American reaction to the massacre Friday at two mosques in New Zealand is mirroring the aftermath to October’s Pittsburgh synagogue shooting. This time, political divisions and fraught Trump-era politics are interfering with attempts by Jews and Christians to stand in solidarity with the Muslim community at a time of mourning.
The most visible and high-profile proof was the video posted on social media, showing a confrontation between several angry students and former first daughter Chelsea Clinton at a New York University vigil for the victims of the tragedy Friday night.
The video showed the students challenging Clinton’s right to take part in the event after previously condemning Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar’s comments about U.S. policy toward Israel and the power of pro-Israel lobby, using language many critics believe contained anti-Semitic tropes.
Clinton came to show support after tweeting a message of solidarity calling for a “global response to the global threat of violent white nationalism” — the movement that motivated the New Zealand shooter.
She was confronted by a group that included NYU senior Leen Dweik, a Palestinian Muslim who told Clinton the memorial service was “the result of a massacre stoked by people like you and the words that you put out into the world,” and that “49 people died because of the rhetoric you put out there.” Rose Asaf, an Israeli-American Jew who says she co-founded the Jewish Voice for Peace chapter at NYU, recorded and posted the encounter.
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Dweik and Asaf published a story in Buzzfeed Saturday defending their ambush of Clinton.
“We were shocked when Clinton arrived at the vigil, given that she had not yet apologized to Rep. Omar for the public vilification against her,” the women wrote. “We thought it was inappropriate for her to show up to a vigil for a community she had so recently stoked hatred against. … So when we saw Chelsea, we saw an opportunity to have her ear and confront her on her false charge of anti-Semitism against our only Black, Muslim, Somali, and refugee member of Congress. We took our chance to speak truth to power. Chelsea hurt our fight against white supremacy when she stood by the petty weaponizers of antisemitism, showing no regard for Rep. Omar and the hatred being directed at her.”
The two women, who said they had been subject to a “relentless bullying campaign” since the video was posted — including threats of death and sexual violence — continued: “We need people to understand that you cannot be racist against Palestinians, and vilify people who promote their cause, while also being in solidarity with Muslims. You cannot contribute to the anti-Muslim, anti-Black, and misogynistic abuse of Rep. Omar while also being in solidarity with Muslims.”
Dweik, who wore a Bernie Sanders campaign T-shirt to the vigil, tweeted later that the confrontation was not planned, although “i was going to disrupt [Clinton] if she spoke and say the same things that i said to her face.”
“I can’t believe this has to be said, but I didn’t tell Chelsea Clinton she was the one who put a gun to Muslims’ heads,” she wrote. “I said, & continue to say, that by jumping on the right-wing bandwagon & villifying Ilhan Omar, she fed into the EXACT discourse we were at the vigil to protest.”
Echoing that message, Muslim activist and co-chair of the Women’s March Linda Sarsour tweeted Saturday that she was “triggered by those who piled on Representative Ilhan Omar and incited a hate mob against her until she got assassination threats now giving condolences to our community.”
Instead, Sarsour said, “What we need you to do is reflect on how you contribute to islamophobia and stop doing that.”
The NYU confrontation Friday was roundly condemned on social media by conservatives, with Donald Trump Jr. tweeting that it was “sickening” and defended her for “speaking up.”
Trump Jr. was quickly called out by others, like black and Jewish journalist Adam Serwer, who said it was clear his tweet was designed to “keep people fighting about this.”
One celebrity who joined the conversation, comedian Kathy Griffin, scoffed at Dweik’s distress at being bullied after the video was published, telling her to “Wake up. We are all on this planet together. @ChelseaClinton does not deserve your misdirected anger.”
On the left, journalist Glenn Greenwald defended the activists, saying that Clinton’s family’s “vehement pro-Israel politics, along with the role she bizarrely played in attacking Omar, made her a bad choice” to invite to the event.
Another left-wing journalist, Cenk Uygur, tweeted he hadn’t liked Clinton’s reaction to Omar, but that she “didn’t deserve that level of vitriol at the vigil where she came to help.”
New York mayor Bill de Blasio also weighed in, praising “the dignity and compassion” Clinton showed “in the face of irresponsible accusations” that she was in any way responsible for encouraging the sentiments that led to the bloodshed in New Zealand.