U.S. Rep. Jamaal Bowman, D-NY, celebrated anti-Semitic Black figures on a school building “Wall of Honor” during his time as an educator, and it’s now coming back to haunt him as he struggles to hold on to his seat.
Bowman is one of the members of the so-called “Squad” of progressive Democrats in the lower chamber, which includes U.S. Reps. Cori Bush, Ilhan Omar, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, Greg Casar, Summer Lee, and Ayanna Presley.
Bowman recently lost his endorsement from the influential progressive group J Street when he “crossed a line” to call for a ceasefire in Gaza to end what he described as Israeli “genocide,” Fox News reports.
Now he’s facing questions about controversial anti-Semitic black historical figures he promoted to middle school students during his tenure as principal of Cornerstone Academy for Social Action in the Bronx.
The criticisms center on a YouTube video uploaded in 2014 in which Bowman highlighted the school’s “Wall of Honor,” intended as a visual of minority leaders students can look up to.
“Each and every member of the Wall of Honor has played a major role in moving our society from a bigoted, oppressive existence toward a world of freedom, justice and equality,” Bowman said in the video cited by the Huffington Post.
While the Wall of Honor included the usual suspects like Martin Luther King, Jr., Malcolm X, Barack and Michelle Obama, Mahatma Gandhi, and Langston Hughes, it also included anti-Semitic former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, and Black militants Mutulu Shakur and Assata Shakur, who both served prison time for their roles in crimes committed on behalf of the Black Liberation Army.
A spokesperson for the New York City Department of Education told the Post McKinney and Mutulu Shakur have since been removed from the Wall of Honor, though Assata Shakur remains.
Shakur was serving a life sentence for the murder of a New Jersey police officer when she escaped from prison in 1979 and eventually fled to Cuba, where she was granted political asylum.
Tyrone Stevens, a Black Democratic strategist based in New York City, told the Post Bowman’s Wall of Honor “is an example of teaching the wrong lessons to children and just a deep misunderstanding of history.”
“Cynthia McKinney is essentially ‘MAGA’ in a different form,” he said. “It’s a bizarre choice.”
Former New York State Democratic Party executive director Basil Smikle concurred some featured on the Wall of Honor are “problematic.”
“I’d be curious about what kind of conversation he had with the students about their background,” Smikle said.
Bowman’s campaign noted the congressman has praised peace and nonviolence, and highlighted his work in Congress when contacted by the Post.
“It is correct that many leaders in the Black liberation movement, from Martin Luther King, Jr. and Malcolm X to the names listed in this story, have complicated biographies,” spokeswoman Sarah Iddrissu said. “It is completely baseless, and a rhetorical tool of the far-right, to insinuate educating students on major figures of Black American history is serving to promote hateful or divisive rhetoric or actions.”
“In the very video this story is based on, Bowman praises peace and nonviolence,” she said. “That is also what he has worked to advance in Congress, including by writing and passing a Congressional resolution condemning a violent anti-Semitic and anti-Black conspiracy theory. Suppressing the education of Black history only serves to enable violence against Black people.”
The controversy comes as Bowman trails his primary challenger in fundraising with $724,000 raised in the last quarter of 2023, compared to $1.4 million raised by county executive George Latimer in New York’s 14th Congressional District.
While Latimer only entered the race in early December, his support for Israel in the wake of the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas earned him the backing of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, which has contributed more than $600,000 to his campaign, The Intercept reports.
Much like Bowman’s response to the figures on his Wall of Honor, his campaign is working to frame the AIPAC’s support as an attack from the far right.
“This report makes it clear that George Latimer’s campaign to unseat Jamaal Bowman is heavily funded by the same Republican megadonors who’ve spent millions to elect Donald Trump,” Bowman advisor Bill Neidhardt told The Intercept. “There is a direct connection between Latimer and the upper echelons of the Republican party.”