New York City mayoral candidate Andrew Yang appeared to soften his previous harsh criticism of the anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement on Thursday, but, following criticism from the Jewish community, on Friday reiterated, “I strongly oppose BDS.”
Yang has taken a sharp stance against the BDS movement throughout the campaign. In an op-ed in The Forward in January, the candidate wrote that BDS is “rooted in antisemitic thought and history, hearkening back to fascist boycotts of Jewish businesses.” Yang used similar language in a Forward questionnaire the following month, and wrote that “a Yang administration will push back against the BDS movement, which singles out Israel for unfair economic punishment.”
Polls show Yang with a double-digit lead over the rest of the Democratic field, for the primary election that will be held June 22. Yang is also enjoying support in the Orthodox Jewish community, largely for his stances in favor of Israel and of yeshiva’s independence in creating their own secular-studies curriculum. On Tuesday, Yang was endorsed by Queens Assemblyman Daniel Rosenthal, a staunch Israel supporter and the first Orthodox official to make an endorsement in the race, and went on a tour of Jewish-owned stores in Kew Gardens Hills.
But at a mayoral forum Thursday hosted by the Muslim-American organization Emgage, Yang was challenged over his comparison of the BDS movement to German fascism, and then softened his anti-BDS tone somewhat.
“I believe that BDS is the wrong approach,” Yang said, according video of the exchange tweeted by Forward journalist Jacob Kornbluh. “But I appreciate and would never begrudge people who are standing up for what they believe in, and have a political perspective on it, which is why my response to the questionnaire reads in that way. At the time that that statement was written, I had seen materials that suggested that folks who are supportive of BDS had refused to disavow the activities of certain extremist elements that had adopted violent, or at least had not disavowed violent measures towards Israel, which I took as a line that I thought was inappropriate. Since then, I’ve spoken to people who have made a different argument … that BDS is non-violent. I don’t think targeting Israel in this way is the right approach, but I certainly appreciate people who are standing up for what they believe in.”
Israel supporters decried what they deemed to be the candidate backtracking on his earlier strong opposition to the BDS movement.
But in a statement Friday, Yang said he regretted his comments at the forum.
“Last night, at a forum, I used a poor choice of words on BDS and it has caused pain to many people,” Yang said in the statement. “BDS does not recognize the right of Israel to exist. Not recognizing Israel’s right to exist is anti-Semitic. I strongly oppose BDS, as I’ve said countless times. I’ll talk to leaders over the coming days before Pesach to make sure they know what’s in my heart. I look forward to traveling to Israel as Mayor and furthering the strong economic ties between Israel and NYC.”
Rosenthal told Hamodia on Friday that he believes the candidate is still as staunch an opponent of BDS as ever.
“As Andrew Yang clarified today, he used a poor choice of words regarding the BDS movement at a mayoral forum last night,” Rosenthal said. “However, I have spoken with him many times before endorsing him, as well as after last night’s forum, and I am confident that Andrew’s position has never changed: he strongly opposes BDS, believes it is anti-Semitic, and will do all he can to fight it as mayor.”