Last year when liberal Supreme Court Justice Stephen Breyer was robbed, the New York Post editorial page used it to recall one of the late Ed Koch’s favorite anecdotes:
Back when he was first running for mayor, Ed Koch used to tell of the time he told some senior citizens about a judge he knew who’d been mugged.
The judge, said Koch, told a group that “this mugging will not influence any of my decisions from the bench” — whereupon a woman yelled, “Mug him again!”
While the Post was roundly criticized in some quarters for insensitivity, the lesson was apt. Those who can’t learn from their encounters with violent criminals lack credibility when they render judgment on dealing with related issues.
This anecdote came to mind when reading of the encounter of leftist Israeli filmmaker Yariv Horowitz–who was in Aubagne, France to pick up an award at a film festival for his film Rock the Casbah–had with a gang of Arab toughs. Though his movie is a cinematic attack on Israeli policies and a bouquet thrown in the direction of the Palestinians, the Arabs proved to be uninterested in his politics and instead subjected him to the same treatment they have accorded to many another Jew: he was badly beaten.
But like the judge in the Ed Koch story, Horowitz won’t let it influence him. When he regained consciousness, he refused to press charges against his attackers. Nor did he draw any conclusions about the intent of the mob that beat him up.
Cities decline. St. Louis was the third largest city in the United States in 1900 and now it’s the 58th. Cities die. Detroit had the most well-to-do middle class in the United States in 1960 and is now a lunar landscape. New York could have been one of those cities. In the mid-1970s, it gave every indication of becoming one. It went broke. It was drenched in crime, its transportation system covered in graffiti, its police force stained by corruption, its education system a calamity, its parks more muddy than grassy. And in the summer of 1977, all the horror came together in a blackout in which looters caused what would today be more than $1 billion in damage in a matter of six or seven hours.
Along came Ed Koch, a reform-minded congressman from Greenwich Village, considered to stand on the left of the Democratic Party. In retrospect, his election and assumption of the mayoralty was nearly providential. In one respect, what he did for the city was reasonably simple—he made it clear to the business community, which was fleeing in droves, that he understood how important it was to the city’s present and future, and did what he could within the limits of the day to alter New York’s anti-capitalist climate.
But it was what he did intangibly that really made the difference for a suffering city. He personified its understanding of itself—brash, informal, cheerful, pugnacious, blowhardish, tough, optimistic, and convinced of its own greatness. He seemed to have a mystical sense of how his theatrics might actually help New Yorkers feel better about where they lived, at a time when New York had become a sitcom punchline for danger and dirt and decay. He was as angry as they were about the crime; he was as in love with its energy; he was as disgusted by the kids running wild; and he was as dismayed by the self-destruction of the poorest neighborhoods, especially in the Bronx, where he was born.
I admire former Mayor Ed Koch’s willingness to break with his own party on issues of principle, but his comments to the Algemeiner today are mind-boggling. In between some very strong denunciations of the Chuck Hagel nomination, Koch casually let it drop that he suspected Obama would abandon his pro-Israel positions after the election. The former mayor, of course, endorsed Obama’s reelection and served as one of his surrogates to the pro-Israel community:
“Frankly, I thought that there would come a time when [Obama] would renege on what he conveyed on his support of Israel,” said Koch, adding, “it comes a little earlier than I thought it would.”
“It’s very disappointing, I believe he will ultimately regret it,” Koch said, “and it undoubtedly will reduce support for him in the Jewish community, but I don’t think he (the President) worries about that now that the election is over.” …
Koch explained to The Algemeiner why he decided to back the President’s re-election even though he says he suspected that Obama would backtrack on his pro-Israel overtures. “I did what I thought was warranted and intelligent,” he said, “He was going to win! There was no question about it. I thought it would be helpful to have a Jewish voice there, being able to communicate.”
The Mayor says he has no regrets, “it’s wouldn’t make any difference. The Jews were going to vote for him no matter what. And that’s the nature of the Jews. They are always very solicitous of everybody else except there own needs and community.”
