By Ed Koch ~
Almost everyone who lives in New York City knows that I am Jewish. Most know that I am a secular Jew who believes in God, the afterlife, reward and punishment, and that I hope to be rewarded. I have spent much of my professional life stressing how important it is for Jews to strengthen the Jewish-Catholic relationship. Jews should also convey their deep appreciation for the support that evangelical Protestants give to both Israel and the American Jewish community. Regrettably, a number of mainstream Protestant churches have been supportive of the Palestinians and Arab causes for years, and hostile to Israel.
The tie between Jews and Catholics, strengthened by Popes John XXIII and John Paul II, is very important. It has been emphasized less under the current Pope, Benedict XVI. There are more than one billion Catholics in the world and only 13 million Jews. Catholic prelates like John Cardinal O’Connor, my close friend now deceased, spoke out regularly denouncing anti-Semitism from the pulpit at St. Patrick’s Cathedral. We need the Catholic clergy and secular leaders to speak up in a similar fashion in Britain, France and in Eastern Europe where anti-Semitism never died even after the revelations of the Nazi death camps in World War II.
Evangelicals support Jews for many reasons. A major one is that their faith requires a secure Israel in the land of ancient Israel if Jesus as the Messiah is to return to this earth. Evangelicals support Israel in larger numbers than the young Jews in the U.S., many of whom have no or little Jewish education or appreciation of the Jewish people’s important contributions to the world, despite our small numbers.
This commentary is a kind of year-end statement of strongly held feelings. Often people ask me why am I so involved in and concerned about the security of Israel. I tell them I know that pre-World War II when Hitler offered to allow the Jews of Germany to leave if any country would take them, no country was willing to do so. Ultimately, six million Jews perished in the Holocaust, victims of the Nazis and their collaborators. If Israel had existed in the 1930s it would have taken every Jew in need of sanctuary, no matter how sick, old or young. A strong Israel is required today to protect Jews in need of sanctuary and save Jewish communities in danger around the world. Today Israel, surrounded by Muslim countries that are at war with it and that refuse to recognize its legitimacy, is in great danger and except for the U.S. and Canada has no one it can count on to help if it is attacked by conventional or nuclear weapons. Imagine if it ever lost a war with the Muslim nations. One need only look to Syria where we see what the Syrian government has done and continues to do: killing its own citizens who protest the government’s despotic rule. Imagine those Syrian soldiers or their Iranian counterparts free to rule the streets of Tel Aviv. Is there any doubt that a new holocaust would take place in the Jewish nation itself?
Serendipitously on the day I wrote this column, I read a column in the Times (Dec.13) by Tom Friedman that distressed me by its hostility and what I perceive as baseless and irresponsible attacks upon the state of Israel. The following comments flow from that reading.
Tom Friedman is a fine writer with a high public profile. Because he is Jewish and purports to be a supporter of Israel, he apparently believes that that gives him license to constantly criticize the Jewish state and its allies. [Last] week, his attacks were especially outrageous and irresponsible. He attacked Newt Gingrich, Republican candidate for president, for his “grovel” before a Jewish audience “by suggesting that the Palestinians are an ‘invented’ people and not a real nation entitled to a state.” I watched the Republican candidates debate before the Republican Jewish Coalition on television, to which he alludes. Gingrich was making an historical point that Palestinians had been part of south Syria and not a separate nation under the Ottoman Empire. Indeed when Romney and Paul both chastised Gingrich for making the historical reference saying it was not helpful to the situation, and the moderator asked each if Gingrich was factually correct, they both said “yes.”
Friedman also accused Gingrich of seeking to deny the Palestinians their own state. But Gingrich never said that. Friedman outrageously wrote that perhaps Gingrich supports “evict[ing] the West Bank Palestinians through ethnic cleansing.” Gingrich never said any such thing. Friedman offers a third alternative as a possible Gingrich option: one state that would overwhelm Israel’s Jewish citizens, which Gingrich never proposed.
Friedman, in the same column, went on to attack Romney for being too willing to support the Israeli government in its goals, accusing him of wanting the U.S. to “serve as [Israel’s] ATM and shut up.” This is an outrageous remark by Friedman.
Friedman writes that the extraordinary positive reception that Netanyahu received when he spoke at the joint session of Congress was “not for his politics” but “bought and paid for by the Israeli lobby.” Coming from an alleged supporter of Israel, a Jew himself, this canard is especially offensive. This infamous statement will be joined with the Protocols of Zion, one a libel, the other a forgery – because of the status of its author – and used around the world by those who hate the Jews and Israel. No explanation or apology on the part of Friedman can undo the damage.
Friedman attacks the foreign minister of Israel, Avigdor Lieberman – originally from Russia – for not denouncing the recent election in Russia as fraudulent. How foolish can Friedman be to demand such masochistic behavior on the part of the Israeli government? Russia supplies military arms to Syria and supports Iran and Friedman wants the Israeli government to further antagonize Putin, when the Israeli foreign minister is seeking to woo Putin to Israel’s side? Friedman points to the fact that Israel’s representatives receive a hard time on college campuses. I believe they do in part because of the inciting comments of columnists like Friedman.
Then Friedman attacks Israel for a number of situations that would be intolerable if practiced in the U.S. He refers to West Bank settlers stoning Israeli soldiers “in retaliation for the army removing ‘illegal’ settlements that Jewish extremists establish wherever they want.” Shouldn’t the government be praised for the removal action and shouldn’t Friedman have cited the tough remarks by Bibi and Ehud Barak with respect to punishment for those settlers?
Friedman is distressed with recently-enacted laws that he believes stifle dissent and restrict freedom of speech and a host of other rights we take for granted in the U.S. But Israel has been in a state of war with Muslim countries that want to destroy it since it came into being in 1948. Israel has taken actions to protect its citizens in wartime, just as we have with the passage of the Patriot Act, which I support, but was foolishly opposed by every Democratic member of Congress from New York City. Friedman’s reciting these Israeli actions is obviously for the purpose of provoking denunciation of the state of Israel. Friedman is particularly outraged by one law that penalizes “Israelis advocating a boycott of products made in West Bank Jewish settlements.” Those Jewish boycotters would be joining the worldwide boycotters who advocate boycotting all Israeli products and promote disinvestment in Israel, and delegitimizing the Jewish state.
Israel is surrounded by nations with populations aggregating more than 100 million people. Israel has a population of 7 million of which 1.2 million are Muslim. The Jewish state – the only such state in the world – deserves support. Instead, too often columnists like Friedman who claim they are supporters of Israel are among Israel’s greatest detractors. Friedman, as a result of his column of December 13, 2011, is now unmasked.
Edward Koch is the former mayor of New York City.