Ed Koch on Obama and Israel: I Believe I Changed Him (EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW Part 1)

November 4, 2012 8:05 pm 30 comments

Former Mayor Ed Koch. Photo: Ruvi Leider.

A political fixture in New York, former Mayor Ed Koch, now 87 years old, has remarkably created new relevance for himself in recent years through vocal activism on national and local issues, most notably centered around President Obama and his relationship with Israel, which is perceived by many to be hostile. Koch was among the President’s most outspoken critics in the early part of his presidency but has since come round to back the President. In an exclusive interview with The Algemeiner days before Tuesday’s presidential election, Mr. Koch addressed a number of pressing issues that are of enhanced interest and concern to Jewish voters.

The interview will be published in five separate parts, divided according to subject. The first installment below, focuses on President Obama and Israel, and why Koch muted his early criticism to support the President for re-election.

AJ: Let’s get to the details of the President and Israel, which has been a subject of a lot of discussion.  I’m sure many people have asked you about this.  You were one of the foremost critics of the President’s approach to Israel. What changed?

EK: I want to think — I believe I changed him.  I believe that – did you see the third debate?

AJ:  Yes.

EK: Did you see Bob Schieffer say to him in the opening question, ‘Would you take the position that an attack upon Israel by Iran would be considered an attack upon the United States?’  Did you see that?

AJ:  Yes

EK: Okay, that is what I have been advocating since I last saw the president over a year ago.  And the answer conveyed to the world was that the president and Romney both accepted that position; that’s what Bob Schieffer believes.

AJ:  So when would you say was the point of movement?  From my understanding you actually met the President at an event at the New York Public Library?

EK: Well that was after I defeated, helped defeat, the democratic candidate in the Anthony Weiner district, and elect a Republican Irish Roman Catholic to send a message to the president that in a district where you have the largest concentration of Jews in any congressional district that they would stand up and repudiate you because they believed you were wrong.  And they thought he was wrong in the way he treated Netanyahu.

I thought so too, and I said so.  I think he’s changed.  I think I changed him.  I believe that one of the most important things I’ve done in my political life was to do what I did in that district so that when the New York Times described the victory, they quoted an expert who said, referring to me, ‘He’s 86, he’s out of office 22 years — it’s amazing.’  That was the quote.  I’m very proud of that.  I believe as a result of that the president changed his position.

AJ: So you feel that was the turning point, that once that election happened the President changed his mind?

EK: Yeah. He doesn’t believe that his positions were different.  I said to him – he spoke to me for 20 minutes out of a half hour and he said, ‘I don’t know why the Jewish community thinks I’m hostile.  I’m very supportive,’ and he went on to explain that.  And I said to him, ‘Mr. President, when you announced that Israel should go back to the ’67 borders I wouldn’t have attacked you, even though I disagree with you because those borders are indefensible, if you had at the same time denounced Hamas and said Israel does not have to negotiate with Hamas.’  And he said, ‘Didn’t I say that?’  And I said, ‘No, you did not.’

So you see in his own mind he thought he had said it.

AJ: So all this took place at that meeting at the New York Public Library?

EK: Correct, and that was about two or three weeks after the election.

AJ:  Do you still communicate with the President, or the White House on these issues?

EK: I don’t want to indicate that I’m an intimate of the president.  I’m not.  I’m pleased that he knows my name.  He invited me to the State of the Union, not the State of the Union; he invited me to a state dinner for Cameron.  He was very friendly to me, and he introduced me to David Cameron, the Prime Minister (of the U.K.).  He said, ‘This is Ed Koch, the former mayor of New York City,’ and David Cameron said, ‘I studied you in school.’  I thought to myself, ‘Am I that old?’

AJ:  There’s also been a lot of talk that obviously, this is the game of politics. People modify positions when they need to in politics, and there’s a lot of skepticism out there over the President.  In fact, I don’t know if you’ve seen this quote from Haaretz Journalist Ari Shavit last year who said that “Right now President Obama is like a lion in a cage when it comes to Israel.”  He says “there will immediately be a very strong attack and Israel will find itself in a very sharp crisis if the president is re-elected.”  Don’t you think that this is just politics?  Obama understands what he needs to say to get re-elected.

EK: I want to say to you, I get those letters, you know, that say, ‘Why do you believe him?’  That’s what you’re saying.  My response is that I have met with him a sufficient number of times to come to the conclusion that he is an honorable man.

AJ:  So it’s your judgment of his character.

