Commentary Magazine


Topic: Ed Koch

Another “Mug Him Again” Moment

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.

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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.

As Ruthie Blum aptly noted in her column in Israel Hayom, as awful as this incident was, it is also the sort of thing that it is hard not to laugh at. As she writes, one of the drawbacks about being an Israeli Israel-basher is that it doesn’t earn you much applause or even a hearing from European or Arab opponents of the country:

This is not the only example of Israelis with impeccable left-wing credentials being shunned by their like-minded counterparts abroad. Academic boycotts of Israeli professors also point to this pathetic phenomenon. Like the art world, academia is a sector that can be relied upon to side with its country’s detractors. Yet, this does not guarantee immunity for even the most pro-Palestinian Israeli lecturers. …

What this goes to show, for the millionth time, is that ill will and stupidity are not mutually exclusive. Indeed, the Israeli radicals are foolish for assuming that their ideology makes them any less Jewish in the eyes of the enemy.

Israeli left-wingers may answer that their critiques of their country are meant to improve it rather than to aid the efforts of those who seek its destruction. But the incident in Aubagne ought to be another wake-up moment about the nature of the conflict. When Palestinians cheered Saddam Hussein for shooting missiles at Israel during the Gulf War, some on the left said the experience would change their view of their neighbors. Others said the same thing when Palestinian suicide bombers indiscriminately slaughtered Jewish men, women and children and were treated as heroes by their people during the second intifada.

The point here is not to assert that all Arabs are bad or that Israel can do no wrong, but that it is important to understand that the core of the conflict is the hatred and intolerance of Jews. After decades of failed attempts by Israel to make peace that have been answered with murder and terror, anyone who won’t own up to this reality may need to get mugged again.

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Ed Koch, 1924-2013

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.

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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.

He served a term too long, and had a sad final few years in office, but he tore into his post-mayoral life with the gusto he’d shown in his first two terms. He wrote bad movie reviews; he hosted “The People’s Court”; he had a radio talk show; he did television; and he was courted by both parties because you could never tell where he was going to come down. He wasn’t that much fun to be around, to be honest, because with Ed, everything, and I mean everything, was about Ed. He could not begin a sentence with any other word than “I.” 

But, in the end, there is this to be said about him, and it may be the most important thing: He cared, and cared deeply, about his people, and their homeland, and their future. He fought for them, he fought against those who would wound them, and knew who their enemies were both foreign and domestic (he told Vanity Fair that the living person he most despised was Jimmy Carter).

He died as he lived, a good Jew.

UPDATE: After I posted this came word that Koch had already designed his own tombstone, and had chosen for his epitaph the final words spoken by Daniel Pearl, the journalist slaughtered by Al Qaeda: “My father is Jewish. My mother is Jewish. I am Jewish.”

Baruch dayan emet.

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Ed Koch: I Knew Obama Would Betray Israel

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.”

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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.”

Just a reminder, here’s what Koch said in a video endorsement for the Obama campaign in October:

“I’m confident President Obama will continue his unambiguous commitment to the Jewish state in his second term, building on his record of leadership by preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon and funding the Iron Dome missile defense system that is saving Israeli lives.” 

To summarize: Koch believed none of that, but still vouched for Obama with Jewish voters because a.) Obama was going to win and it was important that Ed Koch maintain good relations with the White House so he could encourage pro-Israel policies (which isn’t working out too well, considering the Hagel nomination), and b.) Jews were going to vote for Obama no matter what (which would kind of mean Ed Koch’s entire schtick is irrelevant, no?).

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Ed Koch Blasts Potential Hagel Nomination

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.

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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.

Koch is one of the first pro-Israel Democratic leaders to publicly oppose the possible nomination, but he’s not likely to be the last. Politico’s Josh Gerstein has an good rundown of the pro-Israel community’s concerns about Hagel, which are numerous. He’s best known in those circles for espousing paranoid theories about the “Jewish lobby” and opposing tough sanctions on Iran.

Hagel has his former membership in the Senate club going for him. But the biggest obstacle to Hagel’s possible appointment will be if pro-Israel Democrats line up to oppose him.

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Obama, Koch and the Brooklyn Bridge

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.

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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.

The transparent nature of the president’s election year conversion on Israel is such that it hasn’t convinced many wavering voters. Polls show Obama losing nearly a quarter of the 78 percent of the Jewish vote he won in 2008. Though he retains the backing of a majority of Jews, it is because they are loyal Democrats who like his liberal policies and don’t prioritize Israel.

Though the administration is, no doubt, happy to get Koch’s applause, his claim that the president has altered his policies due to some degree to his advocacy actually contradicts the Democrats’ campaign appeal to pro-Israel Jews. The party line is to ignore the president’s stands on Jerusalem, the 1967 lines and settlements that tilted the diplomatic playing field in the direction of the Palestinians and to act as if the administration created the U.S.-Israel strategic alliance rather than merely not destroying it. Though buying into that requires a voter to ignore much of what happened between Israel and the United States from January 2009 to the summer of 2011, it’s probably a more convincing appeal than Koch’s claims, as even the most hard-core partisans understand that election-year conversions are not to be trusted.

Koch is a sincere and stalwart friend of Israel who has stood up on the issue to powerful Democrats such as Jimmy Carter. But most voters understand that once re-elected the president will have the “flexibility” he needs to go back to a policy of pressure on Israel and may also back off on the tough talk about the Iranian nuclear threat. Though the U.S.-Israel alliance is strong enough to survive even four more years of a re-elected Barack Obama, anyone who thinks the administration’s policies in the next four years toward Israel will resemble the rhetoric the president and his surrogates have been using while he is in a desperate fight for his political life may also interested in buying that bridge.

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Where Are the Jewish Tea Parties?

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.

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.

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