Bowman Excuses High School Basketball Players Who Hurled Anti-Semitic Slurs at Jewish Opponents

'Young people will make mistakes, even very hurtful ones, but they should … not have a mistake follow them,' Dem congressman says

Rep. Jamaal Bowman (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
January 12, 2024

Democratic congressman Jamaal Bowman (N.Y.) is excusing the New York high school basketball players who hurled anti-Semitic slurs at their Jewish opponents, blaming the incident on unfettered social media use and arguing that the "mistake" the students made should not "follow them."

Bowman's comments came through a Thursday statement, which addressed "allegations of anti-Semitic remarks at a high school basketball game." One week prior, on Jan. 4, a girls high school basketball game in Yonkers—where Bowman lives—was canceled after members of the public Roosevelt High School team shouted "Free Palestine" and other anti-Semitic remarks at their opponents from the Leffell School, a private Jewish institution. For Bowman, the students behind those remarks should not face significant discipline.

"With social media our kids are consuming difficult information without guidance from parents or educators, and we must take this as a learning opportunity and ensure our kids are taught how to critically consume content," the Democrat wrote. "As an educator, I understand that young people will make mistakes, even very hurtful ones, but they should … not have a mistake follow them throughout their lives."

Bowman's defense of the anti-Semitic agitators comes as the Democrat faces criticism over his response to Hamas's Oct. 7 terrorist assault on Israel.

Bowman since the attack has blamed both sides for violence and said that supporting an Israeli ceasefire is "what it actually means to be Jewish." Bowman has also accused Israel of "genocide," "mass murder," and "ethnic cleansing."

That rhetoric prompted 26 rabbis in Bowman's district to condemn the congressman and call on Westchester County executive George Latimer to launch a primary campaign against him. Latimer entered the race in early December following a trip to Israel.

"Inexplicably, but predictably, while Congressman Bowman condemned the attacks, he put the blame on Israel for its ‘blockade of Gaza,’" the rabbis wrote in October. "Since being elected, Bowman has led the effort to erode support for Israel on Capitol Hill and within the Democratic Party."

Bowman did not return a request for comment. His Thursday statement was not the first time he weighed in on the Leffell School basketball game. Bowman on Monday called the language used by the Roosevelt High School players "unacceptable" and called to "combat rising antisemitism and Islamophobia." It's unclear what prompted Bowman to offer a more sympathetic statement days later.

In addition to the "Free Palestine" chants, one Roosevelt High School player allegedly told an opponent, "I support Hamas, you f–king Jew." Eventually, the Leffell School players and coach consulted with the referees and left. Roosevelt High School agreed to forfeit the game.

"I have played a sport every athletic season throughout my high school career, and I have never experienced this kind of hatred directed at one of my teams before," senior Leffell School player Robin Bosworth wrote after the game.

"Instead of responding to hatred with more of the same," she continued, "we chose to separate ourselves from the situation and leave with dignity and pride in who we are and what we believe in."