During an interview with the Algemeiner, the Obama-supporting former New York Mayor Ed Koch blasted former Senator Chuck Hagel’s potential nomination for secretary of defense:
In a recent interview with The Algemeiner, former New York Mayor and staunch backer of President Obama’s re-election, Ed Koch, strongly opposed the possible appointment of former senator Chuck Hagel as America’s next defense secretary, due to the latter’s perceived hostility towards Israel.
“I believe it would be a terrible appointment,” he said, “and so do apparently most of the Jewish leaders who have expressed themselves.”
Explaining his opposition to the appointment, which is looking increasingly likely to materialize, Koch said that it would lead Arab states to believe that President Obama was seeking to create distance between his administration and Israel.
Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch likes nothing better than being the center of attention, and he certainly achieved that last year when his highly publicized role in a special congressional election led to a Republican victory in New York’s 9th congressional district. Koch endorsed Republican Bob Turner, helping him to win the seat that was vacated after Anthony Weiner was forced to resign from Congress in disgrace. The former mayor sought to turn the race into a referendum on the Obama administration’s attacks on Israel. This was a factor in Turner’s defeat of David Weprin, an Orthodox Jew who professed to be as unhappy about the president’s hostility to the Jewish state as the GOP. Though Weprin’s support for gay marriage may have hurt him as much as being associated with President Obama, there’s no denying Koch played a key role in deciding the outcome in what may have been the most heavily Jewish district in the country (gerrymandering has caused the 9th to be divided up this year).
But ever since that triumph, the administration has been paying court to Koch, and he has characteristically responded to their flattery by switching sides on the issue. Since September, he has been one of the loudest advocates of the president’s re-election and recently claimed that it was he, Ed Koch, who caused the administration to change its policies toward Israel. But Koch is giving himself a bit too much credit. The charm offensive aimed at convincing Jewish voters the president is Israel’s best friend to ever sit in the White House actually preceded the NY-9 special election. If it has intensified since last September, more credit must be given to the calendar than to Koch. But ego aside, if the former mayor really thinks the president has “changed” for good when it comes to picking fights for Israel, I’ve got a bridge in Brooklyn he might be interested in buying.
It seems that at least some Jews are so mad at Obama that they’ve taken to the streets. This WPIX report from New York explains:
Thousands of Jews gathered outside the Israeli Consulate Sunday to protest President Obama’s position towards Israel.
Organizers said the event supports “Israel’s right to build and live in its own country,” as well as its right to unite Jerusalem under Israeli sovereignty. They are also protesting the Obama Administrations’ alleged disregard of the democratic Jewish state.
“We are outraged that President Obama is scapegoating Israel and wants to expel Jews from their homes in Jerusalem. President Obama and Secretary Hillary Clinton show more anger about a Jewish family building a home in Jerusalem than Iran building a nuclear bomb,” states Beth Gilinsky of the Jewish Action Alliance. “Vast segments of the Jewish community will not tolerate the President’s continuing attacks on Israel. Grassroots Jewry will not be silent.”
Meanwhile, a taped statement by former NYC Mayor Ed Koch, who has openly expressed his displeasure with Obama’s policies, played for attendees. He slammed the president for his treatment of Israel and Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.
Over 20 organizations, Jewish and other, united to support the event.
This event is newsworthy, not least because it is unique. Where have the Jewish Tea Parties been? Why haven’t we seen more of this? It was over 20 years ago that 250,000 people amassed in Washington D.C. for the cause of Soviet Jewry (for those who don’t recall 20 years’ worth of large and public protests, a useful summary can be found here), but the Obami’s pummeling of the Jewish state and its lackadaisical attitude toward a nuclear-armed Iran has not yet fully mobilized the Jewish community. Polite letters, lots of private hand-wringing, and a few pointed newspaper ads are about all we’ve seen. The response of American Jewish organizations – meek and subdued — seems grossly disproportionate to the stakes and underwhelming by historic standards.
It’s not clear what action by American Jewry, if any, would be effective with this administration. But the absence of organized protest and the subdued reaction to events that frankly should set off alarm bells with pro-Israel supporters are reminiscent of another era — the 1930s — in which American Jewry was too demure for too long. That had tragic results. Today’s reticence may as well.