bowman's blunder

Rep. Jamaal Bowman on the defensive for promoting conspiracies — again

A new report reveals that the New York lawmaker calls reports of sexual violence on Oct. 7 ‘propaganda.’ He walked back the remarks, but he didn’t apologize

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Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY) joins fellow House Democrats for a news conference outside the U.S. Capitol on September 27, 2023 in Washington, D.C.

Tuesday morning started off with yet another headache for Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), the embattled far-left lawmaker who has continued to draw headlines and raise eyebrows for endorsing fringe positions and figures. 

After Politico reported that Bowman had called reports of Hamas’ sexual violence on Oct. 7 a “lie” that Israel uses as “propaganda” at an anti-Israel rally in November, Bowman walked back the remarks, but did not apologize for them. “The UN confirmed that Hamas committed rape and sexual violence, a reprehensible fact that I condemn entirely,” he told Politico. “So let me be clear, and ensure my words are not twisted: I always stand against sexual violence in all forms and stand for peace for all.”

The incident is just the latest in a long line of missteps and controversies that have plagued Bowman’s reelection campaign as he faces a primary challenge from Westchester County Executive George Latimer, a moderate Democrat who is backed by AIPAC and Democratic Majority for Israel. Bowman’s district, which includes parts of the Bronx and Westchester County, has a large Jewish population; Bowman was first elected in 2020 after unseating longtime Rep. Eliot Engel (D-NY), a pro-Israel stalwart. 

Bowman had faced opposition within his district even prior to Oct. 7 for his growing antipathy to Israel. But the congressman ratcheted up his rhetoric in recent months, alleging that Israel was committing genocide in Gaza and accusing anyone who supports Israel of complicity in genocide. He has also alleged that the truth about the war has been suppressed.

“No one is telling the truth,” he said in January. “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.”

His opponents quickly jumped to condemn Bowman’s newly uncovered comments. “Part of a concerted effort to diminish the suffering endured by the victims of the barbaric assault on Israeli civilians,” said DMFI board co-chair Ann Lewis, “this denialism not only underscores Congressman Bowman’s enmity towards Israel but confirms a pattern of alarming decisions and poor judgment.” 

Bowman lost the support of his closest ally in the Jewish community in January when J Street rescinded its endorsement, a surprising move from the liberal Israel advocacy group after its president had previously told Jewish Insider the group wouldn’t consider changing its approach to Bowman. Bowman had “crossed the line” with his increasingly hostile and inflammatory rhetoric toward Israel, J Street’s president, Jeremy Ben-Ami, told The Forward.

Days later, the Daily Beast revealed that Bowman had published numerous 9/11 conspiracy theories on a personal blog that he ran during his tenure as a middle school principal. In a series of poems touching on the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks, Bowman questioned official accounts of the attacks and heaped praise on controversial conspiracy films promoting outlandish theories.

“I regret posting anything about any of these people. Anyone who looks at my work today knows where I stand,” Bowman said at the time. “As a congressman, I’ve written a congressional resolution condemning a dangerous conspiracy theory, I’ve stood up to MAGA extremists, and I’ve called out the endless bullshit of the far-right.” 

His response to the 9/11 posts marked a pattern for the congressman, who has often found himself on the defensive, including at least one other instance of promoting a figure who has espoused conspiracy theories. Bowman said in January that he was “a bit starstruck” as he introduced Norman Finkelstein, a controversial anti-Israel scholar who celebrated Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks, at a Westchester event about the war in Gaza. He later copped to ignorance about Finkelstein. 

“I had seen a few interviews but was unaware of Norman Finkelstein’s completely reprehensible comments before this event,” Bowman said later, alongside an apology. 

He also faced pushback in February after the New York Post reported that he hung up a poster of Assata Shakur, the radical civil rights activist convicted of murdering a police officer, on a “Wall of Honor” at the Bronx high school where he previously served as principal. He stood by the decision, saying he “will refuse to denounce” the inclusion of Shakur on the wall. 

The House of Representatives formally censured Bowman in December, a strong mark of disapproval after he triggered a fire alarm earlier in the year, causing an evacuation of the Capitol.

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