Speaking at a conference at Fordham University in New York City, former Democratic New York Mayor Ed Koch expressed chagrin over President Barack Obama’s policy towards Israel, saying that no one “can rightfully say that President Obama is the best president” for Israel. Koch, who is largely credited for leading Jewish voters to abandon President Jimmy Carter in the 1980 presidential election, added “I hope to move the president in further support of Israel,” at a national conference organized by The David S. Wyman Institute for Holocaust Studies. “I hope to change him.”
As for concerns that Obama has shown aloofness from the Jewish state and, in particular, Prime Minister Binyamin Netanyahu, Koch offered “All of this could be wiped out in terms of bitterness if the president were just to say an attack by Iran on Israel will be perceived by the U.S. as an attack on the U.S., and we will respond militarily.”
A respected figure in Democratic circles, Koch’s remarks has been understood to mean that the White House has not managed to secure support from one of Obama’s principal critics in the Jewish community. The Jewish vote is key to Obama’s re-election plans, especially in swing states such as Florida and Ohio.
Koch spoke at the daylong conference on September 23, entitled ‘The Jewish Vote, the Holocaust, and Israel,’ along with experts such as Dr. Rafael Medoff of the Wyman Institute. For the conferees, Mayor Koch described a brief meeting he had with Obama in 2011 when the president pressured Israel to revert to its 1967 borders that were were won in a bloody conflict with Egypt and Jordan. At the private meeting, Koch told Obama that it was wrong to apply pressure on the Israelis without concomitant pressure on Palestine. “I said to him, ‘Mr. President, I would not have been so critical of you when you said that Israel has to go back to the 1967—even though they’re indefensible and I disagree with you—had you also made demands upon Hamas, but you didn’t,’” Koch told the conference. “You left them out completely. You didn’t say Israel doesn’t have to deal with them till they give up their charter, violence, etc.”
According to Koch, Obama responded “didn’t I?” To which the former mayor replied, “”No, Mr. President, you did not.’”
Koch sat next to Rep. Bob Turner (R-NY), who he had endorsed in the special election to replace the disgraced Rep. Anthony Weiner (D-NY). The former mayor is credited with making the race into a referendum on the Obama administration’s policy towards Israel and the Mideast in a district that had not been represented by a Republican in eighty-nine years. Said Koch, “I want him to know I disagree with his positions as they relate to a number of issues concerning the Jewish community,” who added, “I’m sending a message to the president of my party.”
Congressman Turner vouched that Koch had proved that Jewish voters will no longer blindly support the Democratic Party. “The Jewish vote, which had historically been a bloc, now isn’t, at least on these issues,” Turner said.
Jewish voters, long a bastion of the Democratic Party, overwhelmly supported Obama’s campaign in 2008. However, polls suggest that the incumbent has lost significant ground with that block. The sensitivities of Jewish voters, and others, were piqued during the Democratic National Convention in Florida this month when a long-standing plank supporting Jerusalem as the capital of Israel did not appear in the party platform. It was only after some back room dealings that the plank was reinserted, despite visible jeering and catcalls from Democrats assembled on the convention floor.
In an earlier interview with Spero News, Dr. Medoff said “The declared policy of the Obama administration that Israel should go back to the 1967 borders, which would leave Israel just nine miles wide at its midsection, is something that has alarmed and worried a large number of Jewish voters.”