An unlikely figure has been caught up in the heated debate over hate speech in the aftermath of the New Zealand mosque shootings: Chelsea Clinton. Two New York University students confronted Clinton at a vigil for victims Friday night and accused her of contributing to anti-Muslim rhetoric that leads to rampages like the one in New Zealand. The exchange has been widely circulated, and while Clinton has not publicly responded to the controversy, the students—NYU seniors Leen Dweik and Rose Asaf—are doubling down. The details:
- What Clinton said: Last month, Clinton joined those criticizing Muslim Rep. Ilhan Omar for comments about Israel they deemed anti-Semitic. Clinton tweeted: “Co-signed as an American. We should expect all elected officials, regardless of party, and all public figures to not traffic in anti-Semitism.”
- At the vigil: Clinton showed up at the NYU vigil, and Dweik confronted her afterward. (The students have copyrighted video of the exchange, but you can see it via this BuzzFeed link.) “This, right here, is a result of a massacre stoked by people like you and the words that you put out into the world,” Dweik told Clinton, per USA Today. “And I want you to know that, and I want you to feel that deep down inside. Forty-nine people died because of the rhetoric you put out there.”
- Clinton's response: "I am so sorry that you feel that way," Clinton told Dweik. "It certainly was never my intention. I do believe that words matter. I believe we have to show solidarity with each other."
- They explain: The students have taken flak for going after Clinton, but in an op-ed at BuzzFeed, they defend the move. "Anti-Muslim bigotry must be addressed wherever it exists," they write. "This is not about left and right." They say Clinton was wrong to accuse Omar of anti-Semitism when all she did was "challenge the status quo" in regard to Benjamin Netanyahu's policies about Palestinians. In doing so, Clinton "stoked hatred" against the Muslim community.
- They explain, II: "When we saw Chelsea Clinton at the vigil ... we saw an opportunity to access someone who has a huge public platform and who used that platform to attack Rep. Ilhan Omar," Dweik told ABC News. "We took our chance to speak truth to power.”
- One phrase: In an interview with the Washington Post, the students say they took particular issue with Clinton's use of the phrase "co-signed as an American." The phrase, Asaf says, is an "anti-immigrant trope." "To me, when speaking of someone who is a refugee, it’s a dog whistle, it’s signaling this is a patriotic issue and that nationalism excludes people like Ilhan Omar."
- Unusual defender: Donald Trump Jr. was among those defending Clinton. "It’s sickening to see people blame @ChelseaClinton for the NZ attacks because she spoke out against anti-Semitism," he tweeted. "We should all be condemning anti-Semitism & all forms of hate. Chelsea should be praised for speaking up. Anyone who doesn’t understand this is part of the problem."
- Response to that: Neera Tanden of the Center for American Progress, who has worked with the Clintons for years, accused the president's son of having a political motive with his tweet. “The right wants to exploit disputes in the Center-Left," she wrote. "I know people are upset by the video but I urge all to move on. People were murdered by white nationalist hate. Spend your time fighting that instead of each other.”
(Read more Chelsea Clinton