NYC DSA reschedules BDS & Nakba event, canceled after threats by pro-Israel groups

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The New York City Democratic Socialists of America (NYC DSA) has rescheduled a cancelled event on “Palestinian Expulsion and Resistance: The Nakba, BDS and the Great Return March.” The event was cancelled in May after members of the church where the event was to be held were stalked and threatened by right-wing pro-Israel groups. The new event will take place on June 10 at an alternate venue.

“The DSA should be applauded for not giving in to attempts to censor an educational event on Palestinian rights,” said Palestine Legal senior staff attorney Meera Shah. “No one should face threats for holding a conversation on human rights and social justice.” 

The event is part of a political education series to explore issues of interest and importance to NYC DSA members. Other topics have included a workshop on antifascism and a teach-in on the Amazon headquarters move. The DSA national membership passed a resolution “fully supporting” the boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) movement for Palestinian rights in 2017.

Members of the Jewish Defense League, a Southern Poverty Law Center-designated hate group, and former New York City assemblymember Dov Hikind, a staunch Israel advocate with ties to right-wing extremist Meir Kahane, falsely accused event organizers of antisemitism and being “jihadists.”

The event was originally scheduled to take place on May 14 at the Church of the Redeemer in Astoria, Queens. The church regularly allows local groups, including NYC DSA, to rent its space for political gatherings.  

In the weeks preceding the Nakba event, the church reported receiving threats by phone and email, including false accusations of antisemitism “with the purpose of frightening us and to force us to cancel the event.” According to the NYC DSA statement, some of the calls wished for violence against the church. A church pastor also reported to the DSA that he was followed for days preceding the event.

The church board ultimately decided to cancel the event because members feared for their physical safety as well as the safety of the church, a decision Hikind lauded.

The event was originally timed to coincide with the commemoration of the Nakba – when over 750,000 Palestinians became refugees in 1948 and were barred from returning to their homes by Israel. The event was to feature Raja Abdulhaq, the executive director of Majlis Ash-Shura Islamic Leadership Council of New York, and Nerdeen Kiswani, founder and chair of Within our Lifetime United for Palestine. It aimed to provide DSA members with information about the Nakba, the current situation in Gaza, and opportunities for DSA members to get involved in Palestine activism.

“[W]e are undeterred by these attacks on our values,” the NYC DSA said in a statement today. “The Steering Committee unequivocally condemns all forms of racism, including anti-semitism and Islamophobia. We stand firmly in support of the rights of all people, including Palestinians, and reaffirm our commitment to the BDS movement.”

The statement also noted that “there has been a rise of suppression from anti-Palestinian groups that we must contend with.”

Indeed, the tactics used to force the church to cancel the Nakba event are not new. In 2018, Palestine Legal responded to 142 incidents where Israel advocates levied false accusations of antisemitism based solely on speech supportive of Palestinian rights.