News & Politics

As tensions rise, more New Yorkers oppose aid to Israel

A look at how public sentiment is shifting on the war in Gaza

Pro-Palestinian protesters block the entrance of the New Jersey-bound entrance into the Holland Tunnel in lower Manhattan on Jan. 8, 2024

Pro-Palestinian protesters block the entrance of the New Jersey-bound entrance into the Holland Tunnel in lower Manhattan on Jan. 8, 2024 Michael Nigro/Pacific Press/LightRocket via Getty Images

New Yorkers’ opposition to Israel’s war in Gaza appears to be growing, raising tensions in the city between supporters and opponents of a ceasefire.

A Siena poll released this week found that 45% of New York state residents polled opposed sending additional military and economic aid to Israel, while 43% supported it. That represents a reversal from late October, when a Siena poll found that 57% of New Yorkers supported sending additional aid and just 32% opposed it.

Opposition to Israeli aid is higher in New York City than in the rest of the state – 53% of city residents oppose sending economic and military aid, while only 35% support it. The Siena poll, which was conducted between January 14 and 17, also found that a majority of Black respondents, Latino respondents, and self-described liberals opposed aid to Israel, while a majority of white respondents, older respondents and self-described conservatives supported additional aid.

Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America and one of just a few state lawmakers to call for a ceasefire in Gaza, told City & State that the poll results show that New Yorkers are less supportive of Israel’s war in Gaza than elected officials realize.

“Those of us in New York politics who support Palestinian human rights and oppose military and economic funding to Israel are often told we are alone,” he wrote in a text message. “This poll shows that we are in the company of a plurality of Democrats and Independents in our state. By more than a 17% margin, New York City voters oppose their tax dollars funding the genocide of Palestinians. For Black voters across the state, that margin of opposition grows to 26%. New Yorkers are making their voices clear, it is past time for their representatives to hear them.”

Mamdani has been among the most outspoken critics of Israel’s treatment of Palestinians, which has sometimes isolated him from many of his colleagues. Last May, he introduced a controversial bill known as the Not on Our Dime Act, which would block tax-exempt organizations from sending funds to support the Israeli occupation of the West Bank. In response, Democratic leadership declared the bill dead on arrival, and dozens of state legislators signed an open letter criticizing the bill for “demonizing Jewish charities.” 

Since Israel invaded the Gaza Strip following the Hamas attacks on October 7, Mamdani has joined numerous protests and rallies calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. In December, he joined activist Cynthia Nixon and Muslim community organizer Rana Adbelhamid for a five-day hunger strike outside the White House.

As the Palestinian death toll has increased in Gaza, so have calls for an immediate ceasefire. Two of the largest U.S. unions – the United Auto Workers and Service Employees International Union, whose local chapter 1199SEIU is particularly influential in city politics – have now publicly come out in favor of a ceasefire. On Monday, the Hudson Valley city of Newburgh became the second city in the state to approve a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. The Albany city council passed a similar resolution earlier this month.

With younger voters flocking to protests against Israel’s ongoing military offensive in Gaza, elite college campuses have become flashpoints in the national debate over antisemitism and anti-Zionism. As City & State previously reported, Cornell University was shaken by a series of online antisemitic threats made against Jewish students, which prompted an outpouring of concern from elected officials and even a visit to the school’s campus by Gov. Kathy Hochul. 

Columbia University also drew national attention after it controversially suspended two student groups – the Jewish antiwar organization Jewish Voice for Peace and the pro-Palestine group Students for Justice in Palestine – that had held pro-ceasefire protests without receiving approval in advance from the university administration. In response, Mamdani, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and other socialist and progressive elected officials sent an open letter to Columbia’s administration calling for the student groups to be reinstated. (They were not.)

But the most serious incident to date took place on Columbia’s campus this past Friday, when over a dozen students protesting the war in Gaza were reportedly attacked by two counter-protesters who sprayed them with a hazardous chemical that caused burning eyes, nausea and headaches. At least three of the students sought medical attention, and others claimed that the effects of the chemical spray lingered on their hair and clothes for days. 

The perpetrators of the attack have not yet been identified, though some of the victims have alleged their attackers are former members of the Israeli military now attending classes at Columbia. This theory is more plausible than it might seem at first glance, since Columbia University does in fact have a proud tradition of educating non-traditional students – including significant numbers of both American and Israeli military veterans – through its School of General Studies.

In the immediate aftermath of the attack, university spokespeople emphasized that the protest was “unsanctioned” – leading some to accuse Columbia of victim blaming. By Monday evening, though, the Ivy League school announced that it had barred the alleged perpetrators of the attack from campus and was working with the New York City Police Department to investigate the possible hate crime.

Mamdani was quick to condemn both the attack and Columbia’s response. “When at least 10 students were allegedly attacked with a chemical weapon simply for standing in solidarity with Palestinians, Columbia University’s initial response was to blame the students for attending an ‘unsanctioned’ event,” he said in a text message. “Columbia’s conduct is shameful. It is also consistent. For the last few months, they have taken an ax to students’ rights to expression and safety when those students dare to speak up about the 25,755 Palestinians who have been killed in Gaza and the West Bank. Columbia – and educational institutions across the state – must ensure the safety of all of its students and meaningfully restore its commitment to free speech.”

Julia Salazar, a former Columbia student and one of Mamdani’s DSA comrades, also condemned the attack. “This is horrendous,” she wrote in a text message. “If Palestinian solidarity protesters had done less than these men, who have been identified by the victims as former (Israel Defense Forces) soldiers, they would already be suspended or punished and smeared publicly. In fact, that already happened. I am appalled by Columbia's complete failure to respond seriously to this act of violence against students.”

“College students deserve to feel safe on their own campus,” she added. “Palestinians deserve safety and freedom in Palestine and here in the United States. What a disgrace that our university refuses to take decisive action to protect students calling for a ceasefire.”