Andrew Yang
Andrew YangReuters

New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang has sparked controversy after he participated in a March 18 forum hosted by a Muslim-American advocacy organization.

According to the Forward, in that incident, Emgage forum moderator Dean Obeidallah told Yang that when he said the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement harkens "back to fascist boycotts of Jewish businesses" he "caused a lot of pain" to "Palestinian" Muslims.

Responding to that, Yang said that his statement was in reference to "extremist elements" of the BDS movement, adding that he has "spoken to people who have made a different argument, along the lines of what you just expressed — which is that BDS is nonviolent."

"I don't think targeting Israel in this way is the right approach, but I certainly appreciate people who are standing up for what they believe in."

In a March 19 statement to the Forward, Yang said that while he views BDS as "nonviolent," its refusal to recognize Israel's right to exist means that it is anti-Semitic.

"BDS does not recognize the right of Israel to exist. Not recognizing Israel’s right to exist is anti-Semitic. I strongly oppose BDS, as I've said countless times," he told the Forward, adding that he understands his statements at the forum "caused pain to many people" and promising to reach out to the Jewish community to discuss that.

Dov Hikind, former NY State Assemblyman, tweeted: "Which part about BDS do you appreciate, candidate Andrew Yang? The exclusive focus on the Jewish state? Ignoring serious humanitarian disasters all over the globe? Demonizing the Jewish people? The desire to economically harm but a single state in the world? Do tell..."

In February, Politico quoted Yang as saying at a mayoral forum hosted by the Muslim Democratic Club of New York: "My view on BDS is that because of its failure to disavow certain organizations that have expressed violent intentions toward Israel that I disagree with it, but I have complete respect for people who have a very different point of view."