Open Letter to Mr. Jamaal Bowman from Rabbi Avi Weiss

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Dear Mr. Bowman,

News reports indicate that you were recently endorsed by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, whose record on Israel is deeply distressing and disappointing. Following your expression of gratitude regarding her endorsement, I began looking into your position vis a vis Israel.

You’re quoted as saying that American aid to Israel should be conditional on exploring Israel’s human rights record. I am of the opinion, as noted by others, that there is no country anywhere facing the same threats as Israel, that has a better human rights record.

I am especially alarmed that at no time have you mentioned Palestinian violation of human rights – specifically, the Palestinian Authority’s policy of funding the families of those who have committed murderous terrorist acts.

Those murderous acts have not spared our own district. Just a year and a half ago, Ari Fuld, son of Rabbi Yonah Fuld who is a past principal of the SAR Academy, one of the largest schools in our area, the Riverdale section of The Bronx, was knifed to death by a Palestinian terrorist.

And let us not forget Taylor Force, an American veteran who was murdered in Tel Aviv by Palestinian terrorists. In 2018, the Taylor Force Act was passed in Congress. The bill calls for America to decrease aid to the PA until it stops supporting terrorist families.

Due to the PA’s “pay to slay” policy, the families of these terrorists will be receiving financial support from the PA for life. Knowing that their families will receive money, this policy has inspired many to commit more heinous acts of terror.

Countless Riverdalians now live in Israel, including our daughter and her family. Some live in the town of Efrat, just south of Jerusalem, in Gush Etzion. In the center of Gush Etzion, many, including Ezra Schwartz, a teenager from Boston, were viciously murdered by Palestinian terrorists.

Furthermore, the human rights abuses of the PA (and the Hamas terrorist organization, for that matter) don’t merely extend to Israelis, but Palestinians as well. In fact, according to a 149-page report released in 2018 by Human Rights Watch, the organization describes what it calls “arbitrary arrests” and “systematic torture” by the PA and Hamas towards innocent Palestinians.

Mr. Bowman, you have said before that “this is not about singling out Israel and targeting Israel.” Yet it seems to me, at least in regard to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, that this is exactly what you are doing.

And so, in light of all this, my questions are very specific: Do you support the Taylor Force Act? Are you prepared to say that you oppose the PA’s policy of financially supporting families of terrorist murderers? And will you condemn the human rights abuses of the PA and Hamas?

Additionally, your position on BDS is not clear.

Most recently, there was a bill in Congress entitled “Opposing Efforts to Delegitimize the State of Israel and the Local Boycott Divestment Sanctions Movement Targeting Israel.” When the time came to vote on it, 398 Congresspersons voted yea, 17 voted nay. Reps. AOC, Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib were amongst the few nay votes.

How would you have voted on this resolution? How can we be sure that having received a strong endorsement from AOC (who also co-sponsored a different pro-BDS resolution proposed by Omar), that you are not beholden to her? Are you able to definitively commit yourself to never supporting BDS?

Speaking of Reps. Omar and Tlaib, you tweeted that “@IlhanMN @RashidaTlaib do not hate Israel.” As many know, both Omar and Tlaib have made highly anti-Semitic statements in recent years, and their anti-Semitism has been condemned by the Anti-Defamation League and the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Do you still stand by your defense of these Congresswomen?

Mr. Bowman, you have raised questions about Israel’s human rights record and labeled Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu as an “authoritarian.” However, Israel is the only democracy in the Middle East. It has just gone through its third election in 18 months. Yet you’ve said nothing about the PA, whose President Mahmoud Abbas, is now in his twelfth year of a four-year term. Will you similarly label Abbas an authoritarian?

Our community is proud of its commitment to American values including, of course, racial harmony and equality for all.

And amongst 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.

I look forward, and I believe our community looks forward, to hearing your responses to the specific questions that I’ve raised.


Rabbi Avi Weiss

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Avi Weiss is the founding rabbi of the Hebrew Institute of Riverdale and longtime activist for Jewish causes and human rights. He is the author of Spiritual Activism: A Jewish Guide to Leadership and Repairing the World.


eHeziOpen Letter to Mr. Jamaal Bowman from Rabbi Avi Weiss

Comments 11

  1. Now that Jamal Bowman has won the primary with AOC, Ilan and Talib’s support, it is clear that anti-Israel sentiment and antisemitism has seeped into the liberal mainstream and particularly the Democratic Party. While I continue to support the Democratic Party (the current Republican Party is spineless, and and its leader Donald Trump is antisemitic, racist, sexist, totally incompetent, and unfit to be President of the US), I, and I hope others, will work hard to keep antisemitism and anti Israel sentiments at bay. It is one thing to critique Israeli policy, it is quite another to support the BDS movement, fail to criticize other nations and peoples while at the same time condemning Israel, and equate zionism with nazism.

