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Wednesday, January 20, 2021

City Council Candidate Does Not Support BDS But ‘the Right of Public Citizens to Participate in Boycotts’

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Nithya Raman, who is running against Democratic City Councilmember David Ryu in Los Angeles City Council District four, said in a Democrats for Israel (DFI) Los Angeles questionnaire she doesn’t personally support the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement but she does support “the right of public citizens to participate in boycotts.”

The DFI Los Angeles questionnaire had asked, “What is your view on the Israel boycott and divestment movement and what will you do about it?”

The Journal obtained Raman’s full reply, which reads, “I don’t personally support the BDS movement, and I believe in Israel’s right to exist. I also believe, separate from any individual’s political activity, that any anti-Semitic language is hate speech and should be condemned as such. I would be against the participation of any local public agency in a boycott or divestment action. However, my position on the right of private citizens to participate in boycotts is that of Senators Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, and Bernie Sanders: I believe how one chooses to spend their money or peacefully engage in political activity is protected by the First Amendment.

“I personally am deeply upset by policy decisions in India, my own country of origin, and while I have not participated in a boycott, I understand the argument for withholding economic activity. I believe those choices are constitutionally-protected political speech.”

DFI Los Angeles President Gregg Solkovits said in a statement to the Journal, “We appreciate that Nithya Raman supports the right of Israel to exist and personally opposes BDS but while DFI-LA also supports freedom of speech, we may differ in that discriminatory speech that targets individuals based on race, religion or national origin is prohibited by law and is not usually considered protected speech, which is why we have the Civil Rights Act. The BDS movement and many of its members have deliberately targeted Jewish students, community centers and Synagogues in demanding a unilateral ‘right of return’ of over 5 million Palestinians to move into a state with 6.5 million Jewish-Israelis and 1.8 million Arab-Israelis, which would drastically change the Jewish character and makeup of the country, fundamentally ending its existence.

“In grading or making recommendations, DFI-LA will have to weigh these factors, commitment to Democratic party values, including support for a two-state solution, and the candidate’s history of involvement in the Jewish community in making its determination, which is what we do with every questionnaire we review.”

Raman was endorsed by the Los Angeles Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) chapter in December 2019, and she told Jacobin magazine in February that she is “a member of DSA locally and pretty much my entire platform very much overlaps with what DSA has been fighting for here in LA.”

In 2017, DSA’s national party passed a resolution endorsing the BDS movement with more than 90% support. In August of this year, DSA Los Angeles tweeted out support for DSA’s New York City chapter, which came under fire at the time for asking city council candidates to pledge against traveling to Israel.

“Israel is an apartheid state,” DSA Los Angeles tweeted. “Weaponizing Jewish identity and experience for political gains is antisemitic. #FreePalestine #BDS

Additionally, DSA signed a #DropTheADL letter in August, which calls on progressives to distance themselves from the Anti-Defamation League (ADL). The letter accused the Jewish group of having an “ongoing pattern of attacking social justice movements led by communities of color, queer people, immigrants, Muslims, Arabs, and other marginalized groups, while aligning itself with police, right-wing leaders, and perpetrators of state violence.”

Ryu said in a statement to the Journal, “I absolutely do not support the BDS movement. At a time when hate crimes are rising in LA and across the world, it is dangerous for a candidate to be so closely aligned with a political movement bent on demonizing Israel and the Jewish people.

Raman’s campaign said in a statement to the Journal that Raman disagrees with DSA Los Angeles’ tweets on BDS. “Nithya does not support BDS,” the campaign said.

Raman, an urban planner, garnered 41% of the vote in the March primary; Ryu won 45% of the vote. The two are currently in a heated runoff election, which The Los Angeles Times described as “a progressive showdown over issues such as protecting tenants and reimagining policing.” In July, Raman signed a letter calling for the City of Los Angeles to adopt the Peoples’ Budget LA, which would reduce funding for law enforcement and policing from 53% of the budget to 1.64%. That same month, Ryu also supported the city council’s decision to redirect $150 million from the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) to underserved communities and approved of city council’s proposed legislation to establish an Office of Violence Prevention.

But Raman’s campaign has come under recent fire for the actions of some of her supporters. The Journal obtained a letter from several residents in City Council District four, stating, “We want to make sure you are aware of the tenor and actions of your campaign and some of your supporters.” The letter continued, “We have seen David Ryu lawn signs destroyed or removed, which some of your supporters even brag about online. We have seen misleading statements, racist and homophobic [sic] tropes, and downright lies propagated by your staff, supporters, and endorsers. We have even seen threats of physical attack. But more than anything, our communities and our neighbors are disappointed to see this level of online attacks and vitriol in the Council District 4 election.”

The letter acknowledged that many of Raman’s supporters are respectful, but too many aren’t; the letter went onto accuse Raman’s campaign of “negativity and bullying” and urged Raman “to disavow the lies, disavow the bullying, and disavow your supporters who traffic in false statements and cruelty. Our district and our city deserve better.”

The Journal also obtained a February campaign ad where Raman told her supporters “to get angry.”

 

“I have spent my time in office trying to bring people together and stand up to hate in all its forms,” Ryu said in a statement to the Journal. “This is not the time to be fomenting division — and I don’t believe hate belongs in the progressive movement.”

In a statement to the Journal, Raman responded to the letter by saying that she has suffered from “online harassment” from Ryu supporters and has taken a break from looking at social media as a result.

“Just as I do not and have never initiated, encouraged, or supported personal attacks on Councilmember Ryu on any platform, I do not believe that he is encouraging these attacks on me,” Raman said. “None of the social media posts referenced in the letter are from individuals who work on my campaign.

“What we’ve accomplished from this campaign is to give people who are frustrated with how our city has responded to some of our biggest challenges a positive place to channel those frustrations — an opportunity to learn about the power of local government, and about policies that can help us get to a healthier, more sustainable city going forward. I continue to believe that’s the most effective way to approach dissatisfaction with elected officials.”

Regarding the February ad, Raman said in a statement to the Journal, “I, like the vast majority of [Angelinos], am angry about the explosion in homelessness, skyrocketing rents, and increasingly toxic air we’ve been subjected to over the last half-decade. I think it’s appropriate to be angry about the crisis we’re watching play out on our streets right now. No other major city in America has a full one percent of its population living on the street.”

 

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