Rabbi Avi Weiss
Rabbi Avi WeissJTA photo

Mr. Jamaal Bowman is a Democrat running for the Congressional seat representing the16th District - Bronx and Westchester. He is attempting to replace incumbent Rep. Eliot Engel in the primaries on June 23.

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

Rabbi 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.