A Jewish Councilman Said ‘Palestine Does Not Exist.’ Now He May Be Punished.

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New York City, home to the largest Jewish population outside Israel, has often served as a proxy battleground for the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Mayors, dating back to Robert F. Wagner, who in 1957 barred a welcome for a Saudi king he deemed anti-Jewish, to Bill de Blasio, who in 2015 canceled a plan to meet Palestinians in the occupied West Bank, have been forced to confront the highly charged issue.

But as more Palestinian immigrants have settled in New York, the political calculus has grown slightly more complicated, as seen last week, when Kalman Yeger, a Brooklyn councilman who represents the Orthodox Jewish community of Borough Park, took to Twitter on Wednesday to state that “Palestine does not exist.”

Mr. Yeger’s remarks came after Zainab Iqbal, a journalist, criticized Mr. Yeger for calling Representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota anti-Semitic. The councilman’s pronouncements led to a cascade of criticism calling his comments “hateful” and “Islamophobic,” and prompted demands for an apology and his removal from the City Council’s immigration committee.

The latest such call came from Mr. de Blasio, who said on Friday that if Mr. Yeger is “not going to apologize, he shouldn’t be on that committee.”

Mr. Yeger was unapologetic about his comments during a news conference on Thursday. “There is no state by that name. There is no place by that name. That’s a fact. I did’t make it up, I didn’t invent it,” Mr. Yeger said.

According to the United Nations, 137 states bilaterally recognize Palestine.

Mr. Yeger’s earlier remarks led to a small protest by pro-Palestinian groups outside his office in Borough Park, which was met with a much larger counterprotest from Mr. Yeger’s supporters, including one incident where a protester asked a Muslim woman whether her young daughter had “any bombs on her to blow us up.”

Linda Sarsour, a New York City-based Palestinian-American activist, also found herself caught up in the controversy when her name was used to draw counterprotesters to Mr. Yeger’s office.

“This is a lot more complicated than a councilman makes a comment,” Ms. Sarsour said. “It’s on a deeper level and represents a bubbling up of longstanding conflicts around the Palestinian and Israeli conflict.”

Indeed, the city’s politics have frequently been roiled by the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

In 1966, Mayor John V. Lindsay canceled a dinner for a Saudi king who said that any friends of Israel were his enemies. Mayor Abraham D. Beame rescinded giving Anwar Sadat, the president of Egypt, a key to the city after a United Nations committee labeled Zionism a form of racial discrimination.

Mayor Edward I. Koch had an argument at City Hall with the Austrian foreign minister in 1984 about whether the Palestine Liberation Organization served as the voice of Palestinian people. Mayor David N. Dinkins took criticism from his black constituents for not scheduling any meetings with Palestinians during a 1991 trip to Israel. Mayor Rudolph W. Giuliani expelled Yasir Arafat, chairman of the Palestine Liberation Organization, from a concert for world leaders at Lincoln Center.

And in 2016, the City Council passed a resolution condemning the call for a boycott of Israel over its treatment of Palestinians.

The reaction to Mr. Yeger’s remarks suggests that things are changing.

Corey Johnson, the City Council speaker, called Mr. Yeger’s remarks “dehumanizing” during a news conference on Thursday and said that he would be “uncomfortable” having someone with Mr. Yeger’s point of view serve on a committee designed to “welcome” all immigrants.

“I very vigorously condemn his comments in no uncertain terms. They have no place in New York City,” Mr. Johnson said. “The best thing about our city is our diversity, and that includes our Jewish community and it includes our amazing Palestinian community as well who live here.”

The mayor, who is considering a run for president, has come under criticism recently for speaking at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, a pro-Israel lobbying group, even as other declared Democratic presidential candidates declined to do so this year.

And some saw Mr. de Blasio’s initial response to Mr. Yeger’s comments as inadequate, especially given the strong criticism of Representative Omar’s remarks about Israel.

The mayor sought to fortify his comments on Friday during his weekly radio appearance on “The Brian Lehrer Show” on WNYC: “I made very clear that the councilman was wrong. I made very clear that there has to be a Palestinian homeland,” said Mr. de Blasio, who went on to call Mr. Yeger’s comments “destructive and divisive.”

“He should apologize. Look, people in public life should be about unifying people and finding ways to work together. What he is doing is the opposite, he should stop,” the mayor added.

Dov Hikind, a former assemblyman from Brooklyn who helped organize the counterprotest outside of Mr. Yeger’s office, was disheartened by the criticism of Mr. Yeger.

“Progressive Democrats, liberals, have unfortunately moved away from the kind of support for Israel that we are used to,” said Mr. Hikind, who said he saw nothing wrong with Mr. Yeger’s remarks.

“Are there Palestinians? Yes, of course. Palestine doesn’t exist,” said Mr. Hikind. “It may exist in the future if the Israelis and Palestinians come to an agreement. If they negotiate and one day there are two states, so be it.”

Mr. Hikind characterized the person who made the bomb remark to the young Muslim woman as an individual who said “terrible things,” but who did not represent the majority of counterprotesters. “The people that came out did not come out of hate,” he said. “They came out of love for the people of Israel.”

Ms. Sarsour and Mr. Hikind do agree that the unequivocal political support for Israel that used to exist in New York among the city’s politicians is no more. The response to Mr. Yeger’s comments prove that, she said.

“It’s been a long time coming for elected officials to say anti-Palestinian things with any sort of consequences,” Ms. Sarsour said. “We are in a new era.”

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