Palestinian-American activist Linda Sarsour became a lightning rod for slanderous attacks and character assassination after the City University of New York’s School of Public Health invited her to speak at its graduation ceremony.
There was nothing wrong with the invitation, seeing as the CUNY, just like other schools, regularly selects renowned activists and public figures to attend such events — and Sarsour, who was the co-chair of the historic Women’s March earlier this year, definitely fit the bill.
However, the controversy revolving around her selection began after New York State Assemblyman Dov Hikind wrote a contemptuous op-ed for the New York Daily News, where he not only called on the university to withdraw its invitation but also labeled Sarsour as “an anti-Semite” and “an apologist for terrorism.”
“Freedom of speech, some say. I applaud freedom of speech. But giving this type of platform — the honor of a commencement address, which every graduating student must attend — to someone who’s an apologist for terrorism is a far cry from freedom of speech,” he wrote. “It’s incitement.”
Hikind’s derisive claims were based on a tweet that showed a little boy walking towards heavily armed riot police officers, with stones clutched in his tiny hands. Sarsour shared the image on Oct. 11, 2015, after Israeli forces reportedly killed 199 Palestinians in shootings and clashes.
Apart from the fact that Hikind, who represents Brooklyn in state assembly, maligned Sarsour on the basis of a single tweet, it’s just incredible that he had the audacity to call the activist, or anyone for that matter, an anti-Semite when he was once part of a right-wing terrorist organization himself.
As The Huffington Post revealed, Hikind was a high-ranking member of the Jewish Defense League in the early 1970s.
“The Jewish Defense League (JDL) is a radical organization that preaches a violent form of anti-Arab, Jewish nationalism,” stated the Southern Poverty Law Center. “The group has orchestrated countless terrorist attacks in the U.S. and abroad, and has engaged in intense harassment of foreign diplomats, Muslims, Jewish scholars and community leaders, and officials.”
JDL, founded in 1968 by the late Rabbi Meir Kahane, has been linked to several violent protests and break-ins, brutal assaults on Arabs, an alleged plot to hijack an Arab airliner, harassment campaigns and a number of bomb explosions among other things.
Kahane routinely referred to Arabs as “dogs,” demanded an ethnic cleansing of Arabs from Israel and the occupied territories, denounced any Jews who had sexual relations with an Arab, once attempted to lynch two Arab passersby and was charged for making a fire bomb.
Even Hikind himself was accused of tossing a smoke bomb into the Ugandan mission at the United Nations in New York back in 1976 — a claim he did not deny. In fact, the list of alleged crimes the assemblyman has been accused of include calling for the assassination of pro-Palestinian Arab-Americans and plotting to bomb Arab targets across the U.S.
He was also believed to be a close friend of a man convicted of carrying out 20 bombings in New York and Washington, D.C, according to the New York Times.
“Over 43 years ago, I was very proud to be part of the Jewish Defense League,” Hikind told The Huffington Post. “Looking back on my JDL days, I’m proud of what we accomplished.”
When asked about Kahane, Hikind had this to say:
“When Rabbi Kahane decided to emigrate to Israel, I was no longer involved with his work. I remained in Brooklyn and had work of my own. Some people have suggested that I was Rabbi Kahane’s right-hand man. If so, then I resent having not even been mentioned in his bestseller, 'The Story of the Jewish Defense League.' The truth is I continued to watch and admire Rabbi Kahane from afar. Did I agree with him on everything? Alas, I don’t even agree with my own wife Shani on everything. Almost everything.”
Kahane was assassinated in 1990 in New York.
Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem as if Hikind’s extremist and stereotypical views have evolved with time.
Case in point: Referring to Dr. Barat Ellman and Ellen Lippman, two rabbis who published an op-ed titled “Linda Sarsour is a friend to Jews” and called out Hikind for “provoking a vicious smear campaign,” the Democratic assembly member said:
“How would Rabbi Kahane respond today hearing that two women rabbis attempted to kosher someone as transparently dangerous and anti-Semitic as Linda Sarsour? ‘I warned you!’”
In 2013, Hikind also made headlines after he showed up to a Purim party with blackface and an Afro wig.
“It was not meant to hurt anyone. And to those who were? I’m sorry,” he said later during a press conference. “I understand people’s sensitivities, even though, like, hey, come on — Purim. You know what Purim is? It’s not a big deal. Nobody meant anything.”