Vested Interests

Why Liberal Pols Run to the Right on Israel

After a visit this past February, he sent out a letter on City Council stationery that bragged of meetings not only with Jerusalem's mayor and former prime minister Benjamin Netanyahu, but also Rabbi Ovadiah Yosef, one of the Israeli far right's most notorious figures, a man known for recommending the execution of a dovish Israeli education minister and calling Arabs "snakes" whom God regretted creating. Why does Vallone surround himself with such extremists? Says spokesperson Jordan Barowitz, "That's the leadership he has exemplified in the City Council. He is always open to discuss issues with all sides." Vallone has not met, however, with Palestinians, or even with the Israeli peace camp.

Hevesi, as a former member of the Conference of Presidents of Major Jewish Organizations—an umbrella body that claims to speak for American Jewry but whose current leadership does support some right-wing Zionist causes—is rather more versed in Israeli politics, and thus knows full well what it means to give across the green line. Spokesperson Josh Isay did not answer why he would make such a provocative donation, except to point out that other candidates had done so.

For his part, Ferrer defends his purchase of two bulletproof vests as protecting "innocent teachers and medics as they seek to serve those in need," says spokesperson John Del Cecato. It doesn't wash with Arab Americans. "Palestinians could use some life-saving equipment, too," suggests Jeanine Shama, former director of the New York chapter of the Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee. "If you take such a one-sided approach there, how will you act when there are ethnic or racial conflicts here in New York—especially if you are beholden to Dov Hikind?"

Ali Mirza, a leader of the MPCC
Photo: Cary Conover
Ali Mirza, a leader of the MPCC

Whether Hikind's support would help much is another question. A Quinnipiac College poll, conducted July 17 to 23, which asked registered Democrats whom they'd choose if the primary were held then, showed only 5 percent of Jews choosing Ferrer. Vallone and Hevesi polled 21 and 20 percent respectively—a statistical tie—and Green polled a whopping 33 percent. (Twenty percent remained undecided.)

To David Pollock, associate executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council, one thing those numbers reveal is that there's no meaningful concern in the community about any candidate's Israel position. "If voters don't think a candidate wants to jeopardize the security of Israel—and none of the candidates in this race has that reputation—then the issue just drops off the table." The question is, will the candidates let it?

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