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US lawmaker triggers outrage by tweeting ‘Palestine does not exist’

Brooklyn councilmember Kalman Yeger (L) and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (R) [Twitter]
Brooklyn councilmember Kalman Yeger (L) and Congresswoman Ilhan Omar (R) [Twitter]

A pro-Israel New York lawmaker has prompted outrage by tweeting that “Palestine does not exist,” drawing criticisms of racism and Islamophobia.

The incendiary comments have come under heavy fire on Twitter and accusations of “Islamophobic hypocrisy” have been directed at US officials, who have failed to denounce the comments in the same way they denounced Democratic representative Ilhan Omar.

Brooklyn councilmember Kalman Yeger tweeted: “Palestine does not exist. There, I said it again. Also, Congresswoman Omar is an antisemite. Said that too”.

Yeger’s remark was part of a Twitter exchange with a writer for the blog Bklyner. The author of the blog, Zainab Iqbal, slammed the pro-Israel lawmaker for calling Congresswoman Omar an anti-Semite, saying: “Brooklyn council member calls Ilhan Omar an antisemite. This is the same council member who has repeatedly said that Palestine does not exist and refers to them as ‘so-called Palestinians’.”

Yeger hit back by repeating the racist trope: “Palestine does not exist.” This remark, along with the notion that “there is no such thing as a Palestinian people,” is part of the racist narrative that has been used to deny 11 million Palestinians their right to self-determination.

READ: Congresswoman Omar hits back at Netanyahu

Prominent activists also became involved in the conversation. Journalist Shaun King responded to Yeger’s tweet saying “Wow. This is a real tweet from a New York City councilman”.

“It’s disgraceful, irresponsible and dangerous for a sitting NYC council member to engage in blatant bigotry and erasure,” Linda Sarsour, a Palestinian-American community organiser from Brooklyn told the Brooklyn Eagle.

One incensed Palestinian called for Yeger’s resignation: “I am Palestinian. I exist and so does my community. Yeger needs to be removed from the NYC Council Immigration Committee and apologize publicly to Palestinian New Yorkers.”

This is not the first time Yeger has made such comments. In March 2018, according to an article by Iqbal, Yeger said “there is no such thing as Palestine,” and has a history of tweeting Palestine in quotation marks.

The heated Twitter exchange also prompted criticism of New York’s mayor Bill de Blasio, who is pictured hugging Yeger in an event last month while the furor over Ilhan Omer was at its peak. The sign on the podium said: “No place for hate”.

De Blasio waded into the row tweeting:  “A two-state solution is the best hope for peace. I challenge anyone who thinks the State of Israel shouldn’t exist. But the same goes for anyone who would deny Palestinians a home.”

In response, Sarsour described de Blasio’s comment as “the weakest statement he could possibly come up with”. She noted that the mayor was more forceful in his denunciation of controversial tweets from Ilhan Omar, who implied that US support for Israel was based on money.

Another angry Twitter user pointed out: “Racism against Palestinians is completely normalized, acceptable and carries no consequences. The most bizarre, virulent, hallucinatory sh*t is just chill for way too many members of the US political class.”

READ: In open letter, Jewish Americans come out in support of Ilhan Omar

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