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NY’s City Council Needs a Strong Jewish Leadership
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Opinion

NY’s City Council Needs a Strong Jewish Leadership

A far-left 'litmus test' on Israel shows the need for advocacy by and for Jews, write two candidates for the council.

Members of the NY City Council march in the Celebrate Israel parade on Fifth Avenue, June 2, 2019. (City Council Flickr Page)
Members of the NY City Council march in the Celebrate Israel parade on Fifth Avenue, June 2, 2019. (City Council Flickr Page)

The New York City chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) sent a questionnaire to potential endorsees. Of more than 100 questions, two related to Israel, one asking if the candidate agrees not to visit Israel and another asking the candidate’s position on Boycott, Sanction and Divestment (BDS).

The New York Jewish Agenda, a new organization representing the progressive Jewish voice, had the right response, calling the questions divisive and unconstructive to a just, peaceful settlement for Palestinians and Israelis, a goal that a vast majority of Jews shares.

The uproar over the egregious DSA questionnaire is timely, because next year most of New York City government will turn over because of term limits. Jewish leadership in the City Council is no exception, with all but one of the 13-member Jewish Caucus departing. This raises the question of the future of the Jewish voice in the Council.

Jessica Haller (Courtesy)

As Jewish Progressive candidates for City Council, we believe it is important to support and encourage a diversity of voices, including Jewish voices.

The Jewish Caucus was founded in 1991 to advocate for Jewish concerns. It has grown into a strong foundation for Jewish leadership in the city, with elected officials from all five boroughs and representation of more than a quarter of the Council. The Jewish Caucus has traditionally been dedicated to advocating for social services for all communities, fighting hidden poverty, including Jewish poverty, supporting a democratic Israel, and advancing inter-faith relations.

Daniel Marks Cohen (Courtesy)

This work is still important, and it is even more important for the Caucus to stand up to anti-Semitism in all forms. As candidates seeking election in 2021, we are deeply concerned about the loss of the Jewish presence in city politics, particularly at a time when anti-Semitism is on the rise. According to the Anti-Defamation League, 2020 saw a 12 percent increase in anti-Semitic incidents, the largest jump ever.

The community needs a strong and diverse Jewish leadership, including progressive leadership, in the City Council to stand up for our community and reflect Jewish values. The Jewish community has consistently sought common cause with allies, standing arm in arm in the Civil Rights era and of course during the current movement for Black Lives. We expect to double down on the effort to push back against a rising tide of hatred that threatens us all, Jew and non-Jew alike. We will work with current caucus members as well as allies to ensure the safety and care of the Jewish community, and all vulnerable communities, in New York City.

Like many communities in our multiethnic and multiracial city, the Jewish community in New York is not monolithic but rather is a reflection of the world: We are Black and Brown, Latinx and Asian, Russian, Mizrahi, Bukhari, Ashkenazi and Sephardi, immigrant and US-born. Our faith is a continuum from Reform to Conservative to Orthodox and with many variations in between. We celebrate our similarities and respect our differences.

As Jews, we recognize the relation of anti-Semitism, racism, sexism, Islamophobia, xenophobia, and other forms of hate, and we will push back against authoritarian regimes grounded in racial, ethnic, and religious nationalism, both at home and abroad. We will stand up to protect immigrants and refugees, as we, or our immigrant parents, grandparents, or great grandparents, as commanded in Leviticus, “…you shall love the stranger as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.”

While looking forward, we also want to make sure our past is not forgotten. With the passing of a generation, the Holocaust and other genocides are being erased, and we will work towards a robust education plan for all children to be proud of all our histories while also looking to a promising future and working for a peaceful, secure future for both Israel and the Palestinians.

Even with a smaller Jewish Caucus, the strength of Jewish voices will not be diminished if we rededicate ourselves to embracing the mission of the Torah in Deuteronomy that “…justice, justice you shall pursue.”

Dan Cohen, a candidate for City Council in the 7th district seeking to succeed Mark Levine, is an affordable housing advocate and community leader.

Jessica Haller, a candidate for City Council in the 11th district to succeed Andrew Cohen, is a climate activist and tech entrepreneur.

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