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NYC DSA members playing both sides of Israel-Hamas conflict in wake of terror attacks

Oct. 13, 2023 By Christian Murray, Bill Parry and Robert Pozarycki

Not long after Hamas’ sudden terrorist attack on Israel last week, Democratic officials around New York reacted like many other observers — with shock, abject horror and anger over the violence.

But the responses from elected officials affiliated with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) were far more tempered than their contemporaries. While most responses included condemnation of Hamas, they also had attached to them criticism of the Israeli government for its treatment of the Palestinian people.

Fresh off a terrorist attack that left thousands of people dead and hundreds held hostage, those remarks left a bad taste in the mouths of many observers who felt the DSA responses were weak and filled with “bothsides-isms” rather than unequivocal condemnations of murderous terrorists.

The New York City chapter of the DSA (NYC-DSA) found itself in hot water the day after the attack, when it reposted on X (the platform formerly known as Twitter) an advertisement for a pro-Palestine rally in Midtown, with the message, “In solidarity with the Palestinian people and their right to resist 75 years of occupation and apartheid.”

Mainstream Democrats seethe

The Oct. 7 NYC-DSA posting on X drew the ire of many elected officials on the left and right, including Bronx Congress Member Ritchie Torres, a Democrat who has been outspoken in his criticism of those protesting Israeli actions in the wake of the attack. 

 “I stand with Israel as she seeks to defend herself,” he said in an Oct. 7 statement. “Those who insist Israel do nothing in the face of terror are holding the Jewish State to a dangerous double standard that no other country, including our own, would ever accept.”

On X, Torres blasted the NYC DSA for publicizing the pro-Palestinian protest in sharp language, denouncing the organization as “an antisemitic stain on the soul of America’s largest city.”  

Another mainstream Democrat, Brooklyn U.S. Rep. and House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, also condemned Hamas’ attack on Israel. 

“I strongly condemn the violent and ghastly attack by the terrorist organization Hamas on the Jewish people and the State of Israel. The loss of life in Israel as a result of the violent, calculated and unprovoked attack by Hamas is heartbreaking,” said Jeffries in a statement Oct. 7. “America stands firmly and unequivocally with Israel.”

Past DSA ties to Israel criticism

The statements by Torres and Jeffries stood in sharp contrast with many DSA members who offered more moderate responses to the attacks. Not coincidentally, some of these members also happened to be outspoken critics of the Israeli government prior to Oct. 7.

Queens Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani, for instance, introduced legislation earlier this year in staunch opposition to the Israeli occupation.

His bill, called “Not on Our Dime!: Ending New York Funding of Israeli Settler Violence Act,” calls for punishing not-for-profit organizations that provide aid that supports Israeli settlements.

The bill is also co-sponsored by several DSA-affiliated officials, including Brooklyn assemblymembers Phara Souffrant Forrest and Marcela Mitaynes. In the State Senate, the bill is sponsored by Brooklyn representative Jabari Brisport as well as Kristen Gonzalez, whose district covers parts of Brooklyn, Queens and Manhattan.

Most, however, came out in opposition to a rally organized by the New York City DSA in Manhattan the day after the attacks held in support of Palestine. The rally, which was widely panned, featured participants burning Israeli flags, shouting antisemitic slogans and displaying swastikas. 

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was highly critical of the New York DSA’s pro-Palestinian rally, noting its bigotry. Nevertheless, she said that the rally — despite its ugliness — did not change what she deems are the underlying injustices.  

Ocasio-Cortez has been an outspoken critic of the Israel government in recent years. In 2021, she referred to Israel as an “apartheid state” following an Israeli military attack in Gaza at the time.

DSA apologizes for post, with caveats

Faced with mainstream blowback, the NYC-DSA issued a statement on Oct. 10, titled “Peace Now: End Occupation and Apartheid,” in which the group offered a mea culpa for its tweet promoting and supporting the Oct. 8 pro-Palestine protest. 

“We understand why many, including our allies, were shocked by the timing and the tone of this message in a moment of profound fear and grief,” according to the NYC-DSA statement. “We are sorry for the confusion our post caused and for not making our values explicit.”

