December 8, 2011
Commentary By Ed Koch
“Americans For Peace Now” is currently involved in a fundraising campaign. Surprisingly, that organization’s latest pitch is devoted to assailing me for having said that over the last few years President Obama has, in various ways, thrown Israel under the bus.
President Obama, you will recall, invited Benjamin Netanyahu, Israel’s Prime Minister, to the White House and then insulted him. President Obama banned the usual picture-taking protocol and then left to have dinner with his family without inviting the Prime Minister, making clear his hostility to both Netanyahu and Israel. The President has visited Egypt but, as President, has never visited Israel. He has publicly demanded that Israel accept the pre-1967 boundaries, subject to agreed upon land swaps, and cease all building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, even in Jewish neighborhoods.
He has not publicly demanded concessions from the Palestinian Authority, for example, that it stop its incitement against Israel and the Jewish people. From the point of view of supporters of Israel, of which I am one, President Obama was clearly conveying that from his point of view the culprit in preventing peace negotiations from proceeding between Israel and the Palestinian Authority was Israel. You might recall the orchestrated attacks upon Israel by Vice President Joe Biden and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. Apparently the Obama administration thought it can bully and intimidate Israel into taking actions that Israel believes are dangerous to its survival.
In the U.S. congressional special elections of September 2011, there were only two contests, one in New York City (the 9th C.D. formerly held by Anthony Weiner who had resigned his office) and another in Nevada.
I announced that the 9th C.D. race was an opportunity for the supporters of Israel in the U.S. to send the President a message that Jewish-Americans, who in 2008 had given presidential candidate Obama 78 percent of their entire vote, the highest number for any group other than African-Americans, were not to be taken for granted. The 9th C.D. in Brooklyn-Queens had the largest congressional Jewish constituency of any congressional district and had sent a Democrat to Congress for close to 90 years. The Jewish constituency of the 9th C.D. was about 30 percent.
The Republican candidate, Bob Turner, a Catholic and a strong supporter of Israel, was critical of President Obama on a range of issues, especially the President’s handling of Israel. All election outcomes revolve primarily around the candidate, but I think it fair to say that my support for Bob Turner, who won an extraordinary 8 percent margin of victory in the solidly Democratic district, had a positive impact. The New York Times in an article discussing Mr. Turner’s extraordinary win commented on my role by quoting a political observer, Hank Sheinkopf, as saying in referring to me and my role, “A guy who’s been out of office 22 years and is 86 years old – it’s amazing.”
As a result of Mr. Turner’s election, the President asked to see me here in New York City on September 21st and, of course, I was delighted to accept the invitation. Without revealing too much of the conversation, I will only say I complimented him on his speech at the U.N. in support of Israel that very morning. He asked for my support. I always hope to support Democrats, but have crossed party lines on a number of occasions, including supporting President George W. Bush in 2004 for reelection. In response to the President’s request for my support, I said I would support him, based, in effect, on his change in recognizing the importance of Israel as an ally. I told the President while I disagreed with him on his call for acceptance by Israel of the 1967 lines, I would not have denounced that position even though I disagreed with it, if he had at the same time demanded that Hamas – now an equal partner with Fatah in the Palestinian Authority – accept the demand of the Quartet, made up of the U.S., European Union, Russia and the U.N., that it give up the use of violence, accept the legitimacy of the State of Israel and recognize all prior agreements between Israel and the Palestinian Authority.
I do not believe Israel should be asked to negotiate with Hamas until it does exactly that. Hamas believes Tel Aviv is part of the Arab state; that there cannot be two states in the area and that the Jews who entered Palestine after 1917 must be expelled. That is in their basic charter. My question to Americans For Peace Now is when and where (cite your language) have you criticized Hamas? Have you ever blamed Hamas for their refusal to give up their charter demands upon Israel – in effect to disappear? Have you ever demanded that the Palestinian Authority cease inciting its population against Israel and Jews which it regularly does in its speeches, newspapers, school textbooks and other propaganda?
Has “Americans For Peace Now” ever publicly noted that Prime Minister Netanyahu has said that he will negotiate with Abu Abbas at any time without preconditions and that it is Abbas who continues to impose preconditions and to take unilateral actions such as seeking U.N. recognition of Palestinian statehood without negotiating peace with Israel?
The major supporters and leaders of “Americans For Peace Now” are Jewish. And for me it’s always been a mystery why a significant sector of Jews find it so difficult to stand up and defend Israel from unfair attacks. They forget Rabbi Hillel’s statement of 200 years ago, “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me?”
I remain a proud Jew. I have fought the good fight for many causes, and I will not turn away from fighting the good fight for Israel. Like America, Israel is a sanctuary. It is the only Jewish state in the world and it deserves to be protected from the many who every day seek to destroy it. The Syrian army has shown us what atrocities it is capable of against its own people. Imagine a defenseless Israel with Syrian troops in Tel Aviv and what they would be doing to the Jews, were they given the opportunity.
I am for a two-state solution. Regrettably, I believe the Palestinian leaders are not; otherwise, they would now be sitting at a peace table instead of boycotting the peace talks. “Americans For Peace Now” apparently does not understand this.