Longtime Brooklyn Assemblyman Dov Hikind has suggested that Linda Sarsour, a prominent Muslim activist and one of the lead organizers of the Women's March, withheld or redirected money that she helped raise for vandalized Jewish cemeteries in February. Hikind has not produced any evidence for his claims, and would only tell Gothamist: "All I can say is that some people have raised the issue, so we're going to look into it."
On Sunday, Hikind wrote on his Facebook page: "Linda Sarsour claimed to raise $100K+ to repair Jewish cemeteries. But much of that money—if any—actually went to these cemeteries? We will share this information with the public soon." He also assured one commenter that "proof is coming," and sent out a similar tweet, which tagged Sarsour, casting doubt on the fundraiser.
The vague allegation is focused on a February fundraiser, led by Sarsour and fellow activist Tarek El-Messidi, calling on Muslims to donate money to help repair anti-Semitic vandalism of Jewish cemeteries in St. Louis and Philadelphia. The campaign met its goal of $20,000 in three hours, and went on to raise more than $160,000 from nearly 5,000 supporters.
Asked about Hikind's claim, Sarsour and El-Messidi provided a detailed breakdown of where that money has gone so far: $40,000 to the Chesed Shel Emeth Cemetery in St. Louis; $5,000 to the Waad Hakolel Cemetery in Rochester; and $5,000 to erase anti-Semitic vandalism at the Chicago Loop Synagogue. Representatives from the Chicago and Rochester sites confirmed receipt of the money, and while a St. Louis cemetery could not be reached for comment, a local news story says the check has been delivered, and quotes the executive director of Chesed Shel Emeth Society as saying, “We feel blessed.”
The remaining money, more than $100,000, will go toward restoring a historic Jewish cemetery in Colorado, which once served as a memorial for the Jews who flocked to Denver for tuberculosis treatments, but has since fallen into disrepair. El-Messidi, director of the nonprofit Celebrate Mercy, visited the site in April, and said he was moved by Ted Ruskin, a legally blind caretaker watching over the decaying site, one of only three Jewish cemeteries nationwide listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
El-Messidi thinks Hikind, who represents the heavily Orthodox neighborhood of Borough Park, would be moved by the story as well. But according to both fundraisers, the assemblyman has not contacted them about the donations.
"He puts out lies...without any backup, to cast doubt and to defame me," Sarsour told Gothamist via text. These accusations were particularly galling, she said, in light of the double homicide in Portland committed by a white supremacist. "I'm not afraid of [Hikind], I'm afraid of those he unleashes," she added, noting that she currently travels with private security guards, and has enlisted her family and friends to block the social media accounts that send her daily death threats.
In her view, the assemblyman has no intention of providing evidence for his claim, but is simply seeking to energize the anti-Sarsour contingent—a growing group that now includes far-right provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos and noted Islamophobic figurehead Pamela Geller. On Thursday, the three of them held an event in midtown to protest Sarsour's invitation to deliver the commencement address this week at the CUNY School of Public Health. During the rally, Hikind told the crowd: "Let us make something very clear. Linda Sarsour supports terrorism!"
His reasoning for that claim, laid out in a Daily News op-ed and several videos on his website, is that Sarsour has shared a stage with Rasmea Yousef Odeh, who was convicted by an Israeli military court in 1969 for her involvement in a bombing that killed two civilians. He also points to Sarsour's fierce criticism of Israel, including a tweet she sent which praises a Palestinian child holding a rock in front of Israeli soldiers as "the definition of courage."
Sarsour, for her part, says that Hikind was "a proud member of the Jewish Defense League," which the FBI classified as a "right wing terrorist group" in 2001. She also accuses him of having a "history of vilifying influential Muslims," referring to his months-long campaign against Keith Ellison, the first Muslim member of Congress and the current Deputy Chair of the DNC.
"It's too late once he puts out his nonsense," asserted Sarsour. "Whatever he says is the last word."
But even if the vitriol aimed at Sarsour does seem to be escalating, she has no plans to turn down her invitation to CUNY. "I am Hikind's worst nightmare—a progressive, Palestinian, Muslim American woman," she said. "I will not submit to fear."