HomeAsian AmericansIn NYC, pan-Asian coalition challenges AsAm rep’s pro-Israeli policies

In NYC, pan-Asian coalition challenges AsAm rep’s pro-Israeli policies

On Friday, Jan. 12 at 9 a.m., a coalition of grassroots organizations met with Rep. Grace Meng (D-NY), marking the first meeting the Congresswoman has held with a pro-Palestinian group since Oct. 7. 

The Queens 6th District Ceasefire Coalition included numerous groups from Meng’s diverse district in Queens, such as Queens6Ceasefire, Flushing Interfaith Council, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), CAAAV: Organizing Asian Communities, Ridgewood Tenants Union, Muslim Democratic Club of New York, Asians4Palestine, and Angry Asian Womxn. Together, they demanded that Meng support a ceasefire in Gaza and an end to all military aid to Israel. 

“We are done asking you to recognize Palestinians humanity,” said coalition member Tarek Ismail during the meeting. “We are here to demand that you prove your own. We demand a permanent ceasefire.”

“Not only Palestinians, but other Muslims, and even anti-Zionist Jewish people—all of them got disregarded.”

Organizers from the coalition say that Meng has not been responsive to the demands of her pro-Palestinian constituents. Requests for an in-person town hall from Meng following Oct. 7 went unanswered. After over eight weeks of public pressure, including weekly vigils at her office and a petition with over 1400 signatures as of the time of publication, Meng finally agreed to a meeting—albeit one that was virtual. 

Coalition members expressed further frustration about the limited nature of Meng’s Zoom meeting, which they described as a “back-of-the-hand reception” in a press statement. Though over 100 people joined the call, only three coalition members were shown onscreen and allowed to speak. Participants claimed that Q&A was disabled throughout the entire meeting until the very end. 

In contrast, Meng has been vocal about her support for Israel since Hamas’s Oct. 7 attack on Israel, speaking at pro-Israeli rallies and meeting in-person numerous times with Israeli survivors of Oct. 7, families of hostages, or other Israeli groups

Fahd Ahmed, executive director of DRUM, said that the contrast between how Meng approaches pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian groups is “very stark” and demonstrates how she discriminates against certain constituents, especially those who are Muslim, Arab, or Palestinian.

“Not only Palestinians, but other Muslims, and even anti-Zionist Jewish people—all of them got disregarded [by Meng],” he said. “The contrast between the two was just a very deeply disappointing reminder of how insidious Representative Meng’s anti-Palestinian racism is.”

Occurring as the death toll in Gaza reported by the Gaza Health Ministry surpassed 24,000 and Israel faced charges of genocide in the International Court of Justice brought by South Africa, the conversation between Meng and the Queens 6 Ceasefire Coalition on the topic was particularly contentious. 

In a statement to AsAmNews, Meng wrote that, though the conflict in Gaza was “heartbreaking,” there was “no easy one-word or binary solution” to it. 

“I have publicly supported humanitarian pauses and increased humanitarian aid in Gaza,” said Meng. “I have also publicly condemned the rise in Islamophobia and attacks on Muslims that have occurred since the war began.”

But many coalition members have found Meng’s response to the crisis in Gaza insufficient. 

During the meeting, Ismail, who is Palestinian, questioned Meng on the level of destruction in Gaza, including a high civilian death toll, unguided “dumb” bombs dropped on Gaza, and the bombing of schools, hospitals and places of worship. Additionally, he cited research that 80 percent of Democrats were in favor of a ceasefire in Gaza and stressed that Meng had a “duty” to prevent a genocide from occurring in Gaza. 

In response, Meng reiterated she was “heartbroken” about the events in Gaza. “I have been public, and maybe not public enough, and will try harder, to express sympathy [with] what is happening in Gaza,” she stated. 

“I’m not asking for sympathy, Congresswoman,” replied Ismail. “We’re asking for you to call for a ceasefire.”

In the meeting, however, Meng refused to call for a ceasefire and stated her opposition to Rep. Cori Bush’s (D-MO) “Ceasefire Now” resolution (H. Res. 786). In a statement to AsAmNews, Meng clarified that she would not support a ceasefire without the surrender and return of hostages from Hamas. 

“[The Ceasefire Now] resolution is something that is not complete to me, because it doesn’t acknowledge anything about what Hamas did on October 7,” Meng said during the meeting. “It doesn’t talk about the fact that Hamas has the intention to eliminate the State of Israel and the Jewish people.” (Though Hamas’s 1988 charter identifies Jews as the group’s “enemy,” its updated 2017 charter per CNN states that the organization’s “conflict is with the Zionist project, not with the Jews because of their religion.”)

