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Congresswoman Meng faces backlash over Gaza ceasefire stance during heated Zoom meeting

Jan. 18, 2024 By Iryna Shkurhan

After persistent efforts spanning several months, constituents of Rep. Grace Meng successfully arranged a virtual meeting with her to address their concerns on the Israel-Hamas conflict and discuss her stance on the Gaza ceasefire issue.

Close to a hundred people attended a Zoom meeting on Jan. 12 to convince the congresswoman to acknowledge the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and support a ceasefire resolution. But the advocates of different faiths and races, who make up the Queens 6th District Ceasefire Coalition, say that they felt silenced and dismissed during the call. 

“We’ll try harder to express sympathy for what is happening in Gaza,” said Meng during the recorded call that lasted close to 40 minutes.

Meng listened to her constituents who are advocating for a ceasefire during a Zoom meeting on January 12. Photo courtesy of Queens 6th District Ceasefire Coalition

Tarek Ismail, a Palestinian-American resident of Jackson Heights, immediately shot back saying, “we’re not asking for sympathy, we’re asking you to call for a ceasefire.”

Meng has made her pro-Israel stance very clear since the Oct. 7 terrorist attack on Israel carried out by Hamas. Days after the attack, she delivered remarks at a vigil in Kew Gardens with over a dozen other elected officials and Jewish leaders to mourn the 1,200 victims and the 240 people who were kidnapped. More recently, she signed a letter to Secretary of State Antony Blinken to not support a “one-sided ceasefire” that would “return the region to the status quo.”

While she says her stance is in solidarity with the “significant Jewish American population” in her district, the advocates say her politics are guided by campaign contributions from the pro-Israel lobby – her largest political contributor by far this election cycle. 

The American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) shelled out $85,250 to her campaign in the 2023-2024 election cycle, according to OpenSecrets. The second largest contributor this cycle was the American Association for Justice, a lobbying group for lawyers, at just $7,500 in comparison. AIPAC also gave Meng $34,050 in the previous cycle. 

“No, that is absolutely not the reason,” said Meng when asked if the contributions are playing a role in her stance. “Like many elected officials, my campaign accepts contributions from a wide range of people. Some of whom, yes, are affiliated with AIPAC and with pro-Israel causes.”

Leading up to the meeting, the coalition delivered a petition with over 1,000 signatures that called for a ceasefire. Members also visited her Flushing office on a weekly basis, since November, to hold silent vigils for the thousands of civilians that have been killed since Israel’s military campaign to eradicate Hamas began.  

“Listen to the 80% of your constituents who want peace and demand a ceasefire, not the 1% of your funders who benefit from war,” said Rafael Shimunov, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace. “We both have children and understand what it would mean to lose them. We’ve waited months to hear from you, hear us now!”

The long-awaited call came after several attempts to organize an in-person town hall to facilitate a dialogue on the conflict. They say that the virtual meeting was finally organized after she turned down their requests for an in-person meeting. 

Tarek Ismail, a Jackson Heights resident, spoke up during the meeting. Photo courtesy of Queens 6th District Ceasefire Coalition

But the advocates were dismayed by the structure of the meeting. They said that during the call, only three people were allowed to speak up, while dozens of attendees were silenced and not could not turn their cameras on. 

“This is part of the repeated pattern that we see that certain parts of your constituents are more important to you than others. This is just confirmation of that. A good number of the people that are on this call are Jewish constituents who have been calling for a ceasefire, and yet, you don’t care about them,” said Fahd Ahmed, executive director of Desis Rising Up & Moving. “You don’t care about Palestinians. You don’t care about Arabs. You don’t care about Muslims.” 

Meng countered that she does care about her Arab and Muslim constituents by pointing out her efforts on a local level. She said she has been fighting for the inclusion of halal food in schools and food pantries to provide Queens families in need with culturally appropriate food.

“What’s happening in Gaza continues to be heartbreaking to me. Unfortunately, there is no easy one-word or binary solution. If we return to the ceasefire that existed prior to October 7, Hamas will surely keep its promise and return in full force and kill more citizens in Israel. I have publicly supported humanitarian pauses and increased humanitarian aid in Gaza,” said Meng in a statement to QNS on Wednesday. 

She added that for the conflict to end today, Hamas would have to release the remaining hostages and stop firing rockets at Israel. 

Seventeen other congressional members have co-sponsored House Resolution 786, which calls for the president to facilitate a de-escalation and ceasefire in Israel and Palestinian territories. The resolution, introduced by Missouri Rep. Cori Bush in October, would also allow the entry of humanitarian assistance into Gaza where conditions are dire. 

Several New York representatives have cosponsored the resolution, including Jamaal Bowman in Yonkers, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Nydia Valesquez, whose district borders Meng’s in western Queens. 

“As faith leaders and people of conscience who live and work in District 6, we are disappointed with Representative Meng’s lack of moral clarity and her refusal to listen to the majority of constituents calling for a ceasefire,” said John Choe, president of the Flushing Interfaith Council. “Meng’s refusal to call for a ceasefire is not only endangering the lives of millions, but is also making American taxpayers complicit in crimes that the International Court of Justice is now investigating as potentially genocidal.”

The advocates pointed out that the population of Queens, at close to 2.3 million, is the same as the population of Gaza. Over the course of 100 days since Israel’s military campaign began, Gaza has lost one percent of its population as the death toll surpassed 24,000, according to international reports. Furthermore, about 2 million people have been displaced.

The United Nations has also declared a “catastrophic” humanitarian crisis as displaced residents have limited access to food, clean water and medical supplies. U.N officials have also stressed the need for an immediate ceasefire in the region, which would allow them to deliver lifesaving aid. 

“Those 7,000 children died because you did not work to secure a ceasefire. You’ve ignored the news and you’ve ignored our pleas,” said Ismail, while holding his one-year-old daughter. “We are done asking you to recognize the Palestinians’ humanity. We are here to demand that you prove your own.”

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