Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch, who passed away today at the age of 88, was in the news until just a few weeks ago, reacting–angrily–to the nomination of former Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-NE) as Secretary of Defense. Koch had a visceral understanding of the evil and danger of Islamic terrorism–he had Daniel Pearl’s last words inscribed on his tombstone–and in the last few years of his life, he became alarmed at the anti-Israel drift of his Democratic Party, particularly under the leadership of President Barack Obama, whom he felt had betrayed him.
I had the opportunity to interview Koch in September 2011, after Republican Bob Turner had won a surprising and historic victory in the special election to fill the congressional seat vacated by Democrat Anthony Weiner in Brooklyn. Koch endorsed Turner to send a message of alarm to President Obama about his hostile approach to Israel. As he told me:
The election in the 9th congressional district was the only election in the City of New York. And I thought, and I expressed myself publicly, that it would be a good place, being the largest Jewish district in America–something like 300,000 Jews lived in that district, and the Jewish vote would be somewhere around 30% or more–it would be a good place to have a referendum on whether the President’s position on Israel, which I have described as hostile to Israel, was one representative of the voters of that district.
Koch’s gambit succeeded, and the Obama administration adopted a somewhat more traditional posture in defense of Israel at the United Nations. Having declared victory, Koch returned quickly to the Democratic fold and later endorsed Obama for President, saying he was confident that the administration had changed its ways.
But Koch later admitted that he suspected all along that Obama would eventually turn his back on Israel again. As Dovid Efune of the Algemeiner reported in early January:
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.”
Koch’s gamble is the same one made by a legion of pro-Israel Jewish Democrats, who decided that it might be better to have the proverbial “seat at the table” rather than to criticize openly and be shut out by a famously thin-skinned administration. The Hagel appointment proved the failure of that strategy.
Rather quickly, Koch shifted back into fighting mode. When he spoke about Hagel’s nomination to the Algemeiner, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer had not yet decided to back Hagel. Koch decided to apply the pressure: “To me this is a test for Chuck Schumer, where he stands, and what he will say,” he added.
It was a test that Schumer failed–along with much of America’s Jewish establishment, some of whom worship at the feet of the Obama idol and the rest of whom are fearful of his power, with rare exceptions. The only Jewish organization thus far to put up a serious fight against Hagel’s confirmation has been the Republican Jewish Coalition, whose research and media efforts helped produce the strident, united Republican front in the Senate Armed Services Committee yesterday and may yet derail what would be a disastrous appointment.
With Koch goes the last Democrat to trust in the commitment of his party to the safety and security of Israel. He will be deeply missed as a leader who understood freedom was worth fighting for, at home and abroad.