Bowman backlash

Bowman denies being aware of Finkelstein’s ‘reprehensible’ views in apology, even as author expressed them during panel

The congressman said he was unaware of Finkelstein’s background, but the anti-Israel author defended the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks during the event

Tom Williams/CQ-Roll Call, Inc via Getty Images

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) arrives for the House Education and the Workforce Committee hearing "Examining the Policies and Priorities of the Department of Labor," in Rayburn Building on Wednesday, June 7, 2023.

Facing backlash from Jewish leaders, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) apologized on Saturday for praising a controversial anti-Israel scholar who has celebrated Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attacks, saying he “had seen a few interviews but was unaware of Norman Finkelstein’s completely reprehensible comments before” they appeared together at a recent panel discussion on the Israel-Hamas war.

“And when he made comments on Oct. 7th at this event, I strongly condemned his language and will always continue to do so,” Bowman wrote on X, formerly Twitter, over the weekend. “I apologize deeply to any of my friends and neighbors hurt by my comments and will continue to fight the scourge of antisemitism in our country and across the world.”

But a full recording of the event, reviewed by Jewish Insider on Monday, indicates that Bowman made no effort to explicitly condemn Finkelstein’s remarks during the panel discussion, held at the Andalusia Islamic Center in Yonkers earlier this month.

Instead, the congressman thanked Finkelstein and the other speakers at the event “for delivering the truth” and said he was “a bit starstruck” to be in their company. “I watch them all the time on YouTube,” he told the crowd, before devoting much of his speech to blasting “powerful lobbies” for using “scare tactics” to silence critics of Israel.

A spokesperson for Bowman did not respond to a request for comment from JI on Monday afternoon.

In his own comments at the event, Finkelstein, a political scientist whose writings have long drawn allegations of promoting antisemitic conspiracy theories about the Holocaust, called Gaza a “concentration camp,” said he did “not believe” mounting evidence that Hamas used widespread sexual violence against women and refused to condemn the Oct. 7 attacks, which he described as “the culmination of the martyrdom of the people of Gaza,” according to a publicly available video of the discussion.

Even as he acknowledged that “atrocities occurred” on Oct. 7, Finkelstein said it was “very difficult for me to pass judgment on young people in the flower of their beauty,” adding, “I won’t or disapprove, I won’t praise and I won’t condemn it, because my entire life, I’ve lived by the precept, ‘There but the grace of God go I,’ and I cannot predict with any certitude what I would have done on Oct. 7.” 

“What were they supposed to do?” Finkelstein concluded to applause. “I just don’t have the answer to that question, and until somebody gives me an answer to that question, I’m not going to condemn them.”

On the day of the attacks, Finkelstein had enthusiastically hailed the massacre as a “heroic resistance” akin to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, writing that “it warms every fiber of my soul.” He has defended his comments, claiming that he was “not aware” of the full scale of the casualties when he made them.

For his part, Bowman, who is facing a formidable primary challenger backed by AIPAC, reiterated that he had condemned Hamas’ attacks while speaking at the event, even as he noted there was “disagreement,” without directly citing Finkelstein. 

“But you can’t condemn Oct. 7 and then condone what’s happening in Gaza right now,” he argued. “You can’t do one and not do the other.”

In his remarks, which ran for approximately 10 minutes, Bowman also accused the U.S. government of enabling Israel as it carries out what he described as “atrocities” in Gaza and criticized pro-Israel groups for bullying lawmakers into silence as the war has unfolded. “They’re calling you antisemitic whenever you offer criticism,” he said, adding, “If everyone knows the truth, they will begin to lose their power.”

“No one is telling the truth,” Bowman claimed at the event, where he called on the audience to “organize politically” and “hold people accountable” ahead of a competitive election cycle. “The fact that you all have put together this incredible panel to tell us the truth about what has been happening there for 75 years is incredibly important for this community.”

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