People outside New York may not be aware of the big news in the city this week: City Council leaders removed a council member from its immigration committee because he had made anti-Palestinian comments. It is important news because anti-Palestinian racism is finally moving the needle in U.S. politics, and in the biggest Jewish city no less, where expressions of devotion to Israel by politicians are the coin of the realm.
Two days ago, Council member Kalman Yeger, who represents an Orthodox Jewish section of Brooklyn, lost his seat after repeatedly asserting that Palestinians and Palestine don’t exist.
City Council Speaker Corey Johnson demoted Yeger, saying (per the Brooklyn Daily Eagle) the Immigration Committee “is supposed to welcome and support immigrants in our city.”
Just last week Mayor Bill de Blasio had happily teamed up with Yeger at the AIPAC conference– and is under pressure from the progressive base over his fawning to the Israel lobby group. But this week Yeger is roadkill. De Blasio:
Certainly the Immigration Committee is nowhere for someone who can say the things that he said… We have in this city a huge Muslim community, a huge Palestinian committee as well and it’s important for people to understand that everyone is valued.
Palestinian-American leader Linda Sarsour responded with gratitude and recognition of the moment:
@NYCSpeakerCoJo [Corey Johnson] for standing up against hate and bigotry. Thank you for removing Kalman Yeger off the immigration committee. Palestinians feel seen and heard. This is not your first time doing what’s right and I know it won’t be your last.
This goes back a year. In March 2018, Yeger responded to news that Palestinian politician Ahmad Tibi hopes one day to lead a democratic, binational state:
More evidence that the ultimate goal of the so-called “Palestinians” is the destruction of the Jewish state and its people. And THAT’S why there will never be peace.
Palestine does not exist.
There, I said it again.
Also, Congresswoman Omar is an antisemite. Said that too…
The tweet prompted charges of Islamophobia and bigotry. Corey Johnson called on Yeger to apologize. De Blasio’s first blast at Yeger sought to balance his sympathies:
A two-state solution is the best hope for peace. I challenge anyone who thinks the State of Israel shouldn’t exist. But the same goes for anyone who would deny Palestinians a home.
Yeger held a press conference last Friday where he merely repeated himself and declined to apologize.
“There is no state by that name; there is no place by that name.”
There were protests and counter-protests outside Yeger’s Brooklyn office, and “a diverse coalition of Palestinian, Jewish, immigrant and civil rights groups announced it was planning a protest on City Hall’s steps later this week,” the New York Times reported.
Yeger was demoted on Monday, April 1. The Times’s coverage featured comments from Linda Sarsour.
“This sends a wider message that saying anti-Arab, anti-Muslim and anti-Palestinian things comes with consequences,” Ms. Sarsour said.
It also quoted former assemblyman Dov Hikind on the meaning of the moment: “Progressive Democrats, liberals, have unfortunately moved away from the kind of support for Israel that we are used to.”
I respect the Speaker’s right to run the Council as he sees fit. It’s unfortunate that political correctness takes precedence over objective fact. Of course, there are Palestinians. However, the fact remains there is no Palestinian state.
In sum, this incident was a wakeup call to the Democratic Party nationwide, that the profound political shifts that the left is generating on a host of issues, from sexual harassment to economic inequity, will include Palestine at last. Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer have said that the Democratic Party will always support Israel. The news from New York is that the Dems are going to have to respect the base’s beliefs on Palestinian human rights.
At a time when Israel is trending further and further right, a political breakup seems more and more inevitable; and the day is not far off when progressive Dems will call for democracy from river to sea.