December 8, 2019

Protests Erupt After NYC Councilman Says ‘Palestine Does Not Exist’

Screenshot from Twitter

An only in Brooklyn fight on Thursday evening brought the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to the heavily Chasidic neighborhood of Boro Park.

Pro-Palestinian protesters demonstrated outside Orthodox Jewish Councilmember Kalman Yeger’s office. The demonstrators were protesting Yeger’s recent tweets that Palestine does not exist.

The Palestinian protesters were met with equally fervent pro-Israel Chasidic counter-protesters. Before long, anti-Zionist Chasidic Jews affiliated with the Neturei Karta sect were loudly opposing their Jewish brethren and shouting pro-Palestinian slogans.

It turned into a near riot before police separated the groups and eventually shut down the protest.

Women’s March leader Linda Sarsour called for the protest. Former New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind called for a counter-protest. “We will not sit idly by as sinister anti-Semite par excellence @lsarsour attempts to roll over @KalmanYeger for his speaking of historical facts. It’s nothing but an attempt to silence a Jewish politician. We won’t allow it. JOIN ME in a counter-protest 6pm, 4424 16th Av Bklyn,” he tweeted Thursday afternoon.”

Demonstrators were at each other’s throats, with pro-Palestinian contingent chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will soon be free” and pro-Israel demonstrators shouting “Sarsour go home” and “Palestine does not exist.” The Neturei Karta chanted “Dov Hikind, shame on you.”

Sarsour did not show up.

Former journalist and media consultant Yosef Rapoport, a Chasidic resident of Boro Park, went to see what was happening. Few of those protesting, counter-protesting or counter-counter-protesting were Boro Park locals, he told the Jewish Journal. “The screamers and fanatics are almost entirely outsiders.”

Some were waving Israeli flags – a sight that you never see in Boro Park, he noted, where Chasidim are concerned about the safety of Israeli Jews but generally apolitical when it comes to Zionism or the idea of how Israel and the Palestinians work things out.

Rappaport said both Sarsour and Hikind fanned the flames because they each want to stay politically relevant. “For Sarsour it is a grand opportunity to express ‘what about-ism,’” he said.

Rappaport said he just wants his district’s elected officials, like Yeger, to address local problems like garbage and double parking on Boro Park’s streets, “and not act like the ambassador of Israel.”

The match that started the fire was lit by Zainab Iqbal, a reporter for the local publication Bklyner, and a Muslim of Pakistani descent. She took aim at Yeger’s attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.), after Omar intimated that American Jews have dual loyalties.

Linking back to a tweet made by Yeger a year ago when he wrote, “Palestine does not exist,” Iqbal tweeted: “Palestine does not exist. There, I said it again. Also Congresswoman Omar is an anti-Semite. Said that too. Thanks for following me.”

Within hours of Iqbal’s tweet, NYC Council Speaker Corey Johnson, Councilmember Brad Lander (a progressive Jew who represents a liberal part of Brooklyn) and Mayor Bill de Blasio had weighed in. de Blasio tweeted: “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.”



NYC Council Immigration Committee Chair Carlos Mechaca issued a statement suggesting that Yeger would be removed from the committee. He wrote, “The occupation of the Palestinian people has wrought immense human suffering. Tweeting ‘Palestine does not exist’ is a profoundly dehumanizing statement that attempts to erase the Palestinian people and their struggle for self-determination. More than that, it is a belief that has justified violence against Muslim and Arab people across the world. That is the problem with Councilmember Yeger’s remarks and why I condemn his tweet — it not only erases, but it denies the humanity of many people.”

Progressive activist and columnist Shaun King broadcast Yeger’s original tweet, saying Wow. This is a real tweet from a NYC councilman.” Yeger then promptly re-tweeted King’s tweet.

Someone who calls himself “The Bobover” on Twitter tweeted: So today people protested Neturei Karta, who protested Dov Hikind, who protested Linda Sarsour, who protested Kalman Yeger, who protested Omar, who protested Bibi… #חדגדיא