In the same month that Ed Koch called on voters in Brooklyn and Queens to elect a Republican congressman in protest of President Barack Obama’s Israel policies, he is now declaring himself “on board the Obama re-election express.”
After meeting the president and first lady at an event for United Nations delegates here, and hearing Obama’s address to the General Assembly about the Middle East and Palestinian statehood, the former mayor says he’s been won over.
“I said send the president a message,” Koch told The Jewish Week Tuesday in a phone interview, referring to his endorsement of Republican Bob Turner in the 9th CD special election to succeed Anthony Weiner. “The message was: I believe you are hostile to Israel. Apparently he got the message.”
Asked if he thought the president shifted course because of those events, Koch said, “You have to make that decision. All I’m saying is there is a distinct change in the tone of the administration. I didn’t say that, but some people have said that.”
He said he’s backing Obama now because “I believe when someone does what you think he should do, you should support that person. If someone punches me, I punch back. If you make nice, I make nice.”
Koch’s change of heart is bound to raise some eyebrows among conservative supporters of Israel who championed his “send a message” mantra at a time when Jewish support for the president has dropped to 45 percent from 51 percent last year and Republicans see a chance to get a significant share of the Jewish vote next year.
“He told me was going to campaign against [Obama],” said Morton Klein, president of the Zionist Organization of America. “I find it remarkable that after many months against him, after one speech at the UN, which wasn’t that great, [Koch] changes his mind. What makes him think he won’t revert back on the day after the election?”
Koch announced his support for Obama Tuesday in the e-mail commentary that he sends from his law office to anyone who asks to receive it, which includes opinions on world events as well as movie reviews.
He wrote, “I believe the recent vote in the 9th Congressional District in New York affected in a positive way the policy of the U.S. on the Mideast. The New York Times of September 26 reported, ‘On Friday, the United States, the United Nations, Russia and the European Union — known together as the Quartet — urged the Palestinians and the Israelis to return to direct negotiations within a month without preconditions. Since this is close to Israel’s position, leaders there welcomed the plan.’” He also mentioned Obama’s role in rescuing Israeli diplomats trapped in the Cairo embassy as rioters stormed the complex on Sept. 9.
In the phone interview, Koch said the president’s speech to the Security Council was “superb. In fact, Benjamin Netanyahu was quoted as saying how close the U.S. position was to Israel. In addition, the media reported that the president had provided the bunker-busting bombs to Israel, which the prior administration of George Bush had not.”
Asked if he was concerned the tone of the administration might change again if Obama is re-elected, Koch said, “No, because I think he is an honorable person.”
Koch, who backed Bush in 2004 and Obama in 2008, said he considers the Republican field of candidates “ridiculous,” with the exception of former Massachusetts Gov. Mitt Romney. He said that “no Jew is going to vote for [Texas Gov.] Rick Perry as long as he says he doesn’t believe in evolution.
Romney was in town this week and enjoyed a fundraiser at the firm of Weil, Gotshal & Manges. At least 30 people paid $5,000 to host the event with the Republican candidate; the minimum contribution was $1,000. All told, Romney took in about $200,000, according to Dr. Ben Chouake, one of the organizers.
Chouake, an Englewood, N.J., physician, is president of NORPAC, which used to be called the Northern New Jersey Political Action Committee and is now a national organization that supports pro-Israel candidates in both parties. (AIPAC, a public affairs committee, does not directly raise money for candidates.) NORPAC organized the event with Phillip Rosen, a partner at Weil Gotshal and co-chair of its real estate practice.
About half the crowd of 200 (including non-donor guests) was Orthodox, Rosen said. Jets owner Woody Johnson and state Republican chair Ed Cox were among the guests.
Romney emphasized the need to show unequivocal support for Israel, said Chouake, and denounced any “moral equivalence” that lumps Israel together with the enemies that want to destroy it. He also spoke out against expansion of the federal government at a time when he said it was important to spur private-sector growth. “Most of the discussion was about business and the economy, all the concerns that many of us have with our current state of affairs,” Rosen said. “Israel was just one of the topics.”
Rosen, a Republican, said many of the donors, some of them Democrats, are undecided about the election but wanted the chance to meet Romney. “People who were there told me they also went to the Perry event last week,” he said, referring to a rally with the Texas governor and Romney’s frontrunner rival. That event at a downtown Manhattan hotel offered plenty of red-meat bashing of President Barack Obama’s Israel policy.
Rosen, who lives in Lawrence, L.I., and serves on the United States Holocaust Memorial Committee and the board of Yeshiva University’s Yeshiva College, said he supports Romney because “I spent three days with him in Israel, and I’m convinced that on Israel and the issues the Jewish community should care about, he is far and away the best candidate to lead us down the path, hopefully, to safety and security.
“The District 9 election should give some indication of how many Democrats are considering supporting someone other than the president in the next election.”
Was it a Freudian slip, or just a misread of the teleprompter, that led to President Barack Obama appearing to substitute “Janitor” with “Jew” in a speech defending his economic policies at the Congressional Black Caucus awards banquet Saturday?
The official transcript for the speech had the commander-in-chief saying: “If asking a billionaire to pay the same tax rate as a janitor makes me a warrior for the working class, I wear that with a badge of honor. I have no problem with that.” Instead, the president appeared to say Jew before quickly saying janitor.
The slip generated tons of blog coverage and some calls to the Anti-Defamation League. Spokesman Todd Gutnick told The Jewish Week “there is no story here” and said he told the same to the WCBS-TV news when they called.
It seems clear from the video of the event that the president started out saying another word, perhaps junior, before switching to janitor.
Outside of political blogs, there doesn’t seem to be much of a geshrei. One commenter on the conservative site Breitbart TV said, “I am sure that the MSM will ignore this MAJOR RACIST GAFFE, like they do all the others.” The commenter was apparently referring to the mainstream media.
Mort Klein of the Zionist Organization of America has a more middle-of-the-road position. “[Obama] has been thinking about Jews and the Jewish vote a lot lately and hiring one person after another to reach out,” said Klein. “So a J word came out Jew. I don’t think it’s hostile, but I think it shows he’s been thinking about Jews a lot.”