invite Sarsour.

Reach reporter Julianne Cuba at (718) 260–4577 or by e-mail at jcuba@cnglocal.com. Follow her on Twitter @julcuba.
Updated 11:48 am, January 16, 2019
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