What I learned from Congressman Jamaal Bowman By Mitch Weisburgh

Date:

Today I attended Congressman Jamaal Bowman’s Healing Breakfast: Fighting Antisemitism & Hate. Here is first a little background and then what I learned.

Jamaal Bowman is my congressman, and the 16th district includes parts of the Bronx and Westchester County, NY. Many Jews are angry at Congressman Bowman because he was one of the few Democrats voting against HR 340 and HR 798. HR 340 puts limits on funding sent to the Middle East and was a move to cut off funding of Hamas. HR 798 seeks to curtail pro-Palestinian and anti-Zionist activities on university campuses. 

These votes have been portrayed as antisemitic and promoting or condoning violence against Jews. Many felt that voting against the bills showcased a lack of sympathy for Jews, many of whom have been his biggest supporters.

What I learned at the breakfast

The session lasted about two hours and was attended by about 50 people. Here were my take-aways from the discussion

Congressman Bowman is pro-people, pro-equity, and pro-child.

  • He is not anti-Semitic.
  • He is passionate about making a change for equitable opportunity of all people, especially children
  • He has made many pronouncements after the Hamas attack against the atrocities in support of Jews, and also has come out in favor of humanitarian actions, including a cease-fire in Gaza.

Jews are feeling as unsafe in the US and the world as at any time since the end of World War II.

The place of Jews in the US, and the world, is unique.

  • To many, Jews are seen as white and thus privileged. To the many people with this worldview, Jews are not a suppressed minority, and their voices protesting that they are, in fact, at risk, is just trying to grab for more power, position, and/or money.
  • Jews are also a group that has been discriminated against for over a thousand years, and this discrimination continues in many places in the world, and in the US today.
  • Jews have been at the forefront of protecting the rights of other oppressed groups, sometimes risking their lives, dating back to the early days of the Civil Right Movement. Jews today are feeling abandoned by many of the groups that they have supported; as in, why aren’t those groups also condemning violence against Jews.
  • Many Jews have taken advantage of white privilege and become successful, and some wealthy Jews have abused that right to the detriment of people of color.

The two bills were both flawed.

  • HR 340 had nothing about humanitarian aid, and HR 798 was worded in a way that would have allowed the arrest of people in what, as a nation, we (should) value as valid protests.
  • As finally worded, they were the only resolutions that came to the floor and no efforts to make them better were allowed to be heard, even though Congressman Bowman tried.
  • Some of those who voted against the resolutions probably are antisemitic.
  • Even though they were both flawed, it could be interpreted that voting against them signals an acceptance of Hamas violence and antisemitism on US campuses.
  • Even knowing that Congressman Bowman felt strongly enough about weaknesses in these bills that he would still vote against them.

Congressman Bowman has come out strong against hate and against the actions of Hamas, although some participants felt that those words were not as important as the actions of voting against the bills.

The general societal discourse about Hamas, Palestinians, Israel, and Jews has been binary, which is unfortunately the case in so many other issues:

  • Either you are pro-Judaism or you are pro-Hamas
  • If you indicate criticism of the Israeli response to Hamas, you are labeled as anti-Semitic.
  • If you indicate support for the Palestinian civilians or children, you are labeled as anti-Semitic.
  • If you indicate condemnation of the Hamas attack, you are anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim.
  • If you indicate support that there should be a Jewish state, you are anti-Palestinian and anti-Muslim.
  • If you indicate support for Gaza or Palestinians, you are also attacking and threatening Jews in the US.

We need to make Westchester and the NY area a place where Jews are and feel safe.

  • And also that all minorities are and feel safe.
  • While our goals can extend beyond our own area, we should begin at home, and, in fact, Congressman Bowman represents our district, not the rest of the US or the world.

It took a lot of guts to engage with 50 people, 45 of whom are vehemently opposed to who they think you stand for.

I hope I get a chance to talk further with Congressman Bowman about mindsets, sensemaking, and how learning mind-shifting concepts and techniques can make us all more collaborative and creative, allow us to be better critical thinkers and innovators, and help us see that most issues do not have to be binary or win/lose.


About the Author: Mitch Weisburgh, as a partner at Academic Business Advisors, Mitch works with educators, policy makers, thought leaders, and EdTech providers to get best educational practices into schools and used by students and teachers. Mitch has overseen development of systems, content, curriculum, and courses across the spectrum of K-12, postsecondary, corporate training, and job readiness and helped many organizations expand in both K-12 and Higher Education.

Mitch co-authored the SIIA guide to the Postsecondary Market and is a national speaker at conferences on education technology in both K12 and higher education. He writes the PilotED Blog and was cochair of the Software and Information Industry Association (SIIA) Education Division. In 2014, Mitch cofounded Edchat Interactive with Tom Whitby and Steve Anderson, a service to share best practices among educators through live online interactive events. Edchat Interactive provides a platform for thought leaders to highly engage with educators and administrators. In January 2015, Mitch cofounded the nonprofit Games4Ed with Larry Cocco, to facilitate collaborations between educators, researchers, game developers, publishers and policy makers to further the use of games and other immersive strategies in schools.

Mitch was the founder, President, and CEO of Personal Computer Learning Centers of America, Inc, from 1981 through 1999. Under Mitch’s guidance, the company developed methods for creating training materials, training trainers, developing course developers, and teaching technical writing, growing the business to eight offices, and 130 employees. Mitch was subsequently Chief Technical Officer, College Pilot.com, 2000-2004 where he successfully designed, developed, launched, and managed an online learning management system and SAT preparation course.

AJ Woodson
AJ Woodson
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief and co-owner of Black Westchester, Host & Producer of the People Before Politics Radio Show, An Author, Journalism Fellow (Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism), Rap Artist - one third of the legendary underground rap group JVC FORCE known for the single Strong Island, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian, Documentarian, Activist, Criminal Justice Advocate and Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale, Sonicnet.com, Launch.com, Rolling Out Newspaper, Daily Challenge Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine, Word Up! Magazine, On The Go Magazine and several others.

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