  2. I stand by Rabbi Weiss’s comments. Why is it that Israel is singled out among all of the nations in the world. Throughout the Middle East, Africa, South America there are nations that regularly imprison, torture and kill their own citizens. Where is the outrage? Israel has a population of 8.6 million people yet garners the attention of all these politicians. Why? It would seem that a dislike or hatred of Jews has to be operating. I suggest they admit to their bias and speak the truth about it. That way we have a chance to deal with it. Making believe it is about money or even the Palestinians is disenguous at best.

  3. Rabbi,

    I am Jewish, raised in a Jewish family, in a heavily Jewish community. I agree with Mr. Bowman on Israel and also don’t see anything wrong with comments that Reps. Omar and Tlaib have made. I support BDS. I support conditioning aid to Israel. My Jewish values have informed these views.

    Why are you talking about our beautiful, diverse (both racially and ideologically) as if we are a monolith? What gives you the right to speak for me or any other Jew?

    1. Rabbi Weiss speaks for me.
      Us progressive liberals had Bobby Kennedy die at the hands of a Palestinian. He killed Kennedy because he supported Jews.
      The so called intersectionality obsessed faux progressives of today are merely a gang of socialist Jew haters.
      Does Bowman support BDS?
      Does Bowman know the pre and post UN role in establishing the Jewish state?
      Does he know the International laws and their history that guide Israel’s existence?
      Does Bowman account for the non stop unprovoked bombings from Gaza to southern Israel?
      Has Bowman mentioned the oppression of the Palestinians by their own leaders?
      Has Bowman defended gays who are beheaded by Palestinians and Arabs?
      Has Bowman examined Middle East human rights violations before attacking Israel on his webpage?
      Is Bowman simply committed to becoming a part of the vile hateful “squad” that he cannot see facts,history?
      Bowman is an ignorant uneducated fool regarding middle east history and politics. He is a Jew hater. Those who support him (like Biaggi) need to be defeated in her next election. She is on the wrong team.

      1. FYI all due respect, people like you are the problem. I was 12 when Bobby Kennedy was shot. I loved him, as did my family. It was a time when the Democratic Party hosted such great Americans as Hubert Humphrey and Scoop Jackson, to name a few. Fast forward 52 years. Eliot Engel panders to every progressive cause, but because he supports Israel, he is not good enough for the neo-nazis of the left. So they deposed him. Wake up, people, welcome to the 21st century, and stop pandering to those who would destroy us. There are lots of things I don’t like about President Trump. But he is getting my whole hearted support from myself and my family, many of us former Democrats, all of us proud Americans, Jews and Zionists.

    2. Good for you. You can throw a party for yourself and all like-minded individuals when the 6 million Jews in Israel are killed and Israel is wiped off the map.

    3. Should the sanctioning component of BDS potentially go so far as to include the nuclear option? Yes, Israel would be eliminated if it came to that, but as a Jew, do your Jewish values inform you that such action would be appropriate, even if it involved the death of some or all of Israel’s Jews?

    4. Nicely stated – and reassuring to see that there are people in the Jewish community who feel as you do. From his comments here, Rabbi Weiss is almost laughable in his dishonesty & hypocrisy. Intelligent & fair-minded Jewish-Americans should give their heads a shake…

  4. Rabbi Weiss writes: “I am of the opinion, as noted by others, that there is no country anywhere facing the same threats as Israel, that has a better human rights record.”

    That is a very dangerous statement to make. The extent to which a country respects universal human rights is not conditioned by the degree of the threats that it faces. One either upholds universal human rights or one does not. One cannot, however, say that we do a good enough job (however that is defined) given the “threats” that we face or that there is a sliding scale.

    It’s also an ahistorical statement, ignoring as it does any and all history before the state of Israel was created (and therefore any culpability on Israel’s part), a history that has led to the current apartheid-like situation between Israel and the Palestinians in which one country controls the land, critical infrastructure, and freedom of movement of an effectively stateless people.

  5. It is refreshing to see a Jewish person, particularly a rabbi, stand up to a radical left-wing politician and ask tough questions. I often wonder why American Jews vote democrat, but consistently, for decades, Conservatives and Republicans are the ones actually acknowledging the threats Israel constantly faces. Yes, Israel is the only democracy in the entire region, and it needs American cooperation and support.

  6. you need to stop arguing that Israel is interested in protecting the palestinians who are second class citizens in word and in deed. The state of Israel has an obligation to demonstrate to the world that it is not an autocracy, that it doesn’t seek to expand its borders to the west bank based on what the hard right believes the bible mandates…If Israel is to maintain its credibility as a member of the western post WW II democratic liberal experiment it has to take steps to insure that the Palestinians are not the casualties of religious zealots

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