Brooklyn assemblyman Dov Hikind in 2012. (AP Photo/ Louis Lanzano)
When Brooklyn College’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine announced it would be hosting a forum promoting the BDS movement, or the Palestinian call to boycott, sanction and divest from the state of Israel, and would be doing so with sponsorship from the school’s political science department, a who’s who of top New York Democrats snapped into action. In a strongly worded letter to Brooklyn College president Karen Gould, the self-described “progressives” demanded that the political science department withdraw its sponsorship of an event they cast as unacceptable. The signers included Representatives Jerrold Nadler, Nydia Velasquez and Hakeem Jeffries, as well as the progressive councilman Brad Lander and City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who is a front-runner in the race to be New York City’s next mayor.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg—a committed Zionist who has spoken in favor of Israeli military assaults on the Gaza Strip—reacted strongly against the letter. “If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea,” Bloomberg remarked. Then, on February 6, most of the apparently humbled Democrats who lent their names to the letter retracted their demand for the Brooklyn College political science department to pull its sponsorship. Out of the letter’s nineteen original signers, seventeen withdrew their names, leaving only former city comptroller and mayoral hopeful Bill Thompson and State Assemblyman James Brennan as the outliers.
Thompson was, in fact, among the politicians who gathered on Brooklyn College’s campus on January 31 for a blustery press conference condemning Gould and the political science department for sponsoring the BDS panel. Among the indignant elected officials were major Democratic officials, including Assemblymembers Steve Cymbrowitz and Rhoda Jacobs, and Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who dispatched aides from his office to the anti-BDS press conference.
Before a crowd of camera people and reporters, Thompson railed, “This organization [the BDS movement] is one that expresses hate; is one that expresses opposition to Israel.” Next, New York City Councilman David Greenfield held forth until he was red in the face, calling BDS advocates members of a “hate-filled, anti-Semitic, pro-terrorist movement.”
“I wonder if the administration’s policies would have been different if the political science department had invited [former Ku Klux Klan Grand Wizard] David Duke. If David Duke were here I’m sure [Brooklyn College president Karen] Gould would be outside protesting as well.… We are talking about the potential of a second Holocaust.”
If the lawmakers had in fact gathered to take a principled stand against “hate” and “terrorism,” they chose a curious figure to stand behind. Indeed, the press conference was organized by a man who has been suspected by the FBI of involvement in several terrorist bombings and who was a top cadre in an organization currently identified by the FBI as a “violent extremist Jewish organization.” He is Dov Hikind, a Democratic State Asssemblyman who, despite his links to acts of terrorism and violence against racial minorities, has emerged as a political kingmaker in New York State politics. With his ability to deliver thousands of Russian and Orthodox Jewish votes to the candidates of his choice, often deciding hotly contested elections, Hikind had no trouble marshaling high-level opposition to Brooklyn College’s scheduled BDS event.
Now that the “progressive” New York Democrats have just walked back their letter to Brooklyn College’s Gould, Hikind has become by default the face of the organized opposition to the scheduled BDS forum. And none of the lawmakers who appeared with Hikind at the January 31 press conference have backed down in their demand to the college.
Hikind gained his earliest experience in the early 1970s in local New York politics as an acolyte of Meir Kahane, the fanatical rabbi-turned-Israeli Member of Knesset who called for the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians and establishment of a theocratic state of “Judea” in the West Bank. “I’m proud of every single moment, let me make that very clear. Rabbi Kahane had a great influence on me,” Hikind declared in 2008. Under Kahane’s guidance, Hikind became active in the Jewish Defense League (JDL), a nationwide extremist network that attacked Arab-American and Soviet targets while rallying vigilante squads to “protect” working-class Jews living in African-American and Puerto Rican neighborhoods.
According to Robert I. Friedman, the journalist and author of the Kahane biography The False Prophet, Hikind operated a front group with the JDL bomb specialist Victor Vancier (now Chaim Ben Pesach, an online radio demagogue known for wild harangues against blacks, Arabs and leftist Jews). A self-described “crazy Jew,” Vancier openly contemplated killing the Palestinian intellectual (and longtime Nation contributor) Edward Said. “I think the man is a monster. And that means anything goes,” he said of Said. When Said’s Columbia University office was ransacked in 1986, Vancier hailed the unknown vandals as “Jewish patriots,” but refused to take credit. A year later, Vancier was sentenced to ten years in prison for carrying out numerous bombing attacks on innocent people, including a tear gas attack that injured twenty audience members at a Metropolitan Opera House performance of the Soviet Union’s Moiseyev Dance Company.
