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US candidate for New York Congress faces backlash for supporting BDS

Assemblywoman Yuh-Line Niou is running in a crowded congressional race that represents parts of a heavily Orthodox Jewish neighbourhood
Assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou speaks during a press conference at New York's Museum of Jewish Heritage, on 6 October 2021 (Reuters)

A candidate running in a crowded New York congressional race is facing backlash after she said she supported the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. 

Yuh-Line Niou, a current New York state assemblywoman, is running for an open seat in the 10th Congressional District, which includes part of the heavily orthodox-Jewish neighbourhood of Borough Park. She is currently one of the most outspoken progressives in the State Assembly and is a strong candidate for the Congressional race. 

In an email exchange with Jewish Insider, she wrote: “I believe in the right to protest as a fundamental tenet of western democracy, so I do support BDS.”

In an interview last week with the news organisation, she said: “People think that the BDS movement is in some way antisemitic, but I don’t think that it is. I think that it’s making sure that people can have the right to be able to have free speech.”

MEE reached out to Niou for comment but did not respond by the time of publication.

Though it has yet to be seen how her constituents will react to her comment, her opponents have already hit back. Bill de Blasio, a former mayor of NYC, told Jewish Insider: “The vast majority of us who are Democrats, the vast majority of us who are progressives, don’t agree with her.”

“We support the State of Israel. We oppose BDS. We want a productive future. And undermining the Israeli economy, which means undermining prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians alike, is no way to build a future.”

The congressional candidate continued on to say he doesn’t know how anyone could be unclear on BDS.

“It’s a movement that is working against the State of Israel. It’s working against a healthy economy for the people of Israel. It’s working against one of the underpinnings of a future peace, which would be prosperity for Israelis and Palestinians alike,” he said.

“To me, it’s not gray at all. If you care about Israel and if you care about peace, oppose BDS. I’ve been doing that, energetically, for years.”

Some lawmakers are calling her antisemitic for supporting the BDS movement. Kalman Yeger, a Jewish council member in Brooklyn who has said that Palestine does not exist, said: “Extremist antisemitic positioning from a candidate who wants to represent Borough Park in the US Congress.”

The civil society-led BDS campaign was launched in 2005 by a group of Palestinian activists. It was founded against the backdrop of the collapse of Israeli-Palestinian peace negotiations and the violence of the Second Intifada, which saw nearly 5,000 Palestinians and 1,000 Israelis killed between 2000 and 2005. 

Palestinian American Rashida Tlaib and Somali American Ilhan Omar, the first two Muslim women elected to Congress, became the first two US lawmakers to publicly support the BDS movement when elected to the House of Representatives in 2018.

Meanwhile, some form of anti-BDS legislation, backed by pro-Israel lobby groups, has been passed in almost every US state. 

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