Boston City Councilor Kendra Lara is under fire for an antisemitic tweet that played on Jewish stereotypes of money and power.
Lara, a first-term councilor from Jamaica Plain known for her unabashed progressivism, sent a tweet Thursday morning saying “y’all are letting the Zionists SHAKE YOU DOWN. phew!”
In a statement to the Globe sent via text Thursday morning, Lara said the tweet was in reference to a federal appeals court decision this week that, according to the Associated Press, upheld an Arkansas law that required state contractors to promise not to boycott Israel. The appeals court ruled that the state mandate did not violate free speech protections provided by the US Constitution.
The Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, otherwise known as BDS, pushes for boycotts against Israeli businesses, universities, and cultural institutions in what its supporters say is a nonviolent campaign against Israeli abuses against Palestinians. Laws like the one at the center of the Arkansas case are aimed at countering the BDS movement.
Lara, in the statement, said she maintains her disappointment with that ruling and believes that “conflating anti-Zionism with antisemitism will ultimately prevent us from being in true solidarity with both Jewish people and Palestinians.”
Oh I get it! the use of the phrasing was lost on me but I have been told now, thank you!— Kendra Lara (@CllrKendraLara) June 23, 2022
“It was made clear to me, that use of the phrase ‘shake them down’ reinforces anti-Semitic tropes about Jewish people and although that was not my intention, the impact, especially in a moment when we’re seeing alarming rates of violence against Jewish people is the same and I should’ve known better,” she said.
The number of antisemitic incidents in Massachusetts reached an all-time high in 2021, according to an annual report from the Anti-Defamation League. The stabbing of a rabbi in Brighton and the use of Holocaust-related terms by the Duxbury High School football team were among the examples that contributed to the 48 percent increase in incidents over the previous year.
Vandalism, harassment, and assaults all rose, with 108 occurrences recorded last year compared with 73 the year before, the report said.
Additionally, earlier this month, an unusual website appeared: It showed a map of Massachusetts chock-full of dots interconnected by multicolored lines, with each dot represented an institution — a school, a corporation, a police department, a nonprofit — and the lines showed their ties to one another and to Jewish organizations or philanthropists. The institutions and their purported relationships were highlighted, the Mapping Project’s anonymous creators wrote, “so we can dismantle them.”
In the Boston-area Jewish community, the Mapping Project was met with alarm. Jewish leaders viewed the map as, at best, a provocation and, at worst, an incitement to violence.
Regarding Lara’s tweet, Robert Trestan, the Anti-Defamation League’s New England regional director, said Thursday morning “it sure sounds and looks like an antisemitic trope.”
“She should immediately explain why she sent that out,” he said in a phone interview.
The statement, he said, “seems unprecedented and quite shocking to come from an elected official in the city of Boston.” There are ways to be pro-Palestinian without being antisemitic, he said.
“When you put ‘shake you down’ for people in the Jewish community, there’s an immediate connection to tropes about money and power. ‘Shake you down’ is connected to some form of intimidation.”
Trestan wasn’t alone in his critique of the tweet. In response to Lara’s post, one Twitter user, Benjamin Siegel, a history professor at Boston University, said “Kendra, hi! Voted for you; you’re doing amazing work. I’m Jewish, pro-Palestine. Horrified by the Eighth Circuit boycott decision as you are. but this tweet feels ugly. Can I help think of ways to do something meaningful without amplifying ‘Jewish money’ narratives?”
In her statement to Globe, Lara said she was grateful for “folks like Ben Siegel who called me in on this and for the Jewish community in D6 who I get to keep learning from.”
In another Twitter post on Thursday, Lara said, “I was raised by two Jewish mentors who taught me to be anti-Zionist and Pro-Palestine at a very young age (15/16) so the idea that anti-Zionism is inherently anti-Semitic is incredibly reductionist to me so I didn’t even consider how my word choice could inadvertently be reinforcing.”
I was raised by two Jewish mentors who taught me to be anti-Zionist and Pro-Palestine at a very young age(15/16) so the idea that anti-Zionism is inherently anti-Semitic incredibly reductionist to me so I didn’t even consider how my word choice could inadvertently be reinforcing.— Kendra Lara (@CllrKendraLara) June 23, 2022
That explanation did not pass muster for some, with one Twitter user stating, “This is giving ‘I’ve got black friends energy.’ Have some shame.”
I would offer to delete the tweet but I don’t believe in ‘dissapearing’ my missteps, unless you think leaving it up will do more harm than good.— Kendra Lara (@CllrKendraLara) June 23, 2022
otherwise, I’ll probably just mute it for the trolls! Thanks again!
In a third tweet, Lara said, “I would offer to delete the tweet but I don’t believe in ‘disappearing’ my missteps, unless you think leaving it up will do more harm than good. otherwise, I’ll just mute it for the trolls. Thanks again!”
Regarding the recent court decision that the original tweet was referencing, the full Eighth Circuit US Court of Appeals reversed a 2-1 decision last year by a three-judge panel of the court that found the requirement to pledge not to boycott Israel to be unconstitutional, AP reported. The Arkansas Times had sued to block the law, which requires contractors with the state to reduce their fees by 20 percent if they don’t sign the pledge.
The American Civil Liberties Union, which represented the Times, said it planned to appeal to the US Supreme Court.
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report. Tonya Alanez and Mike Damiano of the Globe staff contributed to this report.
Danny McDonald can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @Danny__McDonald.