The Internet never forgets. That’s the slogan that online sleuths say when they find old tweets that are out of step with contemporary values or politically acceptable views. With less than two weeks remaining before the February 2 nonpartisan special election for the 24th Council District, an old tweet by Moumita Ahmed that disparages Israel could energize the Jewish vote in this crowded contest.
Back in February 2015, user @PalestineGlobal tweeted an image of a baby with a bleeding bullet hole on its forehead, and a red ribbon across its body with the Star of David. The user tagged Ahmed with one word, “please.” On the same day, she replied, “My every heartbeat is for the children of Palestine.”
Upon being notified of this old tweet, I shared it on my account, and privately with Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal, who then shared it with his online followers. Within hours, the blood libel tweet earned its notoriety and quickly put the question of BDS on the agenda in this election.
Within hours, four of the eight candidates tweeted their repudiation of the meme, replying directly to my tweet. “Boycotting Israel will not accomplish the hard work of helping the people of New York City. On the contrary, it disenfranchises our Jewish friends and neighbors. We’ve got a lot of work to do here in the city, and their voices are integral to this conversation,” Dilip Nath wrote.
“Hate has no place in #District24 and in my communities, NYC, and anywhere and in any place. As an attorney, I have fought to ensure justice for everyone and will continue to do so as your Councilmember,” Soma Syed added.
“I have stood up against anti-Semitism and hate of any kind. We have to continue to push for unity in our district. I will continue to stand with everyone in this community to call out all hateful rhetoric and promote peace,” Neeta Jain wrote.
“Anti-Semitism is a scourge on our society & hate perpetuated against our Jewish neighbors is unacceptable,” Deepti Sharma wrote. “I love our corner of Queens b/c of its diversity. My vision of #CD24 is one where everyone has a voice. The only way we recover from this pandemic is by doing it together.”
Jim Gennaro, the former councilman seeking another shot at the seat, expressed his indignation in a Facebook message. “This is the kind of rank anti-Semitism that no person of good will of any faith can be silent in the face of,” he wrote. “I call upon everyone, on whatever platform you have or sphere of influence you have, which may only be your own children, to call out the hate, to push back, and to say enough is enough.”
Until this point, Ahmed kept her campaign focused mainly on economic and social justice issues, rolling out plans for raising taxes on constituents in the affluent sections of the district, defunding police, and extending legal services to renters. But as a former Bernie Sanders delegate who is endorsed by members of the Democratic Socialists of America, it was not difficult to guess where she stood on foreign policy concerning Israel.
Curiously, she spoke of her district’s diversity with food tours on Hillside and Jamaica Avenues, but not Main Street. When other candidates spoke of the importance of public safety, her online followers can look back to her tweet from last August. “Many of the NYPD abuses documented, parallels violations by Israeli military, security, and police officials,” she wrote. “That’s why we chant, From Ferguson to Palestine occupation is a crime.”
Another matter where she differs from the other candidates concerns matching public funding, which the city’s Campaign Finance Board rejected after it invalidated 75 contributions of $10 and $20 made in cash, after a standard audit found paperwork irregularities, some pertaining to signatures. She sought $140,000 from the city for her campaign, but fell short in gathering enough valid signatures.
Rather than appealing, she played the race card. “To insinuate we acted questionably by soliciting campaign support from our neighbors is highly inappropriate and deeply insulting,” she said in a statement to The City, an online news site. “That so many working-class immigrants opted to participate in New York City politics despite this ongoing pandemic and its economic devastation should be celebrated, not questioned.”
To suggest that her supporters were being discriminated against as “working-class immigrants” negates the fact that three other candidates of South Asian background, Dilip Nath, Deepti Sharma, and Soma Syed, had no problems qualifying for matching campaign funding. While they are running positive platforms, Ahmed is running on grievances that are dividing constituents in the district.
Met Council CEO David Greenfield, a former Councilman from Brooklyn, also tweeted his dismay of Ahmed’s campaign, noting her financial irregularities, the departure of a prominent campaign staffer, and then the anti-Semitic tweet. His colleague Mark Treyger was more succinct: “Despicable, disgusting, and disqualifying, as far as I’m concerned.”
Rosenthal thanked the other candidates for their quick condemnations of the anti-Semitic tweet, and eventually received a reply from Ahmed.
“Hi Assemblyman - I absolutely abhor antisemitism and have made that very clear through my years of community organizing in Queens. I can see that the image I replied to is disturbing and can fuel antisemitism. I am more than happy to clarify where I stand on this,” she wrote. “District 24 is home to a multitude of beliefs for and against boycott (and everything in between). I believe it is important to protect the first amendment right to boycott – as we’ve seen recently, our democracy and constitution are fragile and must be defended.”
Somehow, to a leftist, the ability to boycott the Jewish state is a protected form of speech, while other forms of exclusionary opinions concerning race, gender, orientation are worthy of societal rejection and ostracism. Ahmed’s campaign failed to qualify for matching city funding, and is deeply in debt. It has not shown interest in campaigning on Main Street or Union Turnpike.
But she should not be underestimated. Her campaign was the first to submit its petition for this special election, earning her the top spot on the ballot above the other names. Among the candidates, she has the largest number of followers on Twitter, and endorsements from Assemblyman Ron Kim and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer. She has a highly motivated team that is inspired by their potential to make history not only as the city’s first South Asian in office, but also as a socialist.
Until this past Tuesday’s tweetstorm, leaders in the Queens Jewish community focused their voter outreach effort mainly on funding for neighborhood nonprofits, as they endorse candidates who recognize the importance of food pantries, at-risk youth outreach and after-school programs, and security.
This publication has reported in detail on the experience of former Councilman Jim Gennaro in delivering funding for community institutions and standing up for Israel. We’ve also written on the personal and professional backgrounds of Neeta Jain, Dilip Nath, and Deepti Sharma. On a ranked choice ballot, they are all worthy of your vote. But you must wisely choose your top pick, the person most likely to win and prevent a socialist boycotter of Israel from representing this community. Early voting is being conducted from January 21 through 31.
By Sergey Kadinsky