In their book on the plot to assassinate Israeli Prime Minister Yitzhak Rabin, journalists Michael Karpin and Ina Friedman reported that Hikind had been arraigned in a federal court in 1976 for tossing a smoke bomb into the Ugandan mission after the Israeli rescue of passengers kidnapped by Palestinian terrorists on an Air France jetliner in Entebbe, Uganda. “A decade later the FBI suspected him of involvement in planning a string of six bombings against Arab targets in NY, Massachusetts and California—in which one man was killed and seven were injured—but no evidence was found against him,” Karpin and Friedman wrote. Two JDL members who fled from FBI prosecution to Jewish settlements in the occupied West Bank had been involved with Hikind in a campaign to undermine the Rev. Jesse Jackson’s 1984 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination, according to Karpin and Friedman.
The most significant figure the JDL was suspected of killing was Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) western regional director Alex Odeh. However, the FBI was never able to apprehend the likely perpetrators. After the murder of Odeh, more assaults followed on ADC offices, including a pipe bomb attack in Boston that critically wounded a member of a police bomb squad. In an interview with Robert I. Friedman, Hikind said he supported forming a group of “intelligent professionals” to assassinate Nazis and Arab-American supporters of the Palestine Liberation Organization.
The JDL fizzled out in 2001, after leaders Irv Rubin and Earl Krugel were locked up for conspiring to blow up a Los Angeles–area mosque and assassinate Republican Representative Darrell Issa, who is of Lebanese descent. Following the assassination plot, the FBI listed the JDL as a “violent extremist Jewish organization,” placing its remaining members under constant surveillance. A JDL activist handing out Kahanist paraphernalia at the 2006 Israel Day Concert in New York’s Central Park told me that FBI monitoring had grown so intense the group was no longer able to operate in any coherent fashion. By this time, Hikind had established himself as one of the most influential Jewish politicians in New York, delivering pivotal support to candidates from former Senator Alfonse D’Amato to former Governor George Pataki.
These days, political upstarts from across the spectrum are eager for Hikind’s endorsement. In the 2011 special election held after Representative Anthony Weiner’s embarrassing resignation, Hikind helped deliver victory to Bob Turner, a Republican gentile running against David Weprin, an Orthodox Jewish Democrat. Hikind said he backed Turned in order to “send a message to President Obama” about his supposedly insufficient support for Israel. There was also the fact that Weprin supported same-sex marriage, an absolute faux pas for the ferociously anti-gay Hikind, who has compared homosexuality to incest.
In a Democratic congressional primary last year, Hikind threw his weight behind Hakeem Jeffries, a youthful African-American Democrat running against Charles Barron, a veteran black nationalist community organizer and unapologetic supporter of Palestinian rights. At a press conference convened in support of Jeffries, Hikind joined top local Democrats, including Representative Jerry Nadler and the late Mayor Ed Koch, in denouncing Barron as “hateful,” a “scary monster” and an “anti-Semite”—the same language directed against organizers of the Brooklyn College BDS forum. “I really feel that Hakeem Jeffries is a superstar,” Hikind gushed. Weeks later, Jeffries cruised to an easy victory over Barron.
Having wiped out political opposition in his Brooklyn district, Hikind felt free to funnel money from his million-dollar war chest to the American Friends of Ateret Cohanim, a nonprofit operated by his wife. Ateret Cohanim is an Israeli organization dedicated to the “Judaization” of occupied East Jerusalem, a practice that sometimes entails physically ejecting Palestinians from their homes in order to replace them with Jewish settlers. Hikind has, in fact, pledged to buy a home in a Jews-only settlement constructed in the heart of Jebel Mukaber, a Palestinian neighborhood in East Jerusalem.
At the Brooklyn College press conference, Hikind was flanked not only by leading local Democrats, but by Helen Freedman, a Kahane admirer who organizes support of the Israeli settlement enterprise through her nonprofit, Americans For A Safe Israel. When the politicians Hikind invited were finished delivering their remarks, a man stepped forward to read a letter stridently denouncing the BDS event. It was authored by Jeffrey Wiesenfeld, a City University of New York trustee who had tried (and failed) to stymie the university’s plan to award playwright Tony Kushner an honorary degree. “My mother would call Tony Kushner a kapo,” Wiesenfeld said of Kushner, using the term for a Jewish concentration camp guard to assail Kushner for his criticisms of Israeli policy. In a subsequent interview with The New York Times, Wiesenfeld launched into a diatribe against the Palestinians, declaring, “People who worship death for their children are not human.”
Having united far-right pro-Israel zealots with establishment Democrats in opposition to a panel discussion promoting Palestinian rights, generating a heated controversy that earned international media attention, Hikind should have been satisfied with his efforts. But as the January 31 press conference concluded, he showed signs of frustration.
“You’ve heard the calmest presentation today [from] people who care deeply about Israel. They’re not calling here to cancel the event. That’s not what they’re saying!” Hikind fumed. “Boy! How calm and reasonable is that?”
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