2024 New York congressional battleground

Bowman threatens defamation lawsuit after Latimer says he takes ‘money from Hamas’

At a black history event this weekend, Westchester County Executive George Latimer baselessly accused Bowman of “taking money from Hamas.”

Rep. Jamaal Bowman is threatening a defamation lawsuit against his Democratic primary opponent George Latimer.

Rep. Jamaal Bowman is threatening a defamation lawsuit against his Democratic primary opponent George Latimer. Leigh Vogel/Getty Images for The Recording Academy

Rep. Jamaal Bowman’s campaign sent a letter threatening a defamation lawsuit against his challenger, Westchester County Executive George Latimer, for defamation after Latimer baselessly accused him of accepting donations from the Hamas terrorist group.

On Monday, Black Westchester magazine reported that Latimer accused Bowman of “taking money from Hamas” while speaking to voters during the 12th Annual Black History Month Celebration at New Rochelle High School on Feb. 10.

Black Westchester editor-in-chief A.J. Woodson told City & State that Latimer made the comments while speaking with a Black woman outside the school auditorium.

The woman, who asked to remain anonymous due to concerns for her safety, confirmed to City & State that she is a voter in the district. She said that she is a Bowman supporter who had not previously met Latimer and wanted to learn more about why he was running. 

During the conversation, she asked Latimer about his decision to align himself with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which she said has endangered Black people by “supporting problematic right-wing conspiracy theorist-type Republicans” and “pitting two marginalized groups against one another – Blacks and Jews.”

She said that she told Latimer he was “taking money from the devil” by accepting AIPAC donations, and Latimer responded by trying to link Bowman to Hamas. Woodson, who was also part of the conversation, said Latimer’s exact words were: “Bowman is taking money from the devil too, he (is) taking money from Hamas.”

Baseless accusation

The woman said that when she asked Latimer for proof that Bowman had accepted donations from Hamas, Latimer pulled out his phone to try to find an article documenting the donations. He later emailed her a link to the supposed “proof” – an article from the conservative Washington Free Beacon about left-wing activists hosting a Los Angeles fundraiser for Bowman and his colleague, Rep. Cori Bush.

The article reports that some of the activists at the fundraiser – which included the co-founder of controversial antiwar group Code Pink, the executive director of BLM Grassroots and the leader of the Los Angeles chapter of the Jewish pro-Palestine group Jewish Voices for Peace – had taken anti-Israel positions and had attempted to justify Hamas’ attacks. There is nothing in the article to suggest that Hamas has donated to Bowman’s reelection campaign.

In a statement to City & State, Latimer’s campaign did not deny that Latimer accused his rival of accepting money from Hamas. Instead, the campaign sent along a copy of the same Free Beacon article, and Latimer doubled down on the attack.

“Let me set the record straight – my opponent takes money from those who endorse Hamas' terrorism, those who try to justify the murdering of children, the kidnapping of civilian hostages, and the raping of women as acts of ‘resistance,’” Latimer said in a prepared statement. “As a progressive Democrat, I find that horrifying and unacceptable.”

Bowman told City & State that what’s truly horrifying and unacceptable are Latimer’s comments, which he claimed equate Muslims who criticize Israel with Hamas.

“It’s deeply disturbing that George Latimer has continued to lie about my record and my campaign,” he said in a prepared statement. “Furthermore, his comments equating all Muslims to Hamas are textbook Islamophobic and put the Muslim-American community in real danger. He should not only retract this false statement he’s repeatedly made, he should apologize to a community he continues to vilify and endanger.”

The Working Families Party, which has endorsed Bowman, also condemned Latimer for the attack. “Latimer’s comments are not only false but reckless. We hope that Latimer will retract his comments and apologize to both attendees of the Black History event and residents of the district,” WFP co-director Jasmine Gripper said in a statement.

Defamation lawsuit?

In response to Latimer’s baseless accusation, the Bowman campaign is exploring the possibility of filing a defamation lawsuit against Latimer. David Mitrani, an attorney representing the Bowman campaign, sent a letter to the Latimer campaign on Tuesday demanding that Latimer retract the accusation by the end of the day.

“This statement – that the Congressman’s campaign has taken ‘money from Hamas’ is false. Mr. Latimer and the campaign are now on notice that this statement is false. We demand that Mr. Latimer retract his statement, as it is false. Failure to do so – or continued repetition of this false statement with knowledge that it is false and without merit may result in liability for Mr. Latimer and for the campaign,” Mitrani wrote in the letter.

“In making the statement that Jamaal Bowman for Congress has taken money from a foreign organization or from foreign individuals, Mr. Latimer has accused the campaign of violating the Federal Election Campaign Act. This false statement may be actionable as defamation per se,” Mitrani added. “Mr. Latimer’s statement is simply beyond the pale – ridiculous, irresponsible, and well past acceptable discourse for a civil election. Mr. Latimer must retract his statement.”

The Latimer campaign said that it stands by Latimer’s statement.

The woman whose conversation with Latimer originally set off the whole controversy said that she was already leaning toward voting for Bowman in the primary and Latimer’s spurious attempts to link Bowman to Hamas only reinforced her decision.

“I find this very problematic,” she said. “If your approach to wanting to win an election is to try to draw a link between Jamaal Bowman and Hamas, that is trying to stoke the fears of the Jewish community in Jamaal Bowman’s district … I think there are other ways to run a campaign that doesn’t include this. What does it say about his character if this is what you’ll do to win?”