As a kid, Simcha Felder used to enjoy the tour of the UN headquarters. Now he won’t set foot inside the world body’s Turtle Bay complex.
“The only time I go there is to protest,” said Felder, Borough Park’s City Councilman. “Israel can’t seem to do anything right in the eyes of the UN, let alone get a fair shake.”
Felder, who sits on the Council’s Land Use Committee and Landmarks Subcommittee, is part of a growing chorus of public officials slamming the United Nations as anti-American and anti-Israel as the UN seeks permission to expand its East Side headquarters to more prime riverfront property.
The UN wants to use $650 million in state bonds to construct a new building on city parkland to temporarily accommodate workers who would be displaced by the refurbishment of the aging and asbestos-ridden Secretariat building. The new building would later be used for office space for the UN and other tenants.But Felder and a fellow Democrat, Assemblyman Dov Hikind of Borough Park, as well as state Sen. Martin Golden, a Republican whose district includes part of Borough Park, wouldn’t mind seeing the UN pack up its diplomatic pouches and leave town altogether.
Other critics include Senate Majority Leader Joseph Bruno, an upstate Republican, and Rep. Vito Fossella of Staten Island.
Felder was to introduce a resolution Wednesday at City Hall asking the city to block the expansion — an unlikely prospect, to say the least.
“The UN is a valuable asset to New York City, supporting thousands of jobs and contributing more than $2.5 billion a year to the local economy,” said Michael Sherman, a spokesman for the city’s Economic Development Corp. “It is visited by more than 800,000 people a year and contributes to New York’s reputation as an international city. It’s unfortunate that politics is getting in the way of an important project for New York’s economy.”
But Felder counters: “We could get the same economic boost by using that property for other things. You can’t make deals with the devil.”
Mayor Michael Bloomberg has publicly backed the expansion as important for the city. Both the state Senate and Assembly have blocked legislation authorizing the expansion.
In the City Council, Charles Barron of Brooklyn was to introduce a counter-resolution on Wednesday in support of the UN expansion and in support of Secretary-General Kofi Annan, sources said Tuesday.
Israel has long complained about the barrage of anti-Zionist resolutions in the General Assembly and the continued barring of the Jewish state from important world committees and the Security Council.
Legislators here also have complained about what they term the refusal of UN officials to cooperate with audits and investigations related to allegations that money was diverted from the sale of Iraqi oil intended to buy food. Many critics have called for delaying the expansion until questions on the scandal are satisfied. Legislators have called for Annan’s resignation as a condition for the expansion.
While misgivings about the United Nations and its treatment of Israel are common in the Jewish community, there seems to be only narrow support for chasing the world body out of New York.
“As troubled as I am by the many acts of the UN, it is an organization that is going to have to be headquartered someplace,” said Jack Rosen, president of the American Jewish Congress. “Better it remain in New York than outside the city or outside the U.S. At least here it gives our Jewish community an opportunity to have more dialogue with many members of the UN and have them understand us a little better.”
A trustee of the United Nations Economic Development Corp., Jeff Wiesenfeld, a former Jewish liaison to Gov. George Pataki, said the UN’s membership is “predominantly anti-Western, anti-American and anti-Israel. This level of piling on by [politicians] right now … the UN has no one to blame but itself. It would be dishonest to say it was unjustified.”
But Wiesenfeld said the question of whether the UN should exist is beyond the corporation’s purview.
“It has a significant economic impact on the city and will exist somewhere as a gravy train for some city,” he said. “If it exists, let it be here.”
Rep. Eliot Engel, a Bronx Democrat, suggested that withholding American dues to the UN, which make up close to a quarter of its budget, could send a better message than blocking the expansion.
“We have a right to ensure that U.S. money is going for the purposes intended, not squandered on resolutions that are one-sided and anti-Israel,” he said. “We could hurt them in the pocketbook that way.”
Noting that other nations have often tried to lure the UN, Engel said losing the Turtle Bay headquarters “ultimately hurts New York, not the UN.”
Agudath Israel of America has filed a brief in support of challenges to a state law requiring health insurance coverage for contraceptives.
Although the organization itself does not oppose providing such coverage to its employees, Agudah is concerned about a possible precedent of mandating coverage of procedures deemed objectionable by religious organizations.
The brief before the Appellate Division of the state Supreme Court argues that the definition of a “religious employer” that would be exempt from the mandate is too narrow. Only groups that consider themselves missionary and assist the needy of their own faith are included in the exemption.
In other legislation, such as that prohibiting employment or housing discrimination, the definition is broader. This disparity poses a “dangerous threat to religious liberty,” according to the brief.
The Women’s Health and Wellness Act, passed in 2002, has been challenged by several Catholic and Baptist groups who want to see continued coverage by mammograms and other health screenings covered by the bill while scrapping the provisions for birth control.
Governor Pataki this week unveiled the state’s new kosher food products Web site, where information that must be disclosed by the Kosher Law Protection Act of 2004 will be posted and available.
The law, which goes into full effect on Jan. 9, requires some “producers, processors, packers, distributors, retailers and certifiers of kosher food products, as well as those who prepare kosher food,” to file product and certifying information with the state Department of Agriculture and Markets. Forms that must be registered 30 days prior to the availability of a product sold as kosher are available online at the site, www.agmkt.state.ny.us/kosher.
The forms can be filed electronically, and consumers can find out the certification of each product and the qualifications of the certifier.
The registry “will provide consumers with important safeguards against fraudulently packaged and misbranded kosher products and easy access to information they need to make food choices that conform to their religious and dietary needs,” Pataki said in a statement.
Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said the law “satisfies the constitutional concerns of the courts while maintaining our strong commitment to consumer protection.”