EK: Yes.  He will keep his commitments.

AJ: If there is a scenario where the President is re-elected and, let’s say goes back to publicly criticizing building in North Jerusalem, as he has done in the past, how would you react?

EK: Yes, I think he was wrong.  And if he says it again I would still say he was wrong.

AJ:  So you were saying at the time that he wanted to make Israel into a pariah.  So my question is, if he did it again once he was re-elected, would that prompt you to take the same position as you took at the beginning of his term again?

EK: Of course.  I don’t expect that to happen.  I mean, you have to make a judgment on the basis of your experience.  You have to have confidence in him.  I have confidence in my own judgment.


  • theres no fool like and old fool

    • The shortest neural pathway between a man’s brain and his five physical senses is the optic nerve to his eyes. Eyesight is so predominant in higher-order animals, it is the only sense requiring physical cutoff from the brain during sleep. Eyelids provide that closure. Have ocialization and civilization taken Mankind far beyond the animmal world? Some permit their hopes and dreams to dictate how they process and store what their eyes perceive. Is that far removed from ostriches burying their heads in the sand when they sense predators nearby?

      35 years his senior, ‘hizzoner’ Mayor Koch could have changed Mr. Obama—when Obama soiled his diapers! What will America do, now that Obama is soiling ours?

  • Herbert Grossman

    I hope that when I am 87 I would not give up my integrity for a place in the limelight as my last hurrah.

  • mkarty kaplan


  • Robert M Soran-Schwartz

    Oh my God, Mr. Koch is the typical shtetl gnome’s reincarnation as Big Apple megalomane. Sure, Ed the Koch is still good enough to get the provincial Brooklyn and Queens Jews in the 9th Congressional District to vote Republican. Why? Because they became more and more Republican since 9/11 and they were gekocht (cooked) ripe by the psycho freak Weiner …
    No, it wasn’t Koch’s merit …
    He is a very funny old man, often providing inspiring material for himself. His father should have created the term “meritocracy.” Because Ed, the son, defined “demeritocracy.” He’s the kind of man you might enjoy having dinner with, but you wouldn’t risk staying for dessert. Despite the fact that you should trust him as he trusts Obama. I do trust him. Not on Netanyahu, God beware! But on Obama.

    And I bet and guarantee: Both Obama and Romney know that Iran won’t attack Israel if not already under attack from Israel. In other words: They knew they risk nothing by answering YES to the moderator of the third debate …

    It was a case when swords became words, not words swords :-)

  • Esther Sarah Evans

    Richard K. and Ethan are on the right track.

    What needs to be stressed in addition is that Obama’s a puppet of terrorists who have gained a solid foothold also in the United States – e.g. with their training camps – and more. Anybody would be an utter fool to reelect him. As for Romney (or anyone else like him), if he gets elected, he will need body guards even in bed, I fear. Also, I think he is maybe lacking savvy in dealing with some of the people with whom he will have to deal. He might just learn that, but it might be just too late.

    Again, the best thing a Jew can do is come home here. If one does not get blown up, one can live a long time in Eretz Yisrael – and with the borders given us by G-d. As even that roguish Ben Gurion said (a man man enough to admit his sins in the end), if anyone wants a blueprint, it is right here in the Torah.

    Neither Netanyahu nor any other Nasi of Medinat Yisrael needs to crawl to Obama or any other leader of any other country. They should feel privileged to come and talk with our leader, whoever that may be. They should come baShalom and go baShalom, and thank G-d for our being in Eretz Yisrael with the borders set by G-d!

    Whoever is not man enough to accept G-d’s delineation of our borders should stay away from us until he or she has done Tshuva.

  • With all due respect to Mr. Koch, neither of the candidates in the presidential debate actually said that they considered an attack on Israel to be an attack against the United States — as it was phrased in the question. In fact, the only world leader to make such a statement (and mean it) was Canadian PM Stephen Harper who said exactly that with respect to the Canada-Israel relationship.

    Mr. Harper’s government has also severed diplomatic ties with Iran and called for the resignation or dismissal of Richard Falk, the UN’s ignominious Special Rapporteur on Palestinian human rights. This is the sort of principled statecraft that many Americans wish they were getting from their own political leaders.

  • President Obama is not the problem. It is Axelrod, a self hating Jew that continues to pull the President in the wrong direction. Axelrod is a leftist with communist leanings and a great influence on the President.