But in their statement, the NYC-DSA blamed “the far-right Netanyahu government’s escalating human rights violations and explicitly genocidal rhetoric, and the dehumanization of the Palestinian people” as “the root causes of violence in the region.”

Still, the chapter doubled down on Oct. 13 with a post on X in which it condemned the ordered evacuation of Gazans from the northern part of the strip to the south, in advance of the impending Israeli invasion. It also condemned criticism of pro-Palestinian protests scheduled to occur in New York and around the world that Friday.

“We stand in solidarity w/ Palestinians & everyone in NYC and around the world standing up to genocide & with ethnic cleansing unfolding in real time, the right to protest this injustice is under attack,” the organization posted.

Full responses

The following are the statements issued by DSA-affiliated pols since the terror attacks to either amNewYork Metro or via social media.

Queens

U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez

Ocasio-Cortez, a well-known critic of the Israeli government, denounced Hamas for the terrorist attacks.

“I condemn Hamas’ attack in the strongest possible terms. No child and family should ever endure this kind of violence and fear, and this violence will not solve the ongoing oppression and occupation in the region,” she said. “An immediate ceasefire and de-escalation is urgently needed to save lives.”

She also condemned the NYC DSA rally held Oct. 8 in Manhattan. “The bigotry and callousness expressed in Times Square on Sunday were unacceptable and harmful in this devastating moment,” she said in a statement on Oct. 11. “It also did not speak for the thousands of New Yorkers who are capable of rejecting both Hamas’ horrifying attacks against innocent civilians as well as the grave injustices and violence Palestinians face under occupation.”

State Sen. Kristen Gonzalez

Gonzalez, who represents the 59th Senate district, said in a statement Oct. 10 that she was “horrified by Hamas’ brutality toward Israeli civilians, and I condemn—in the strongest terms possible—all violence against civilians,” adding that the “world I’m working to build has no room for terror, occupation and oppression.”

She condemned the rally organized by the NYC DSA and told amNY Metro that she played no part in it.

“I was absolutely not involved in the planning or promotion of Sunday’s [NYC DSA] rally. I condemn, unequivocally, language that celebrates the death of civilians and am disturbed by the antisemitism and bigotry that has been used to justify brutal violence against Israelis and Palestinians.”

Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani

Mamdani, who represents the 36th District in Astoria, didn’t expressly condemn Hamas when he issued a statement Oct. 8. 

“I mourn the hundreds of people killed across Israel and Palestine in the last 36 hours. Netanyahu’s declaration of war, the Israeli government’s decision to cut electricity to Gaza, and Knesset members calling for another Nakba will undoubtedly lead to more violence and suffering in the days and weeks ahead.”

He added that the “path to peace” required “ending the occupation and dismantling apartheid.”

Then, on Oct. 13, Mamdani alleged that “we are on the brink of genocide of Palestinians,” alleging that “Israel intends to level Gaza and is escalating its actions, including the indiscriminate killing of innocent civilians.” 

Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani speaks during a town hall meeting in Long Island City about his billPaul Frangipane

Assemblymember Jessica González-Rojas

González-Rojas issued a statement Oct. 10 condemning “the murders initiated by Hamas.” She added that “all violence, including the violence of occupation against civilians, must end. “

Council Member Tiffany Cabán

Cabán said that she sought peace in Israel but reiterated her calls for the end of the Israeli occupation. “My wholehearted commitment to liberation and human rights for the Israeli people in no way contradicts my commitment to liberation and human rights for the Palestinian people,” she wrote.

Brooklyn

State. Sen. Julia Salazar and Assemblymember Emily Gallagher

The two elected officials issued a statement on X (formerly known as Twitter), with Salazar – who represents the 18th district in the State Senate – noting that she was not in the habit of commenting on foreign affairs beyond her jurisdiction. “We are horrified by the ongoing events that began this past weekend in Israel and the Palestinian Territories, and we unequivocally condemn the murder and kidnapping of civilians by Hamas,” the statement issued on Tuesday read. “We mourn the loss of all civilian lives, including both Israelis and Palestinians.”

