New York’s governor is hiring her first Muslim Affairs director

NEW YORK (RNS) — New York Governor Kathy Hochul is looking for her first director of Muslim Affairs in an effort to foster positive relationships between the governor’s office and the state’s Muslim population.

The initiative is the latest effort of Governor Hochul to strengthen ties with the estimated 725,000 Muslims residing in New York, after denouncing the rise in Islamophobia following the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks and after meeting with Muslim faith leaders, wrote Avi Small, Hochul’s press secretary, in an email 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,” he wrote.

The director will act as a liaison between the governor’s office and the state’s Muslim population, advising the governor on the concerns and needs of the community and communicating to Muslim residents how the administration’s policies will affect them.

The governor’s office already counts a director of Jewish Affairs and a director of Asian American Affairs among its efforts to strengthen its relationship with its various community members.

The successful candidate, according to the job description posted March 25, should be “well-versed on the issues impacting the Muslim American community” and already have relationships with community leaders and faith leaders.

Since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, Governor Hochul’s relationship with the Muslim community have been strained as she has vocally supported Israel’s ongoing military operations in the Gaza Strip, which have killed more than 30,000 Palestinians and precipitated a humanitarian crisis.

Right after Hamas killed an estimated 1,200 Israelis and took more than 200 hostages on Oct. 7, Hochul went on a two-day “solidarity trip” to Israel. She visited a kibbutz that had been attacked by Hamas militants, as well as the Western Wall in Jerusalem.

On Oct. 16, she signed a letter, alongside 16 other governors, condemning the Hamas attack and “in support of Israel in its efforts to secure the safe return of hostages and ensure the ongoing safety of its people.” The letter also called for President Biden to send military help to Israel.

In the weeks following the attack, Hochul met with numerous Jewish community leaders to express her support to the community and commanded that flags on every state’s building be flown at half mast to commemorate the victims of Oct. 7. She also attended numerous vigils and rallies demanding the release of the hostages.

In response to a surge in both Islamophobia and antisemitism amid the war, she announced the creation of a $25 million grant to combat hate crimes and ensure the security of houses of worship. She also prompted a review of the City University of New York’s practices to fight antisemitism and ensure the safety of Jewish students and faculty on campus.

But some Muslim New Yorkers have criticized her response to their community’s needs amid the conflict.

During a press conference held on Oct. 12, Governor Hochul called “law-abiding Palestinians to reject Hamas,” in response to a reporter who asked her what her message was to Palestinian New Yorkers who were fearing for their relatives in Gaza. She then added that “Israel has a right to defend itself,” and Hamas was to blame for the situation in Gaza.

During a philanthropy event for the United Jewish Appeal Federation held in New York in February, the governor implied that Israel had a right to destroy Gaza. She later apologized for her remark, calling it a “poor choice of words” and saying that “Palestinian civilian casualties should be avoided and that more humanitarian aid must go to the people of Gaza.”

On Feb. 26, she visited the Islamic Center of Melville, after an individual burst into the mosque and yelled that the hostages held by Hamas should be released. She condemned the incident and reaffirmed her commitment to fight “Islamophobia, antisemitism, racism and homophobia.”

But a number of members of the Muslim community, including political figures, have not been satisfied with her apologies or what they see as a tepid response to the concerns of Palestinian New Yorkers.

New York City council member Shahana Hanif reacted to Hochul’s apologies on X, writing, “I need to see changed behavior. I will not be forgiving you at this time.”

Hanif declined to comment for this article.

Husein Yatabarry, executive director of the Muslim Community Network, welcomed the announcement of a director of Muslim Affairs, noting the appointment should be not only a symbolic gesture but also result in substantive changes for the state’s Muslim community. 

“We see this position as a cornerstone for real inclusion, designed to elevate our voices and integrate our perspectives into the state’s policy-making efforts,” wrote Yatabarry in an email statement.

He said the initiative also comes at a critical moment as the community has felt sidelined by the governor since the beginning of the war. 

Previous ArticleNext Article