Rep. Jamaal Bowman praises speaker who celebrated Oct. 7 Hamas attacks

Embattled lawmaker appeared with anti-Israel author Norman Finkelstein at Yonkers Islamic center last Sunday

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.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) introduced a controversial anti-Israel scholar, Norman Finkelstein, who has accused Jews of exploiting the Holocaust to legitimize Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, at a panel discussion on the Israel-Hamas war last Sunday in Westchester County, where the congressman expressed his admiration for the polarizing author and activist.

“I’m a bit starstruck,” Bowman said of Finkelstein, whose 2000 polemic, “The Holocaust Industry,” has faced allegations of promoting conspiracy theories about Jewish extortion, and the other guests who participated in the discussion at the Andalusia Islamic Center in Yonkers. “I watch them all the time on YouTube.”

Finkelstein, a political scientist who in 2007 was denied tenure at DePaul University amid charges of antisemitism, which he dismissed as politically motivated, has long been a divisive figure for his comments on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The Jewish son of Holocaust survivors has voiced support for Hezbollah, the Iran-backed militia in Lebanon, and compared Israel to Nazi Germany, among other incendiary remarks.

Following Hamas’ Oct. 7 terror attacks, Finkelstein also celebrated the massacre as a “heroic resistance” akin to the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising, writing that “it warms every fiber of my soul.”

In his introductory remarks, Bowman made no allusion to those comments as he thanked the scholars who had joined the panel “for being here and coming to Yonkers and delivering the truth to us.”

A spokesperson for Bowman did not immediately respond to a request for comment on Friday.

In addition to Finkelstein, the panel included Fida Adely, a professor at Georgetown University who supports the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and has accused Israel of engaging in “ethnic cleansing” of Palestinians, among other things.

During a fiery speech last weekend, Bowman, who currently represents a sizable Jewish community in Westchester County, accused the U.S. government of providing weapons to Israel as it carries out what he described as “atrocities” in Gaza, urging attendees to hold elected officials “accountable” for remaining silent. “If you’re not voting for a cease fire,” he told the audience, “you are complicit in the mass murder of women and children.”  

“No one is telling the truth,” Bowman said. “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. We have fed ourselves a myth and a lie and propaganda as facts, and truth and knowledge, and as a result of that, people are consistently dying and being slaughtered and killed, mostly women and children.”

Bowman also characterized the civilian death toll in Gaza as “over double the amount that have been killed in the Ukraine over a year’s period of time” — a claim unconfirmed by United Nations estimates. “We have to root ourselves, continue to root ourselves, in this sort of truth telling,” he said.

But the left-wing lawmaker, a prominent Squad member who recently drew a formidable primary challenger, reserved his most biting remarks for what he called “powerful lobbies that bully, that intimidate and use scare tactics” to oppose critics of Israel. “They’re calling you antisemitic whenever you offer criticism,” he said, describing such accusations as “a tool used for them to maintain power.”

“I’ll say again what I always say: I don’t want Jewish children to be killed and I don’t want Muslim and Palestinian children to be killed,” he said, adding: “This is not antisemitism. This is a critique of a government that has been committing harm for decades.”

Even as he alleged that his House colleagues are “not saying anything about” Israel’s actions because they fear reprisals from pro-Israel groups, Bowman insisted that “the truth will come out.”

“If everyone knows the truth,” he said, “they will begin to lose their power.”

Bowman’s primary opponent, George Latimer, the popular Westchester County executive who has been critical of the congressman’s increasingly hostile positions on Israel, was encouraged to run by AIPAC, a leading pro-Israel group whose affiliated super PAC has run attack ads in the district hitting the incumbent for his views on Israel, which have drawn fierce backlash among Jewish voters.

As the event concluded on Sunday, Bowman urged attendees to “remain active” as he and a growing number of Squad members face challengers who are drawing sharp contrasts over their support for Israel. “I’m on the ballot and many others are on the ballot,” he said. “You gotta help us out.”

Bowman took to X on Sunday to address backlash to the event. “I had seen a few interviews but was unaware of Norman Finkelstein’s completely reprehensible comments before this event,” he wrote.  “And when he made comments on October 7th at this event, I strongly condemned his language and will always continue to do so. 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.”

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