Bowman to Weiss: We have so much to learn from each other


Rabbi Weiss, I hope this finds you in good health and in good spirits. Thank you for writing your letter. It was very informative, and will help me to be the best representative I can be for everyone in our district, if I am fortunate enough to win.

I am grateful for you sharing your feelings and perspective. As a black man living in America, there is nothing I value more than people struggling for the rights enshrined in their democracy in solidarity with other peoples. My experiences in this country shape my values and guide my thinking on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, as well as the rising tide of anti-Semitism in America.

I have not yet visited Israel or the Palestinian territories. However, I have learned a great deal by reading and speaking with experts, including Jews living in the district, and many non-Jews in the district who also have perspectives to share on American foreign policy. This has informed my positions, which ultimately are rooted in the values of human dignity — values that were passed onto me my by mother and the civil rights movement.

As a black man in America, who has taught low-income children in historically oppressed communities for more than 20 years, I empathize with the need to feel safe and secure within your own skin and community — whether in Riverdale, Jerusalem, or Co-op City. I have been a victim of police brutality, and I have had numerous friends and family members killed within historically neglected communities.

I know what it feels like to be a victim of prejudice or fear because of how I look, or the community I am part of.

I have learned through everyday experience that fear comes with being a minority targeted by violence and hatred. I know that many of my Jewish friends see Israel as the result of thousands of years of struggle for Jewish rights and security. And I will stand with you to defend that achievement.

I believe that all people, wherever they live, have the right to feel safe and protected — and I believe Jewish people are no different in deserving that right. 

I personally oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. But, like civil rights leader U.S. Rep. John Lewis, I also will defend the rights of all people to express their First Amendment right to peacefully organize for political change.

The uprising we're witnessing across the country against police violence also makes me empathize with the everyday experience and fear that comes with living under occupation. Just as the police force is a violent intimidating force in so many black communities, I can connect to what it feels like for Palestinians to feel the presence of the military in their daily lives in the West Bank.

I also can understand the crushing poverty and deprivation in the Gaza Strip. I believe Palestinians have the same rights to freedom and dignity as my Jewish brothers and sisters. I will fight for their liberation, just as hard as I will for yours.

The rising tide of anti-Semitism in the United States is part of a rise in ethnonationalist authoritarianism around the world. In this country, white nationalists threaten Jews and black people alike with violence and terror. And unfortunately, in the black community — as in many other communities — there have been fringe right-wing extremists who spread anti-Semitic views as well.

I always will work to build on the legacy of the civil rights movement, to strengthen the bonds of solidarity between our communities, and fight the twinned evils of racism and anti-Semitism. Our fates are intertwined, and we must fight side-by-side.

I believe firmly in the right of Israelis to live in safety and peace, free from the fear of violence and terrorism from Hamas and other extremists, and support continued U.S. aid to help Israel confront these security challenges. I also believe that Palestinians are entitled to the same human rights, safety from violence and self-determination in a state of their own.

I oppose Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's move toward annexation, increase settlement expansion, and racist rhetoric toward minorities. I will defend democracy and human rights for all, and I believe that our government should play no role in encouraging activities that undermine a two-state solution and peace, security and freedom for both the Israeli and Palestinian people.

The struggle for pluralism and civil rights in diverse democracies, in the face of forces that want to divide us, will dominate our entire lives, and is likely beyond our individual capacities. But no one believes that the status quo is healthy, or can continue endlessly. While these conversations will sometimes include disagreements, I look forward to continuing them as your representative.

I can't promise that we'll always agree, but I can promise that I will always listen to your concerns and act on them in accordance with my deepest values.

I know that we both have much to learn from each other's experiences, and I hope that you may give me the chance.

The author is a candidate for New York's 16th Congressional District.

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Jamaal Bowman,