Gallagher – who represents Assembly District 50 of New York –  reposted the statement on her social media accounts as well, adding a quote from U.S. historian Howard Zinn: “There is no flag large enough to cover the shame of killing innocent people.” 

State Sen. Jabari Brisport and Assemblymember Marcela Mitaynes:

Neither elected official had issued an official statement regarding the conflict by press time, but Brisport, representing New York’s 25th State Senate district, participated in a rally on Sept. 22 in support of his and Mitaynes’ (AD 51) “Not on Our Dime” legislation. The bill seeks to stop not-for-profit organizations from engaging in “unauthorized support of Israeli settlement activity” among other actions. 

Assemblymember Phara Souffrant Forrest:

The assemblymember who represents New York State’s 57th assembly district issued a statement on X on Wednesday thanking those who had reached out to her over the course of the week to share thoughts and emotions following the tumult. “I am deeply and profoundly saddened by the ongoing conflict in the Middle East,” Forrest said. “Every life is sacred, every loss is tragic and every person should have the right to live in peace and safety. I unequivocally condemn the killing of all innocent people, whether they are Israeli or Palestinian.”

Council Member Chi Ossé

The council member who represents the Council District 36 in New York City said in a post on X that he had taken some time since the Hamas attack to read and learn about the conflict before issuing his statement.

“I condemn Hamas and their ruthless assault,” Ossé said Oct. 9. “While blame was once more evenly distributed, the Israeli military occupation of the West Bank and its dominion over the Gaza Strip, now 56 years old, are the primary root of violence … So committed to these illegal settlements is the Israeli government, in fact, that they were unable to repel Saturday’s terrorist attack from Gaza because their army was so preoccupied with repressing Palestinians in the West Bank … The Palestinian movement for liberation is legitimate. It is a movement I support and endorse.”

Council Member Alexa Aviles 

The council member, who represents Council District 38, said in her statement on X that her heart breaks seeing so much death and destruction.

“I condemn all forms of hate, violence and intolerance,” Aviles said Oct. 8. “Palestinian and Israeli people deserve dignity and to live free of violence. I urge our leaders looking on from afar to join me in calling for an end to the bloodshed and for lasting peace.”

State Sen. Jabari Brisport (Photo: Brisport for Senate)

Bronx

U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman

Bowman issued a statement Oct. 10 condemning the terrorist attacks. 

“Hamas targeted defenseless and innocent civilians and killed the largest number of Jewish people outside of the Holocaust in one day. It has truly been a heartbreaking past few days with deaths we hoped would never happen again,” he said.

Bowman added that the killing needs to stop. “We need a way to end this deadly violence that is killing and traumatizing generations of Israelis and Palestinians alike—including the blockade of Gaza. I have been to the Gaza border and know that Israelis and Palestinians are constantly living in fear.”

He said the underlying issues leading to the conflict need to be addressed. “We need an open discussion of the root causes of this conflict to end this violence and stop Hamas once and for all and bring us to a peaceful two-state solution. We need to acknowledge hard truths about the oppression millions of Palestinians face.”

Citywide/Manhattan

City Comptroller Brad Lander

Lander condemned the Hamas attacks but also called for the end of the occupation.

“I’m horrified by — and unequivocally condemn — Hamas’ brutal murder and kidnapping of Israeli civilians, which will only amplify suffering all around. Thinking of loved ones there, and praying for a swift end to the violence,” Lander posted on X Oct. 7.

Lander on Oct. 8 posted: “It is important to work for Palestinian human rights, lives and freedom—and I am long on the record calling for an end to the Occupation.”

Public Advocate Jumaane Williams

Williams also condemned the attacks, issuing a statement on Oct. 11.

“No words I can say will shape or stop the endless cycles of violence in Israel and Palestine, and few come amid this unspeakable massacre. I vehemently condemn the attacks on innocent civilians by Hamas that have stolen the lives of so many, and I mourn with the New Yorkers and people worldwide who see this senseless death and feel this loss as their own.”

Council Member Kristin Richardson Jordan 

Jordan, a Democratic Socialist in the 9th Council District who is not seeking reelection, neither released a public statement on the terrorist attacks, nor responded to a request for comment.

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