Hochul seeks liaison for Muslim community


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Gov. Kathy Hochul is looking to create a new position in the executive chamber: director for Muslim American affairs. This would be a first for the governor, coming in the wake of several high-profile gaffes and backlash around how she communicates with Arab and Muslim New Yorkers amid the war in Gaza. 

The executive chamber created a job listing for the role this week on LinkedIn. According to the job description, the future director for Muslim American affairs would be a “liaison to organizations, leaders and advocates in the Islamic community across New York State,” who would communicate Hochul’s agenda and help inform her policy-making decisions on issues related to the Muslim community. The position would pay between $110,000 and $120,000. 

Hochul’s office already has liaisons for a number of other communities in New York, including directors for Jewish, Asian, women’s, LGBTQ, Latino and Italian American affairs. The Italian American affairs director also doubles as the Staten Island regional representative. But she has never previously had a director of Muslim affairs or Arab American affairs.

“Since taking office, Governor Hochul has consistently reached out to New York’s Muslim community including by recognizing Muslim culture and traditions, calling out Islamophobia and hate, and becoming first-ever New York Governor to visit a mosque,” Hochul spokesperson Avi Small said in a statement. “Governor Hochul is committed to building a diverse administration and we are always looking for ways to expand and improve our outreach to communities across New York.”

Callous comments

The job posting comes nearly six months into Israel’s war against Hamas. Following Hamas’  Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which left roughly 1,200 people dead and resulted in the kidnapping of more than 200 hostages, Israel launched an invasion of Gaza that has displaced most of the strip’s 2.3 million people and killed over 30,000 Palestinians, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. Throughout the conflict, Hochul has been resolute in her support for Israel and for New York’s Jewish community, but some of her messaging to the state’s Muslim and Arab communities has drawn criticism. 

In the days following the Oct. 7 attack, Hochul offered many statements of support and sympathy to Jewish New Yorkers and those with family in Israel.  But when she was asked at a press briefing on Oct. 12 whether she had any message to Palestinian New Yorkers afraid for their loved ones in the region, the governor just said that they should “reject Hamas.” It wasn’t until hours after those initial comments that Hochul, in prepared remarks, denounced hate and violence against Palestinian New Yorkers. 

More recently, Hochul drew widespread backlash for comments she made at a private event in which she seemed to imply that Israel had the right to completely destroy the Gaza Strip in retaliation for the Oct. 7 attack. “If Canada someday ever attacked Buffalo, I’m sorry my friends, there would be no Canada the next day,” Hochul said during a February address to the UJA-Federation of New York, a pro-Israel Jewish social services nonprofit. “That’s a natural reaction. You have a right to defend yourself and to make sure it never happens again.” Hours after the comments became public, she offered an apology for her “poor choice of words.”

Muslim and Arab leaders in New York have expressed both public and private frustrations with how Hochul has interacted with members of those communities since the start of the war in Gaza, including now as she seeks to hire a community liaison. 

“Governor Hochul’s search for a ‘Director of Muslim American Affairs’ rings hollow after 7 months of offensive statements and neglect,” the Muslim Democratic Club of New York wrote on X. “She even laughingly endorsed Israel’s genocidal intent to wipe out Gaza last month.” The group called on Hochul to demand a permanent ceasefire in Gaza and called the new position a “token appointment.” 

A growing number of Democrats in New York have started calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, and a recent Gallup poll found that 75% of Democrats now oppose Israeli military action in Gaza. Earlier this month, Hochul expressed support for a six-week ceasefire backed by President Joe Biden.

Private meetings with leaders

Hochul’s engagement with Arab and Muslim leaders in New York has generally been much lower-profile than her public displays of support for the Jewish community.

In the weeks following the Oct. 7 attack in Israel and the declaration of war in Gaza, Hochul took a trip to Israel, offered significant public support for Jewish New Yorkers and publicized meetings with Jewish leaders as well as Jewish students at Cornell following threats of antisemitic violence on the campus. But it wasn’t until the end of November that she publicly platformed a Muslim leader after weeks of City & State asking for specifics about what leaders from the community she has met with. Sheikh Musa Drammeh thanked Hochul for her “stellar leadership in fighting hate and financing its prevention” during a Nov. 23 press conference.

Before that, she had only identified speaking with Assembly Member Charles Fall, one of three Muslim state elected officials. At the time, Fall confirmed to City & State that they spoke briefly by phone and he met with her chief of staff.

In the early weeks of the war, Hochul made several references to meeting with Muslim leaders without giving specifics. In October, her office said that one such closed-press meeting with community leaders took place on Oct. 15 in Western New York and that Hochul had spoken with other Muslim leaders over the phone. The Oct. 15 meeting was not on her public schedule and was not publicized in any way after the fact. 

In November, Hochul said she met with Muslim leaders at her New York City office on Nov. 8, but her office again declined to name any attendees at the closed-press meeting, which was not on her public schedule and was not publicized in any way after the fact. Fall said he was invited to the New York City meeting but was unable to attend. State Sen. Robert Jackson and Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani, the only other two Muslim state legislators in the city, told City & State that they did not receive an invitation to that meeting. 

On Nov. 13, Hochul held a press conference following a meeting with Jewish leaders and law enforcement, which attendees including Manhattan Borough President Mark Levine posted pictures from. Although the meeting did not include Muslim leaders, Hochul discussed combatting both anti-Jewish and anti-Muslim hate during the press conference.

In January, Hochul facilitated a roundtable discussion on hate crimes that included Imam Mansoor Rafiq Umar, CEO of Halal Watch World. After the event, Umar told City & State that it was the first time he personally had been invited to one of those roundtables to talk about how to fight a rise in hate crimes against an array of communities. Lt. Gov. Antonio Delgado has hosted similar discussions on behalf of the governor around the state since last year. 

Umar said at the time that he felt his voice was heard during the discussion, but he was aware of dissatisfaction from some in the Muslim community over Hochul’s perceived lack of engagement. “That is something that will take time and we have to work on to make sure that that part of the conversation is being conveyed,” Umar told City & State in January.

On Feb. 26, days after a man harassed worshippers at the Islamic Center of Melville in Suffolk County, Hochul visited the mosque and met with its leaders. The visit was not included on her public schedule, but her office later released photos of the meeting and the remarks she gave afterwards. 

“I just had a really impactful conversation with the leadership of the Islamic Center here in Melville and just wanted to convey our values as New Yorkers that we do not tolerate hateful incidences as occurred here just a few days ago and let them know… that we will continue to deploy our State resources to protect religious facilities, institutions, centers like this mosque,” Hochul said.

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