New York politicians condemn pro-Hamas rally at Nova festival exhibit

Even left-wing lawmakers like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Jamaal Bowman and Nydia Velázquez, who’ve been deeply critical of Israel’s operations in Gaza, condemned the demonstration

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

UNITED STATES - JUNE 5: Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., makes her way to House votes in the U.S. Capitol on Wednesday, June 5, 2024.

A growing chorus of New York politicians is condemning the pro-Hamas demonstration outside an exhibit in downtown Manhattan honoring the victims of Hamas’ massacre at the Nova music festival on Oct. 7 — including some of the Democratic party’s most vocal critics of Israel.

Demonstrators at the event, organized by pro-Palestinian group Within our Lifetime, carried Hamas and Hezbollah flags, lit flares and smoke bombs and chanted “long live the intifada” and “resistance is justified where people are occupied.” Some carried signs reading “long live October 7” and “the Zionists are not Jews and not humans.”

“The callousness, dehumanization, and targeting of Jews on display at last night’s protest outside the Nova Festival exhibit was atrocious antisemitism — plain and simple,” Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) said. “Antisemitism has no place in our city nor any broader movement that centers human dignity and liberation.”

Ocasio-Cortez hosted a webinar earlier on Monday speaking out against antisemitism in the progressive movement while acknowledging that criticism of Israel can cross a line into antisemitism.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-NY), who is facing a serious primary challenge over his anti-Israel record also described the demonstration as antisemitic.

“I condemn those celebrating the innocents killed on October 7. This dark day was the largest attack on the Jewish community since the Holocaust,” Bowman said. ”Celebrating it is antisemitic and unacceptable. Peace cannot be achieved by weaponizing our tragedies against each other.”

Another outspoken critic of Israel, Rep. Nydia Velázquez (D-NY), condemned the demonstration as “atrocious” antisemitism.” Velázquez was a sponsor of Rep. Cori Bush’s (D-MO) Oct. 17 Cease-fire Now resolution, less than two weeks after the initial Hamas attack.

“The October 7 terrorist attacks were shocking and horrifying,” Velázquez said in a statement to Jewish Insider. “Targeting a memorial to the victims of the Nova Music Festival attack and outright celebrating this massacre is vile and has no place in New York.”

In light of the demonstration, New York City Mayor Eric Adams visited the Nova festival exhibit on Tuesday afternoon — his second visit since the exhibit opened in April. Adams spoke with the parents of two women killed at the festival during his visit on Tuesday. 

Meeting with reporters, Adams called Monday night’s rally “despicable.” 

“I was extremely troubled,” he said. “I spoke with the hierarchy of the police department yesterday when the videos came out to me… you cannot call for peace while you’re celebrating what happened on Oct. 7.” 

Meanwhile, Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) told JI the rhetoric at the demonstration was “despicable and inhumane” while noting he had visited the exhibit on Friday, days before the demonstration.

“[I] was incredibly moved to see the huge loss of human life on display — so many young people moved in the prime of life — to the vicious Hamas attackers,” Schumer said.

“It is truly sick that people would protest a memorial to the hundreds of innocent victims of the Hamas terrorist attack on the Nova music festival,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) said in a statement to JI. “I condemn it in the strongest terms.”

Rep. Jerry Nadler (D-NY), currently the most senior Jewish member of the House, said in a statement to JI, “I have always been a steadfast supporter of the first amendment right to free speech, but I condemn the violent antisemitism witnessed at last night’s Nova Exhibition in the strongest possible terms. Celebrating the massacre of innocent civilians and calling for continued attacks on Jews is repugnant and has no place in our society.”

House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) described the demonstration as “unconscionable and un-American.”

“The egregious behavior on display designed to justify the killing of Jews has no place in a civilized society. We will not tolerate it,” Jeffries said in a statement. “New Yorkers of goodwill must continue to fight the malignant tumor of antisemitism with the fierce urgency of now until we crush this cancer so that it never rises again.”

Rep. Ritchie Torres (D-NY) was among the first lawmakers to condemn the rally, on Monday evening, calling the demonstrators “[a]nti-Israel bigots.”

“October 7 denial is but a modern mutation in the ancient DNA of antisemitism,” he said. “The antisemites who deny, downplay, or defend the barbarity of Hamas are revealing themselves to be barbaric.”

The condemnations have been bipartisan.

Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) condemned those protesting outside the exhibition and the White House in a floor speech on Tuesday as “a generation of useful idiots and fifth columnists, adrift on a sea of performative sympathy for terrorists and beyond the reach of fact or reality.”

“Lest anyone doubt, this contagion is not confined to so-called elite universities,” he added, a reference to his continued criticism of higher education institutions that have failed to quell rising rates of antisemitism on their campuses.

Rep. Nicole Malliotakis (R-NY), said, “There’s absolutely no place in the United States for the flying of terrorist flags, especially in New York City, one of the most diverse and welcoming cities in America. The violence perpetrated by Hamas on October 7 was abhorrent and officials at every level of government should be condemning these violent acts along with the rioters who are supporting it.”

Rep. Daniel Goldman (D-NY), whose district includes the exhibition site, said, “Celebrating a massacre & promoting violence against Jews is a despicable, hateful, antisemitic message that has no place in NY,” praising the exhibition as “a powerful memorial.”

Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY) called the demonstration “a clear display of antisemitism” saying she “condemn[s] it in the strongest terms.”

“We must recognize the difference between peaceful protesting & acts of hate & dehumanization,” Meng said.

A spokesperson for Rep. Yvette Clarke (D-NY) shared a statement she issued after visiting the exhibition last month.

The Nova exhibition and music producer Scooter Braun, one of the exhibit’s organizers,  announced on Monday night that the display would be extended for an additional week, through June 22, due to the demonstration. “For those who chose to protest against innocent music lovers who were massacred… WE WILL DANCE AGAIN,” the joint statement said. “And you are all invited.” 

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