Progressive challenger Jamaal Bowman is trying to unseat long-time incumbent Eliot Engel in New York’s 16th district and Israel has become a central part of the race. Engel is one of the most pro-Israel Democrats in congress and Bowman would support conditioning military aid to the country if elected.
Earlier this month Rabbi Avi Weiss wrote an open letter to Bowman, implying that he is too pro-Palestine and asking for more clarification on his BDS position. “Our community is proud of its commitment to American values including, of course, racial harmony and equality for all. And among the issues most important to us is the well-being of the State of Israel, one of America’s greatest allies. Unfortunately, your comments on Israel have fallen far, far short,” wrote Weiss.
Bowman has now responded to Weiss with a letter of his own, clarifying some of his views. In his response, Bowman makes a direct connection between the protests currently gripping the United States and the situation in Palestine:
The uprising we’re witnessing across the country against police violence also makes me empathize with the everyday experience and fear that comes with living under occupation. Just as the police force is a violent intimidating force in so many black communities, I can connect to what it feels like for Palestinians to feel the presence of the military in their daily lives in the West Bank.
On the topic of BDS, Bowman reiterated that he’s not a supporter, but also seemed to imply that he would have voted against last summer’s House resolution condemning the boycott movement, which Weiss asked about specifically. “I personally oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. But, like civil rights leader U.S. Rep. John Lewis, I also will defend the rights of all people to express their First Amendment right to peacefully organize for political change,” wrote Bowman.
Pro-Israel groups and lobbying organizations have focused heavily on the race over fears that New York might on the verge of another AOC moment. A recent Data for Progress poll had Engel down by 10 points. The pro-Israel PAC Democratic Majority for Israel (DMFI) is expected to spend $2 million on this race alone. The group, which is comprised of Democratic donors and AIPAC alumni, spent over $1 million in attack ads aimed at Senator Bernie Sanders during his presidential campaign.
New York’s 16th district voters will head to the polls tomorrow.