Jonathan Tasini Carries a Democratic Torch Against Gillibrand

Rebel in a pinstriped suit

His radicalism sometimes carries him a bridge too far. Asked about the landmark health care bill, he responded: "I would have voted against it. It's just a way to enrich insurance companies." This must be why they spent tens of millions fighting to kill the measure.

But he brings unquestioned credibility when he talks about the Middle East, the kind that neither Gillibrand nor her mentor, Senator Charles Schumer, can ever muster, no matter how much they flail away on the subject. Tasini lived in Israel for seven years in the 1970s. He speaks fluent Hebrew. Much of his family still lives there, near the West Bank. His mother survived the holocaust in Poland; his father fought in the underground Haganah army to create a Jewish homeland. A cousin, a close friend, was killed in the 1973 war. As a young medical orderly, Tasini tended to victims of deadly Palestinian terror attacks.

It is time, he says, for the killing to stop: "Half my family lives there, so there can be no doubt when I am arguing this that I am concerned for their safety and well-being," he says. "Continued warfare and occupation is endangering Israel's security, not helping it. The longer it continues, the more people will die." The blockade of 1.5 million in Gaza, he says, "is a humanitarian crisis that violates international law. Children there were killed by planes and rockets. I don't care what you say—that was a disproportionate amount of force. What Israel is doing is not good for Israel."

Such talk is generally fatal to local political ambitions. Tasini calls it "the third rail of New York politics." He learned this the hard way when he caught heavy flak in 2006 after criticizing Israeli tactics. Then-Clinton spokesman Howard Wolfson dubbed him "outrageous, offensive, and beyond the pale."

Last week, Tasini posted a new video on his website in response to Israel's decision to build 1,600 new housing units in East Jerusalem. "It does one thing and one thing only," he said. "It pushes the prospects of peace further into the future, which nobody can afford." He then did the kind of thing that mature political figures do when the occasion arises: He praised the presidential appointee who has spoken against the Israeli expansion policy, a Secretary of State named Clinton.

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