This New York Rally Was Meant to Call Out Hate Crimes. It Turned Into a Protest Against Ilhan Omar

Speakers, including Democratic Rep. Carolyn Maloney, interrupted by protesters with signs such as 'Remove Jew/Israel haters Omar, Tlaib, AOC from House committees' and 'Rep. Omar’s hateful words poison the future of America'

A protester at the rally in New York, holding a placard calling for the removal of Rep. Ilhan Omar from the House of Representatives, March 15, 2019.
Danielle Ziri

NEW YORK — An Upper East Side rally intended to condemn anti-Semitism and hate crimes such as the Christchurch mosque massacre turned into a display of divisiveness Sunday, as some Jewish attendees used the event to protest against Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar.

The rally, led by Democratic Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney, was held outside Asphalt Green — a sports facility that had been vandalized with swastikas last week.

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Close to a hundred people attended the gathering. When it was first announced, it was intended to be about anti-Semitism alone, but following the mass shooting at two mosques in New Zealand that left 50 people dead on Friday, organizers broadened its scope to also include “the recent spike in hate crimes in New York, nationwide and around the world.”

“We are here today to speak out against anti-Semitism, to speak out against Islamophobia, to speak out against racism, to speak out against all hate,” Rep. Maloney said at the start of the event. “The basic right of freedom of religion is the bedrock of a free society, and we must all rise together to end all bigotry and intolerance once and for all,” she said.

One of Rep. Carolyn Maloney's aides, left, asking protester Hillary Barr to take her anti-Ilhan Omar sign down, because "that's not the congresswoman's message."
Danielle Ziri

Maloney was followed by several local religious leaders, including Rabbi Arthur Schneier and Imam Qazi Qayyoom.

But the speakers were quickly interrupted by attendees who held signs that read “Where have you been?”; “Remove Jew/Israel haters Omar, Tlaib, AOC from House committees”; and “Rep. Omar’s hateful words poison the future of America.”

Hillary Barr, an activist from an organization called Mothers against Terrorism, was holding one such sign behind the podium. An aide to Maloney asked her to lower it, claiming that “this is not the congresswoman’s message.” The aide then physically attempted to remove Barr, who replied: “I can’t stand here? This is a free country.”

“When there is somebody in the House of Representatives who is anti-Semitic, speaking against Jews and Israel, I came here today to say she must be ousted from Congress.” Barr told Haaretz. “This is not somebody who represents democracy or peace, or anything that the United States stands for,” she added.

A sign at the rally calling for "Jew/Israel Haters" Rep. Ilhan Omar and Rep. Rashida Tlaib to be removed from House committees, March 15, 2019.
Danielle Ziri

Barr expressed disappointment that none of the speakers at the event addressed Omar’s recent remarks, which some Jewish lawmakers and organizations say contained anti-Semitic tropes.

“If we are talking about anti-Semitism, this is a woman that has said anti-Semitic remarks over and over and over,” Barr said. “She has to be called to task.”

Efrat Aaronovitch, an Israeli who has been living in New York for some 20 years, also stood with those condemning Omar, waving a large Israeli flag.

“Democrats today, their approach is becoming more and more anti-Israel,” she told Haaretz. “We see a very uncomfortable movement too much to the left. The truth is that until now I've been a Democrat, but I am now a Republican,” Aaronovitch added.

A protester holding a sign saying "Where have you been?" during the rally by Rep. Carolyn Maloney, March 15, 2019.
Danielle Ziri

The participation of Rev. Al Sharpton at the rally also sparked protests.

During the Crown Heights riot of 1991, Sharpton was accused of inflaming tensions between the local African-American and Jewish communities by saying things like: “If the Jews want to get it on, tell them to pin their yarmulkes back and come over to my house.”

As he took to the podium Sunday, a group of protesters shouted out: “We remember Crown Heights!” One Israeli woman added in Hebrew: “This guy is the reason Yankel Rosenbaum died,” referring to the Jewish student who was stabbed to death during the affray.

Upper East Side resident Ruth Fuchs said she had come to the rally because although displays of hate are “not surprising anymore,” she felt she had to support those who were speaking out against it.

“The more it changes, the more it stays the same,” she said. “We have free speech, but people take it too far in terms of defacing property, synagogues and schools. It’s very sad.”

Haaretz reached out to Maloney’s office for a response, but had yet to receive a response by press time.