  • Koch is living in a fantasy world…Obama’s views about Israel are the same as his good friend & PLO supporter Rashid Khalidi. Why do you think the LA TIMES refuses to release the tape it has in which Obama toasts Khalidi?…

  • Henry M. Dachowitz

    Great interview — can’t wait for the following segments.

    I disagree with Mr. Koch’s assessment. Many, many people voted for Obama four years ago based solely on his promises — he had practically no record of accomplishment except for having the most liberal record in the Senate. Anything contrary to the “hope” that he would fulfill his promises (such as questions about his associations with anti-Semitic Rev Wright and domestic terrorist Bill Ayers) were consciously trivialized by the mainstream media and the “true believers.” Obama made his obligatory trip to Israel four years ago during the campaign to assuage Jewish voters he was a “friend of Israel.”

    Now, four years later, let’s evaluate him on his actions and his record of unfulfilled promises. He has NEVER visited Israel and has repeatedly snubbed PM Netanyahu. Remember when he kept Netanyahu waiting for a meeting and then abruptly left him alone in an office. Remember when Netanyahu had to enter through a side door. Only to be outdone by the President recently finding no time to meet with Netanyahu while he was in the US for a UN meeting, yet Obama found the time for fundraising in Las Vegas and TV appearances on talk shows with liberal hosts.

    He started his term with the apology tour especially apologizing to Muslims and informing Israel they should return to its 1967 borders. How many times has he complained about the daily rockets hitting Sderot? How about working to put daylight between the US and Israel? How about his overheard comment to French PM Sarkozy where he complained about having to sork with Netanyahu and then calling him a liar?

    No, Mr. Mayor, you got this all wrong. I remember someone once telling me that the believers and trusting individuals were the ones caught in Nazi Germany and slaughtered in the Holocaust — it was the skeptics who saw where Hitler and the Nazi party were going who ran far, far away as quickly as they could in the 1930′s.

    Again here, many were fooled by Obama’s promises the first time around and wanted to give him a chance and believe in him. But believing in him and trusting him the second time around is a fool’s journey. Just as Israel can’t afford to see if Obama is lying again this time, so it is that Americans cannot afford to give him a second chance. As Smith Barney may have said, “Let him earn our trust by first backing Netanyahu and Israel and criticizing obstinate Palestinians and deadly Islamic terrorists — then MAYBE we’ll see if he is worthy of our trust.

  • Ilbert Phillips

    President uses words like a musician uses an instrument, it is designed to move, inspire, impact, and send you home happy. And as s musician, an artist, President Obama does nothing more, but talk and promise. At least a musician would have gone to Israel when artists were attempting to boycott artists going to Israel. When people were saying Israel is an apartheid state, where was President Obama? What American in his right mind would suggest that Israel not build in Jewish neighborhoods in Israel or not follow the Agreement with Bush to do limited building in the settlements, areas that no one expects to go to the Arabs in a two state solution. Finally, what person in the Administration told the President, a position he adopted and has not rejected in public, that Israel use the ’67 Armistice lines as the start of negotiations, placing the Western Wall and Eastern Jerusalem in the hands of the Arabs, if only for discussion puposes?

  • Ilbert Phillips

    I do not trust President Obama and if Koch believes he can influence the President, he is delusional. Borrowing heavily from Daniel Pipes, I assert that the core messages supported by John Kennedy, has been but lost by the Democrats, i.e. individualism, patriotism, and respect for tradition. The new core Democratic message is one of of dependence, self-criticism, and “progress.” I want a small Federal government on domestic issues and a strong military and an assertive pursuit of national interests on the international stage. The President by his conduct demonstrates that he has a different view of the U.S. national interests, a sort of whining apology for our power and strength. On the Middle East and Islamism, and Israel the President has been consistently outperformed by the Republicans. Extensive polling and many congressional actions establish this pattern Democratic negative pattern for the Arab-Israeli conflict and a similar contrast exists also on other foreign policy issues, such as the Iranian nuclear buildup, energy policy, and the Arab upheavals. As for the new totalitarian ideology, Islamism, Democrats show a marked softness, just as they previously did vis-à-vis the communist threat when the Democrats abandoned the Vietnamese and denied the danger of the Communists.

