I would like to address the recent press release that has misrepresented my recent trip to Israel with a delegation of my colleagues from the State Legislature.
First and foremost, I am proud to be the first Muslim-African American elected to the state legislature. I was elected to my position from a diverse cross-section of Staten Islanders who practice many faiths and different views. In todays climate, there is far more that unites Muslims, Christians, and Jews than divides us from commonalties in religious tradition and practice, to a history filled with cooperation and mutual learning.
The delegations sponsor, Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC), is an organization that has played an active role in improving Staten Island through integral social services from assisting in afterschool to increasing senior programing to providing housing services and food pantry services.
As an elected official and as an advocate for my community, I have always had an independent voice and my values have not and will not be compromised.
I viewed this opportunity to visit Israel as a learning experience. I was able to meet with individuals like Ziad Abu-Zayyad, a writer for the Palestine-Israel Journal, and Imam Sheikh Abu-Khalil Kamini. I went to the border of Jordan, Syria, and Lebanon, visited Bethlehem which is within the Palestinian Authority. I even visited the border of Gaza, hours before rockets were fired into Israel. Most importantly, I visited a secondary school where Muslim, Christian, and Jewish students are being taught the importance of tolerance and unity.
Strengthening the connections between our communities will make us better able to work together on issues that are important to Muslims, Christians, and Jews alike. If we join forces to combat Islamophobia and anti-Semitism and act on issues of shared concern, our strength is multiplied. Only together, can we make New York a place where tolerance prevails. For these reasons, I will not and should not have to justify or apologize for my trip and learning experience in Israel. The people elected me to be a uniter, not a divider and I call on all community leaders to join me in this effort.