In a show of religious solidarity, members of left-leaning Jewish and Muslim organizations joined together to hold a protest demonstration on the sidewalk outside state Sen. Marty Golden’s Bay Ridge district office Friday morning to call on the Republican lawmaker to fire a controversial campaign staffer who had invited the leader of the alt-right group Proud Boys to speak at a GOP club last month.
The protesters also called on Golden to condemn white nationalism.
The demonstration was organized by three groups: Yalla Brooklyn, the Muslim Democratic Club of New York and the Jewish Vote. Members of the group Fight Back Bay Ridge also took part in the protest in a show of support.
Incorporating the traditions of both the Jewish and Muslim religions, the protesters prayed together, sang Yiddish songs and sat shiva in tribute to the victims of the Tree of Life massacre in Pittsburgh to make the point that hate speech and white nationalist rhetoric often leads to violence.
Eleven yarmulkes, each bearing the name of a victim gunned down in the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh on Oct. 27, were placed on a banner on the ground in front of Golden’s office at 7408 Fifth Ave. Many of the protesters wore T-shirts with the slogan #EndWhiteNationalism. Several participants were wearing yarmulkes bearing another slogan: #WeAreHere.
The goal of the protest, according to organizers, was to put public pressure on Golden to fire Ian Reilly, his campaign office manager, for inviting Proud Boys leader Gavin McInnes to speak at the Metropolitan Republican Club in Manhattan on Oct. 12. Reilly is a member of the club’s board of directors.
“He provided the Proud Boys with a platform to spread their hate,” Yalla Brooklyn member Rama Issa told this newspaper. “We’re here today in solidarity with our Jewish brothers and sisters to stand against white nationalism.”
Golden, who has represented the 22nd Senate District since 2002, is running for re-election on Nov. 6. He is facing a challenge from Democrat Andrew Gounardes.
Golden has steadfastly refused to fire Reilly. “He’s staying!” the lawmaker defiantly told a raucous audience at a Bay Ridge Community Council debate on Oct. 23.
Audrey Sasson, executive director of the Jewish Vote, said giving McInnes a platform was tantamount to supporting his controversial views. Words are important, she said, because a direct line can be drawn from hateful rhetoric to violent acts like the slaying of the 11 victims in the Tree of Life synagogue, as well as to other incidents, such as the pipe bombs mailed to prominent Democrats and CNN, and the shooting deaths of two African-Americans in Kentucky.
“Marty Golden has to fire Ian Reilly and denounce white nationalism in the strongest terms,” Sasson told this newspaper.
Sasson also charged that the GOP has done nothing to stem the tide of hatred from alt-right groups. “The entire Republican Party has blood on their hands,” she told the protesters.
Mohammed Khan, of the Muslim Democratic Club of New York, said people are fed up with hate speech and violence. “We’re here to say no more!” he told the crowd. “This is New York. We deserve better from our elected officials.”
Several of the protesters mentioned how dismayed they were over another shocking case, this time involving anti-Semitic graffiti found inside the Union Temple, a synagogue in Prospect Heights, on Thursday. “Hatred is spreading,” said one demonstrator.
Following the protest outside Golden’s office, demonstrators marched a few blocks to the Islamic Society of Bay Ridge, a mosque at 6807 Fifth Ave., and recited prayers.
But Republican supporters of Golden’s said it’s ridiculous to equate the lawmaker and his campaign staffer with outrageous acts of violence.
“Just because you invite a controversial speaker to your meeting doesn’t mean you support everything that person is saying. It could be that Ian’s club wanted to hear from diverse voices on the right. And to say Marty’s directly tied to hate groups, that’s ludicrous,” one Golden supporter said.
Michael Tobman, Golden’s campaign spokesperson, said the lawmaker believes the main focus at this point in time should be on mourning the Tree of Life victims.
“Senator Golden, along with the rest of America and the world, mourns those killed in the horrific Pittsburgh synagogue attack. No political discussion around this tragedy is appropriate now,” Tobman told this newspaper in an email.