Coalition speakers also challenged Meng on her funding from the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the leading pro-Israeli lobbying group in the U.S. According to OpenSecrets, AIPAC represents Meng’s largest funding source, with an $85,250 contribution to her campaign. AIPAC has also recently publicly thanked Meng on X (formerly known as Twitter) for her support of Israeli hostages. 

In response to these concerns, Meng claimed that AIPAC’s contributions to her campaign “absolutely did not” influence her stance on Israel and Gaza. “My campaign has contributions from a wide range of people, some of whom, yes, are affiliated with AIPAC,” Meng said during the meeting. “And with pro-Israel causes, no one person or group or industry affects the way that I vote.”

But Ahmed told AsAmNews that her words did not match her actions. “She can take whatever position she wants, she can make whatever claim she wants, but we’re going to compare her to her record,” said Ahmed. “What we’ve seen from her in the past three months indicates otherwise.”

This record, Ahmed pointed out, included silence on Israel’s history of what he characterized as “illegal settlements and violent settler attacks” on Gaza and the West Bank and a particular disregard for her Muslim, Arab, and South Asian constituents.

“She put a lot of emphasis on what happened on October 7, but did not even once acknowledge the 75 years of occupation that Palestinians have suffered,” he said. “She feels that all this action should be taken by Israelis in response to what happened on October 7, but had nothing to say about what actions should be taken in response to the 25,000 Palestinians killed the last few months. And the only final acknowledgment that the Palestinians deserve is a vague statement that like her heart is broken.”

These patterns were especially clear for Ahmed when Meng responded to a question about how she would prioritize Arab and Muslim constituents by citing her office’s addition of halal food to local pantries—a comment that the coalition criticized as “tokenizing.”

“How patronizing and condescending can you be, that you think that [the halal food] is equivalent or even at all relevant when 25,000 people in Gaza have died, when people in Gaza are literally being starved, and what you offer in your defense is, ‘But I have advocated for halal food for Muslims here’?” he said.

“This is a really big moment.”

Meng’s lack of responsiveness to her pro-Palestinian constituents has also eroded trust in her among Asian Americans, said Angry Asian Womxn member Fiona Tang.

For many Asian Americans in the coalition, having their concerns be disregarded by an AAPI Congressperson was especially frustrating. Tang said that was particularly upset when Meng’s team disabled the Q&A, shutting off the participants’ only avenue to communicate directly with the Congresswoman. 

“It was a very visceral and tangible way of feeling silenced by this particular call,” she recalled. “And it was offensive.”

As the first Asian American Congressperson to be elected from New York, Meng holds a historic and symbolic position for Asian Americans across the city. As such, Tang said that she feels compelled to hold Meng accountable to her voter base—especially when she won’t listen to their voices. 

“It matters to me how [Meng] represents New York City, how she represents New York City Asian Americans,” Tang said. “At this point, she is flying in the face of justice and so many who want a ceasefire.”

Tang’s frustration is not unique, said Alina Shen, a labor organizer at CAAAV. Many members of her community have shared similar disappointment in Meng and other elected officials, she said.

But Shen has also been struck by how those community members have turned their dissatisfaction into action—including numerous people who had not been involved in political organization before. Many of these constituents not only attended call with Meng, but they also participated in numerous vigils, rallies, and other events to call for a ceasefire.

“This is a really big moment,” Shen said. “I’m seeing so many hundreds of constituents becoming politicized and potentially forming a voting bloc around this.”

This bloc spans a diverse base of people, including tenants’ unions and housing advocates who recognize links between displacement at home in New York City and abroad in Gaza; multi-faith alliances of anti-Zionist Jews, Muslims, Christians, and more; and established grassroots organizations fighting for racial or social justice issues.

At CAAAV, Shen organizes working-class Chinese immigrants. Many of those workers, she said, drew connections between the historical imperialist invasions of their home country and the current violence in Gaza.

“They brought that with them home to New York and are drawing on that historic legacy to support a permanent ceasefire and a free Palestine,” Shen said.

This interfaith and interracial solidarity has made Shen optimistic that the coalition will continue to grow far beyond the public town hall the group is now calling on Meng to hold. 

“It’s not just that we are disappointed in our electeds and the people that are elected to represent our will,” says Shen. “We’re also building something that’s exciting, and hopefully, it’s picking up momentum at a scale that we haven’t had an opportunity to see for a really long time.”

AsAmNews is published by the non-profit, Asian American Media Inc. Thank you for all who supported our year-end fundraising drive. Donations are still being accepted through this link. We are supported in part by funding provided by the State of California, administered by the California State Library in partnership with the California Department of Social Services and the California Commission on Asian and Pacific Islander American Affairs as part of the Stop the Hate program. To report a hate incident or hate crime and get support, go to CA vs Hate.

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