OPINION: Councilmember Shahana Hanif Ignores Jew-Hatred

By Andres Spokoiny, Leonard Petlakh and Lisa Silverstein Nelson

(NY Daily News/TNS) — In 2021, when Shahana Hanif was elected to represent Brooklyn’s 39th Council District, progressives throughout the district were excited and optimistic. A Kensington-born daughter of Bangladeshi immigrants, Hanif was the first Muslim woman elected to the City Council, with a promise and commitment to represent every resident of the district. Two-and-a-half years later, however, many of her Jewish constituents feel abandoned, betrayed and endangered.

Well before Hamas murdered around 1,200 people and kidnapped another 240 hostages on Oct. 7, Hanif tweeted direct calls to violence like “Globalize the Intifada,” a Hamas terrorist campaign of suicide bombings that killed close to 2,000 Israelis. Later, Hanif was one of only two councilmembers to vote against a City Council resolution to “end Jew-hatred.” Her weak excuse for voting “no” left many saddened and angered.

However, it is since the events of Oct. 7, that Hanif has made her true views and agenda known. Her silence, words, and actions since Hamas’ mass murder…have made her constituents, Jews and non-Jews, feel unsupported and unsafe.

Many Jewish residents in Hanif’s district have friends and relatives among those murdered…and kidnapped on Oct. 7. Some of us awoke on that day to follow in real-time, through WhatsApp messages and desperate calls, the brutal murder of loved ones. While elected officials across the world immediately condemned Hamas’ brutality, our councilmember remained silent for five days and offered no support or assistance to the Jews in her district.

Hanif’s first public comment came on Oct. 12, when she published a tweet blaming Israel for the bloodshed. She has participated in demonstrations in which genocidal chants like “From the River to the Sea” were commonplace, not once disassociating herself from them. She hasn’t condemned the antisemitic graffiti or vandalization of property in her district, nor the ripping of hostage posters.

In a city in which antisemitic hate crimes increased 170% between the end of 2022 and the end of 2023, Hanif’s attitude is a blatant dereliction of duty. To add to the harm, Hanif is given cover by fringe anti-Zionist Jewish groups, which do not represent the Jewish community, allowing her to ignore, if not condemn, the 95% of Jews who believe Israel has a right to exist.

In the spirit of constructive dialogue, a multi-racial and ideologically diverse group of 16 Jewish community leaders from her district recently met with the councilmember to express our frustration and dismay. Most of us have been public critics of Israeli policies and have vocally supported Palestinian rights.

We explained our new reality in which Jews who have outward signs of Jewishness have been physically and verbally assaulted. A new reality in which we need to warn our children to hide their Stars of David or not wear a yarmulke in public.

Unmoved by our plight, Hanif’s callous response left us shocked, rattled, and more afraid than before. During that meeting, the councilmember outright stated that she refused to condemn Hamas, she refused to say whether Israel had a right to exist, and told us that she was generally fine with the anti-Israel graffiti.

When confronted about how painful her words were, Hanif lectured us about our reactions to Oct. 7, and shockingly tried to “explain” to us how certain things were not antisemitic, proving Alexis Grenell’s observation that Jews are “selectively carved out of the prerogative afforded to every other minority group to serve as the authority on our own oppression.”

We went into that meeting hoping that sharing the six months of anguish we’ve endured so far would move Hanif to take the small and easy step of condemning Hamas and anti-Jewish violence and graffiti. But she wouldn’t do it.

It is inconceivable that someone who refuses to condemn Hamas and denies Jews the right to decide what constitutes antisemitism, could be appointed co-chair of the Council’s Task Force to Combat Hate. For 2,000 years, silence in the face of antisemitism has perpetuated bigotry and contributed to violence against Jews. Now, more than ever, we need elected officials to publicly denounce antisemitism in all its forms. Hanif has not just failed to meet the moment, she has willfully and knowingly refused to meet the moment.

It is time for people of goodwill in District 39, and across NYC to stand with their Jewish neighbors by demanding Hanif takes affirmative actions to protect her Jewish constituents, end her biased approach to constituent services, and be removed as co-chair of the Task Force to Combat Hate.


Spokoiny, a Latino immigrant, is the CEO of the Jewish Funders Network. Petlakh, a former refugee, is CEO of the Kings Bay Y and the Brooklyn Jewish Community Center. Nelson is the executive director of Positive Jewish Living.

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