Several Palestinians angry at comments by Councilman Kalman Yeger protested outside his district office Thursday evening, though turnout was small and protesters considered the event a disappointment.
The controversy began Wednesday, when, in response to a Yeger tweet calling Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) an anti-Semite, Zainab Iqbal, a staff reporter for Bklyner, replied, “this is the same council member who has repeatedly said that palestine does not exist and refers to them as ‘so-called palestinians.’”
Yeger responded, “Palestine does not exist. There, I said it again. Also, Congresswoman Omar is an antisemite. Said that too.”
Pro-Palestinian supporters decried Yeger’s tweet, and some called for Yeger’s removal from the Council’s Committee on Immigration.
In comments reported by the Daily News, committee chair Carlos Menchaca said, “I do see a future without him in this immigration committee,” and Council Speaker Corey Johnson said he was “uncomfortable” with having “someone that holds those viewpoints on a committee that’s supposed to welcome all immigrants.” In response to the criticism, Yeger said, “My point was never about people. My point was about a location. A geographic reality and an international legal reality, a fact. There is no state by that name. There is no place by that name. That’s a fact. I didn’t make it up, I didn’t invent it, that’s official U.S. policy, that’s the policy of many, many nations around the world.”
Yeger told Hamodia that he has received death threats over the matter.
On Thursday, a number of Arab and progressive groups announced a protest. It was initially to be held outside Yeger’s Midwood home, but, after residents complained, it was moved to outside his Boro Park office.
Recently retired New York state Assemblyman Dov Hikind publicly called for a counterprotest in support of Yeger, saying, “His fellow [councilmembers] have the audacity to call for his removal from the city’s Immigration Committee all the while they remain silent as Congresswoman Ilhan Omar spews her anti-Semitic vitriol week after week.”
Hikind urged the counterprotest “so that we do not allow a troupe of anti-Semites to run over our neighborhood and succeed in pronouncing their hatred unchallenged.”
On the protest event’s social-media page, 35 people said they would attend the event and more than 230 said they were “interested,” but only about 15 protestors showed up, joined by around 10 Neturei Karta members. There were about a dozen vocal counterprotesters. The vast majority of the hundreds of people on the corner of 16th Avenue and 44th Street were Boro Park residents there to watch what was widely viewed as an underwhelming protest event. Yeger was not in his Boro Park office at the time.
“The conflict has been going on for a very long time,” said protestor Mark Hanna, “and the idea that Palestinians don’t exist means that we’re basically saying that we should not have any sort of solution to these problems, that we should just ignore that these people have issues with the occupation and that sort of thing.”
As the many media members present picked their way through the crowd to try to find one of the few protesters to interview, one counterprotestor, Ayton Eller, holding an Israeli flag, yelled, “Fake news!” Asked by Hamodia what he considered real news, Eller replied, “The true news is there is no Palestine. It’s Israel.”
One protestor was heard telling another that “we’re six people here surrounded” by hundreds of others. Another told Hamodia that it may not have been a wise idea to have held this protest in middle of Boro Park, the home territory of thousands of Israel supporters.
“It’s a bit of a nightmare,” he said.