    Once President Obama told Israel to stop building in East Jerusalem and to use the 67 armistice lines as a starting place for negotiations, I knew he was dangerous, out of touch and virtually clueless to the uniqueness of the Arab/Muslim mind when it come to Israel. When he claimed that the recent death the American Ambassador in Libya was caused by a reaction to a stupid video no one had seen, I knew we were in trouble. You do not need to be very sophisticated to note that such an attack on 9/11 with the use of heavy weapons (and the abandonment of the Libyan police) in an invasion of our Consulate, where the Ambassador had been seeking added protection, had nothing to do with a video.



    • And America was G-d’s Grace to the Nations as an exemplar of human dignity and ‘specialness’.

      It will not be thus with the blithe reelection of this hideous narcissist.

  • “Jerusalem Is the eternal Capitol of the State Israel” Those are the words I expect to hear from Obama and everyone in his administration, repeated time and again.
    Simultanously, move the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
    That is the least, required of him or any other future President. We shall never, divide our Capitol again.

  • Koch sounds like wishful thinking to me.

  • In politics the first casualty is the truth. How can anyone believe what this President is saying based on a few meetings and conversations. Anything is fair in lovely politics and as long as Obama thinks he can reelected he will say anything to do that. He demonstrated this when he says one thing to an audience and says something different and contradiction to another.

    Actions speak louder that words, so far I only hear words, where is the proof? Once reelected we the people and the Jews no longer are able to influence Obama. There is no going back. Is that worth the risk based on a character judgment ? What if Mayor Koch is wrong, then what?

  • Ed Koch’s endorsement of Hussein Obama proves, beyond any reasonable doubt, Koch is a senile old fool whose opinions are irrelevant.

    • I could not have said that better myself.
      The sad part is that someone believes that he is worth an interview…
      I guess Obama needs all the HELP he can get…

  • Koch is a very old man desperately trying to maintain his own relevance decades after his career ended. Sad he needs to to tow the party line and turn his back on both capitalism (the engine that funded his tenure) and fate of his own people to do so.

  • Mr Edge koch, mayor emeritus of New york city is absolutely right about his analysis of the character of the man Barack Obama. The mayor says he spoke to the president on the issue of iran, and the president gave him his word, i.e to defend isreal against this brutal,hateful enemy of the jewish people. Mayor koch believes the president, i believe mayor koch and believe the president. The president made the same commitment during the recent precidental debates.The American people heard him,the isrealis heard him and the whole world heard him and will hold him true to his commitment to the jewish people. So help me god.

    • And when he doesn’t, then what?
      Doesn’t history teach you anything?
      When the muslims start loving their own more than they abhor Jews, you will see this muslim president coming to the aid of her ONLY ally in the middle East.
      How can you still consider him viable in view of his disastrous INABILITY to defend our very OWN ambassador? What makes you think he would fare any better with “shitty” Israel????

    • An old song used to go like this: “Parole, parole, parole”…
      Words, NOTHING but words.
      FACTS count.
      And the facts are that Obama and his administration have been DISSING AND PRESSURING ISRAEL SINCE THE BEGINNING, PUSHED FOR A RACIST BUILDING FREEZE ONY FOR JEWS to please terrorists and even caused DEATH of Jews by pushing for the elimination of many important check-points.

  • The president has been part of a far left political movement his entire adult life. Anti Zionism is an integral part of that movement. To believe that a single conversation would change a lifetimes attitude is naive at best. And if Obama is re elected, he has free reign to bring these deeply held beliefs out in the open.

    • Ethan P ….. spoken concisely, elegantly and with great wisdom.

    • Totally correct!

    • Obama attended harvard law school and people consider most liberal ivyleage graduates To be liberal obama is. Definitely liberal. As a social thinker.,no doubt. But i . I would like any body to show me any literatures or speeches young obama wrote or gave that proves he was muslim or an antisemite. THE IDEA OF USING BROAD STROKES TO JUDGE A MAN BECAUSE HE WENT TO A CERTAIN SCHOOL AT A CERTAIN TIME IS NOT ONLY PREDUJICIAL BUT CRIMINAL AT BEST.YOU. WHO PROPOSES SUCH IDEAS BECOME ALSO GUILTY OF YOUR OWN BIASES.

  • Фанвизин

    «Ах, обмануть меня не сложно,-
    Я сам обманываться рад…»

    • I agree with you,
      “Oh, fool me hard -
      I delude myself happy … ”

      “أوه، تخدع لي من الصعب -
      I إيهام نفسي سعيدة … “

    • Robert M Soran-Schwartz

      Mr. Koch probably doesn’t know Pushkin. But Gospodin Puschkin knew apparently him …

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