In a hastily-convened press conference which “had the trappings of a campaign event” for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, a host of Democratic officials ripped into Cuomo’s primary opponent, Zephyr Teachout, for her views on Israel.
Councilman Mark Weprin, who is on the City Council’s Jewish caucus, called Teachout’s views “outrageous” and “offensive,” while Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, an Orthodox Jew, called her views, and those of running mate Tim Wu, to be wholly “unacceptable,” adding,
“Their failure to stand strong with Israel speaks volumes about their true feelings when it comes to protecting and defending the Jewish state … We as New Yorkers cannot accept this. We as New Yorkers have a strong and profound connection to Israel.”
Given the bombastic response, one might suspect that Teachout said something considered controversial on the American political stage, such as acknowledging Palestinians’ equal right to self-determination and defense.
So, what did Teachout actually say which caused Cuomo’s political allies, including Congresswoman Carolyn Maloney and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, to convene a staged press conference and yell into a microphone? This is what she said at a Tuesday appearance, per The New York Observer:
“New York has a very special relationship with Israel,” Ms. Teachout said. “Israel was born here, at the United Nations.”
Ms. Teachout said she would safeguard that bond if she triumphed over Gov. Andrew Cuomo in next week’s Democratic primary.
“We have an ongoing especially strong social and economic relationship with Israel that it would be my job as governor to maintain,” said Ms. Teachout.
The long-shot contender added, however, that she did not view setting policy in the Middle East as the job of the governor, and promised to support the policies of President Barack Obama and Secretary of State John Kerry if victorious.
“I’m not running for president. I’m not going to second guess the president and the secretary of state,” Ms. Teachout said.
These remarks by Teachout were made significant by the fact that she has been reticent to comment on Middle Eastern politics during the past month, particularly during Israel’s Gaza operation. Meaning: these are the words which elicited today’s attack from leading New York Democrats. Words which essentially echoed predictable pro-Israel tropes while expressing support for the policies of a Democratic White House.
This is outrageous.
What’s even more outrageous is that Silver used the above words to elicit anti-Semitic fears in Jewish voters. His wondering about Teachout’s “true feelings” was a not-so-veiled attempt to cast her as a potential enemy of the Jewish people, as one who just might want Israel to be destroyed. See, Silver turns Teachout’s reticence to speak about foreign policy in a gubernatorial election into a “failure to stand strong with Israel [which] speaks volumes about her true feelings when it comes to protecting and defending the Jewish state.”
This is the type of nonsense which has become all too common in both the American Jewish community and within the American political establishment. Anyone who is not sufficiently ‘pro-Israel’ — as established by AIPAC — is cast as a potential enemy at best, and as anti-Semitic at worst. It’s something I’ve experienced just within the past week, when progressive State Senator Daylin Leach slandered me as pro-Hamas for critiquing his seemingly binary Israel views.
As an American Jew, I am tired of institutional leaders and politicians either implicitly or explicitly invoking anti-Semitism in fear-mongering campaigns. It’s not just shameful, it actually further endangers all Jews. For a real and dangerous hatred gets diluted every time a leader wonders about another’s “true feelings” when they’ve made those feelings clear.
As a progressive, I am tired of institutional leaders and politicians invoking Israel to falsely smear good people and candidates.
Like Zephyr Teachout.
David Harris-Gershon is author of the memoir What Do You Buy the Children of the Terrorist Who Tried to Kill Your Wife?, published recently by Oneworld Publications.
Follow him on Twitter @David_EHG.