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NYC councilman who said 'Palestine does not exist' loses panel seat

Kalman Yeger criticized the vote to remove him from the immigration committee as motivated by a "need for political correctness."

Councilman Kalman Yeger, right, was removed from his

Councilman Kalman Yeger, right, was removed from his position on the City Council's immigration committee Tuesday following weeks of anti-Palestine tweets and rhetoric. Photo Credit: John McCarten

The City Council voted Tuesday to remove Councilman Kalman Yeger from his seat on the immigration committee following his anti-Palestine tweets and rhetoric.

The vote — 35 yeas, 7 nos and 2 abstentions — removed the Brooklyn elected official from his position, and made other committee changes that had been in the works over the last few weeks. Council Speaker Corey Johnson said Yeger’s removal was a decision that he and Council leadership needed to make, because they were wrong and the committee needed to show that it welcomed all New Yorkers.

“You have a right to free speech, but you are held to a higher standard,” he said at a news conference before the hearing.

Yeger tweeted on March 27 that "Palestine does not exist" in response to a Muslim Brooklyn reporter who tweeted the councilman’s comments concerning U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar. He continued his rhetoric both online and in person despite numerous calls from Mayor Bill de Blasio and Speaker Johnson to apologize.

Yeger once again stood by his comments at the meeting, claiming that Palestinians as a people existed, but they had no state. He condemned the vote as a move to “satisfy some need for political correctness.”

“Of course there are Palestinian people, but there is no state of Palestine. That’s not really my opinion, but even if it were, it would be in my right to say so,” he said before the vote

The six other Council members who voted against the removal, Chaim Deutsch, Bob Holden, Alan Maisel, Steven Matteo, Eric Ulrich and Ruben Diaz Sr., said they sided with Yeger because of his First Amendment rights. Diaz Sr., who had his subcommittee on for-hire vehicles dissolved in February after he made homophobic comments, slammed the Council for the removal and said it sets a dangerous precedent.

"People don't have to like what I say, they don't have to like what Yeger said, but they have to respect it," he said.

Councilman Carlos Menchaca, who chairs the immigration committee, disagreed and said that members of that group needed to show empathy for all New Yorkers in order to do their job effectively. He said Yeger’s comments have been used by other groups around the world to incite violence and fear.

“We have many Palestinians and those of Palestinian descent in the city, and they, like every other minority group, need to know the Council and the committee on immigration has in its charge to protect their rights and interests,” Menchaca said.

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