Guest Columns

Latimer Campaign Must Not Equate Calls for Ceasefire as Antisemitic or Pro-Hamas

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By Dayna Heller Spanko

It’s disappointing but predictable that the Democratic primary race for New York’s 16th Congressional District between incumbent Rep. Jamaal Bowman and his challenger, Westchester County Executive George Latimer, is mired in the same misinformation and divisive rhetoric that has soured the discourse around the campus protests and our government’s support for Israel during its current war in Gaza.

Flush with cash from AIPAC, an organization known for supporting right-wing challengers in races against real, progressive Democrats, the Latimer campaign has relentlessly slandered Bowman by equating his support for an end of hostilities in Gaza with antisemitism. It began with Latimer baselessly stating that Bowman receives direct funding from Hamas, a ludicrous lie not fit even for the MAGA fever swamp. It continues with mailers and other advertisements either implying or outright stating that Bowman somehow supports the atrocities committed by terrorists against Israelis.

As a Jew, a 16th Congressional District resident and a proud Bowman supporter, I wholeheartedly reject Latimer’s attempts to cast calls for a ceasefire – in a war that has killed tens of thousands of innocent civilians, many of them women and children – as antisemitic or pro-Hamas. We can disagree on the role that the U.S. should play in the Middle East, and the ways that Israel treats Palestinians, without questioning each other’s Judaism or accusing each other of supporting terrorists. In fact, I do it all the time within my own family.

Just as the creation and sustainment of Israel has generated lively debate and a variety of opinions among Jews around the world for more than 70 years, my proudly, openly Jewish family contains a wide spectrum of opinions. But in April, we all still gathered around the Seder table in Dobbs Ferry to joyously recount the story of Passover and share our beloved Jewish traditions with generations of relatives.

There were probably as many differing viewpoints about Israel and the ongoing conflict as there were seats at the table, including Elijah’s, but that did not stop us from coming together as Jews in celebration and remembrance of the generations that came before us.

I urge the Latimer campaign to stop equating criticism of Israel with antisemitism and terrorism. Such rhetoric only serves to mask the very real threat of violent, right-wing hatred against American Jews, the kind that led to the Tree of Life Synagogue massacre in Pittsburgh, the kind that led to the Unite the Right march in Charlottesville and the kind that Latimer’s MAGA-adjacent backers either refuse to condemn or openly support. It’s nothing more than a cynical ploy to divide Jews and use our shared culture and religious practices as a political cudgel. I don’t claim to speak for all Jews when I personally express solidarity with Palestinian civilians or calls for a ceasefire, and Latimer and AIPAC shouldn’t when they express their opposing viewpoints.

Last December, I proudly displayed two menorahs in the windows of my home in White Plains; a mezuzah adorns the front door. Rep. Bowman and his open, courageous calls for peace in the Middle East do not make me feel unsafe as a Jew or a woman in any way, and I deeply resent the implications by George Latimer and AIPAC that I should feel otherwise.

I will vote for Rep. Bowman, and I urge every resident of the 16th Congressional District – Jewish or otherwise – to see George Latimer and AIPAC’s messaging for what it is: a disgusting and frankly antisemitic attempt to scare people into voting against a progressive leader who has continuously fought for the people of his district.

White Plains resident Dayna Heller Spanko is a member of Jews for Jamaal.

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