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CM Kalman Yeger under fire for tweeting ‘Palestine does not exist’

March 27, 2019 Noah Goldberg
Councilmember Kalman Yeger tweeted on Wednesday "Palestine does not exist," leading to backlash from activists. Photo via NYC City Council Flickr/John McCarten

A Brooklyn councilmember is under heavy Twitter fire after tweeting at a Muslim journalist that “Palestine does not exist.”

The comments were part of a heated Twitter thread between Democratic Councilmember Kalman Yeger, who represents a swath of South Brooklyn, and Zainab Iqbal, a reporter for Bklyner. Now, activists and advocates are calling for the politician’s removal from the New York City Council Immigration Committee.

Yeger first responded to a tweet by Rep. Ilhan Omar, who has been buffeted by bipartisan accusations of anti-Semitism over several tweets she posted about the influence of the Israel lobby on American foreign policy.

“You’re an antisemite and a member of Congress,” Yeger tweeted in response to Omar’s tweet about AIPAC’s [American Israel Public Affairs Committee] focus on her at their conference this year.

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Iqbal quote-tweeted Yeger’s response: “This is the same council member who has repeatedly said that palestine does not exist and refers to them as ‘so-called palestinians,’” she wrote.

Yeger did not back off. “Palestine does not exist. There, I said it again. Also, Congresswoman Omar is an antisemite. Said that too. Thanks for following me,“ he responded to Iqbal.

Prominent activists also got involved in the conversation.

Journalist Shaun King responded to Yeger’s tweets: “Wow. This is a real tweet from a New York City councilman.”

“It’s disgraceful, irresponsible and dangerous for a sitting NYC council member to engage in blatant bigotry and erasure,” Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American community organizer from Brooklyn, told the Brooklyn Eagle.

“I am Palestinian. I exist and so does my community. Yeger needs to be removed from the NYC Council Immigration Committee and apologize publicly to Palestinian New Yorkers.”

The largest Muslim civil rights advocacy organization in the U.S. seconded that call. “Any committee that deals with the rights of minority communities would be inappropriate for someone who holds such exclusionary views,” said Ibrahim Hooper, the national communications director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations.

In March 2018, according to an article by Iqbal, Yeger said, “There is no such thing as Palestine.”

Yeger also has a history of tweeting “Palestine” in quotation marks.

The United Nations Security Council in a 2016 resolution reiterated its “vision of a region where two democratic States, Israel and Palestine” exist in peace, and demanded that Israel return all land acquired by force in the 1967 war.

“International law thinks that there is a Palestine. And I can imagine that there are a lot of people in Israel who do not think there is any functioning Palestine,” said John Mollenkopf, a professor of Sociology and Political Science at CUNY.

The tweets – as well as the double standard she feels apply to Yeger as opposed to Omar – upset Iqbal.

“Councilmember Yeger denying the existence of millions of people is downright cruel and unfair,” Iqbal told the Eagle. “He deserves to be called out. The sad part is, he is most likely not going to face any consequences for his words.”

Kashif Hussain, a Muslim activist who ran for district leader of the 44th assembly district, agreed with Iqbal. “While we are trying to battle Islamophobia and build strong interfaith coalitions, this is a very, very uncalled for and very untimely and very unclassy tweet coming from an elected official,” he said. “There are Palestinains who are his constituents.”

Yeger did not immediately respond to request for comment.

Update (3:30 p.m.): A spokesperson for City Council Speaker Corey Johnson provided the following statement: “Speaker Corey Johnson is a strong supporter of the state of Israel and believes in a two state solution for Palestine and Israel that respects the dignity of both the Palestinian and Israeli people. Speaker Johnson denounces Councilmember Yeger’s comments as they are unhelpful and unwelcome. Comments like these do nothing to help advance the dialogue needed to foster a peaceful solution, which is something we all should be working towards.”

Update (5:27 p.m.): Mayor Bill de Blasio also quote-tweeted Yeger’s response, adding, “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.”

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