A rift may be opening between Mayor Eric Adams and some leaders of the city's Muslim community, who in recent days have criticized the mayor for speaking publicly about the deaths of Israelis but not Palestinians.
Adams has made efforts to strengthen his relationship with New York’s Muslim and Arab communities. Over the summer, he hosted the first-ever mayoral reception celebrating Arab heritage. In response to the ongoing violence in Israel and Palestine, he has recently hosted virtual meetings with Muslim leaders to discuss security measures around mosques.
“Since last weekend, the Adams administration has hosted several public and private security briefings, including multiple focused on the security of the city’s Muslim communities, to ensure that communities across the city not only are safe, but also feel safe,” a spokesperson for the mayor’s office told City & State. “The mayor has also directed the NYPD to surge additional resources to schools and houses of worship, including mosques, across the five boroughs to ensure that they are safe and that our city remains a place of peace.”
But a number of Muslim community leaders told City & State that they do not believe Adams has done enough to show support for Palestinian New Yorkers – and that the issue came to a head during a virtual meeting that Adams held with Muslim leaders last Thursday, when the mayor was asked to release an official statement recognizing Palestinian suffering in New York and Gaza but declined to do so.
Sayel Kayed, a member of the New Jersey chapter of American Muslims for Palestine and an organizer of last Friday’s pro-Palestinian protest in Times Square, told City & State that he attended Thursday’s meeting with Adams and asked the mayor to “make a statement on the death and destruction” in Gaza, but that the mayor did not. “He basically only acknowledged how much he stands with Muslims in New York City,” Kayed said. “But when it came to Palestine, he wouldn’t budge one inch.”
Three other Muslim community leaders who said they attended the meeting and who asked to remain anonymous because they were not authorized to speak about it confirmed Kayed’s account. They said that the mayor was asked to explicitly “acknowledge the Palestinian deaths” but did not.
Kayed claimed that over the last week, he had never heard the mayor “utter the word Palestine” in his speeches and complained that the mayor “only talks about the Israeli side,” which he said makes him feel like elected officials believe “Israeli lives are more valuable than Palestinian lives.”
“When (Israelis) die, people speak up,” he added. “But when Palestinians die every single day, not a peep. You see the hypocrisy.”
A spokesperson for the mayor’s office did not dispute Kayed’s account of the meeting but said that the mayor has spoken out about Palestinian lives since the conflict began.
A spokesperson for the mayor wrote in an email that “hate and violence towards any community in New York City – whether Jewish or Muslim, Israeli or Palestinian, or any other ethnic or religious group – is unacceptable.”
That statement may not be enough to win over the Muslim community, though. Kayed said that he found the mayor’s statement condemning Islamophobia to be insufficient and the mayor must issue a “stronger statement if he wants to stand for integrity.” He called on the mayor to condemn the killing of Palestinian civilians in Gaza in an official press conference. “Let's make an official statement, like you did for Israel,” Kayed said in an interview with City & State. “Let's have a big press conference and we'll bring all Arabs, Palestinians, mosques, people of conscience.”
Adams is not the only New York politician who has been criticized for failing to speak out about Palestinians. Last week, Gov. Kathy Hochul initially declined to offer words of sympathy for Palestinian New Yorkers when asked by a City & State reporter, though she later condemned attacks against Palestinian New Yorkers. Muslim leaders who spoke with City & State said they will not forget the relative silence from elected officials regarding Palestinians.
On Friday, Kayed and other Muslim leaders attended a large rally to call for an immediate ceasefire in Israel and Palestine.
Kayed said that Palestinians in New York are increasingly concerned about family members trapped in Gaza who have had their water and electricity shut off and have been forced to evacuate their homes in advance of an expected Israeli ground invasion. He said that the mayor should condemn Israel's war tactics against Palestinians, which have led to thousands of civilian deaths.
Bader El Ghussein, a member of the Muslim American Society and board member of the Islamic Leadership Council of New York, told City & State that he has aunts and uncles on both sides of his family who are currently trapped in Gaza. After Israel warned civilians to evacuate northern Gaza, he said, his family was displaced to the south.
El Ghussein said he finds it “very disheartening” when politicians like Adams and Hochul imply that pro-Palestinian protestors are “extremists” who “show support for terrorism.”
“This paints a target on, not only Palestinians, but Muslims, people that may be perceived to be of those, people of color, and people that are associated with the Palestinian cause,” El Ghussein said.
Mosaab Sadeia, an organizer of Friday’s protest who spoke on behalf of the Islamic Leadership Council of New York, also said he’s noticed what he called “an unsettling trend of dehumanization of Muslims, Palestinians, and anyone who stands in solidarity with them.”
At a press conference on Tuesday, Adams stressed that he has only criticized Hamas, not Palestinians or the Muslim community.
“We need to be clear on something because many people are attempting to distort,” he said. “Hamas is a terrorist organization. This is not about the Palestinian people. This is not about Islam. This is about Hamas, a terrorist organization.”
Muslim and Arab New Yorkers and their supporters increasingly fear a rise in Islamophobia, similar to what happened after 9/11.
Last Thursday, a Palestinian man was assaulted by a group carrying Israeli flags in Brooklyn, and the New York Police Department’s Hate Crimes unit is investigating, according to the New York Daily News. On Sunday in Chicago, a man accused of fatally stabbing a six-year-old Palestinian boy and injuring his mother was charged with a hate crime.
On Sunday, Adams posted on X about the suspected hate crime in Chicago, condemning it and saying New York City “will always reject this evil.”