Emboldened by their recent electoral gains within the Democratic Party, leftists are tweeting angrily that we’ve called out their anti-Israel views in this publication. “I didn’t think I’d have to call out bad faith attacks using antisemitism as a weapon against progressives twice in one month, but here we are,” Mel Gagarin tweeted on Monday.
Gagarin is a resident of Kew Gardens who ran in a primary against Rep. Grace Meng last year on a leftist platform that sought to isolate Israel economically, diplomatically, and socially. With support of Jewish community leaders, the incumbent secured a comfortable reelection margin, but it has not deterred Gagarin’s hostility toward the Jewish state.
Gagarin’s series of tweets addressed me and Ethan Felder, an attorney and district leader who also identifies with progressive causes, but opposes boycotting the Jewish state. Not being familiar with online exchanges between Felder and Gagarin, I’d like to limit this column to Gagarin’s exact words concerning BDS and Israel.
Rather than to quote how many Jewish friends he’s known, how many Jewish supporters he’s had, the Holocaust survivors whom he’s met, his tweets can speak for themselves. To his credit, Gagarin published his answer to the questionnaire issued to candidates by the New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. “My position on BDS is aligned with that of Senator Bernie Sanders and I oppose Anti-BDS legislation.”
Opposition to BDS legislation still allows for support of the boycott as a First Amendment matter. Now what about participation in trips to Israel, meeting with Israeli officials, security cooperation between the NYPD and Israeli police, recognition of credits from Israeli schools by public colleges, and investing public pension funds in Israel Bonds?
“To spell it out, and this cost me with my own allies, I do not support BDS as government policy, but do not believe in curtailing First Amendment rights,” Gagarin wrote.
Gagarin’s wife Aleda is a candidate in the Democratic primary for the 29th District, covering Rego Park, Forest Hills, and Kew Gardens. I hope that she takes a clear and detailed position concerning Israel because there is much more to this complex matter than a three-letter acronym. If she feels that this publication should apologize for characterizing BDS as hate speech rather than free speech, she will not receive it. But I recognize the difference between legislating BDS, which she opposes, and expressing support for it as a matter of free speech. Would she defend any other form of hate speech as it relates to race, religion, nationality, and gender? When Israel is singled out, that’s what makes it a form of bias
In his youth, Mel Gagarin befriended a Holocaust survivor at the West Side Tennis Club and internalized her account of the genocide. “I can empathize with the trauma, pain, skepticism, and fear among the Jewish community for whom Never Again is a constant mantra they cannot afford to put down,” he wrote.
In this spirit, I hope that Gagarin can meet with Israeli victims of terrorism and descendants of Jewish refugees who found safety in their historical homeland. He should recognize that Israelis are not illegal occupiers or foreign settlers, but an indigenous people who returned to their ancestral land.
Unfortunately, the limitations of Twitter do not allow for a nuanced conversation and entrenched opinions earn more likes, shares, and retweets, than sincere apologies and changing one’s mind. Nevertheless, change is possible.
Soma Syed is an attorney and one of the candidates running in the nonpartisan special election for the 24th Council District. After condemning an anti-Israel tweet featuring a baby with a bullet hole in its forehead that called for boycotting Israel, she has been pressured to retract her statement. Instead, she called out the boycotters for using an anti-Semitic blood libel trope in a tweet that mentioned her opponent Moumita Ahmed.
“If the Queens DSA genuinely wants to help improve our community, they should learn to expand their opinions and perspectives. Until such a time, our community will not condone their anti-Semitic rhetoric, their reckless policies, and tendencies for bad ideas. The Queens DSA needs to check itself and not hide their true agenda under a pretext of helping to create a more just society while harboring hate.”
A final note: I prefer the politics of ideas rather than identity. I’d rather be represented by a gentile who shares my views than a Jew who shares my ancestry but not my views. Any disagreements that I have with the Gagarins, Moumita Ahmed, and Reps. Tlaib and Omar have nothing to do with their race, gender, religion, or nationality. They are strictly based on policy.
By Sergey Kadinsky