Ed Koch: The Jewish Community is Taken for Granted by the Democratic Party (EXCLUSIVE INTERVIEW Part 2)
by Dovid Efune
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 second installment below, focuses on the Jewish allegiance to the Democratic Party and, and Koch’s legacy. Part 1 can be read here.
AJ: Was it an easy decision for you – Obama versus Romney? Did you waver at all? Do you see any strengths in Mitt Romney? Have you met him in person?
EK: I could never support anybody who wants to privatize Social Security and Medicare and reduce food stamps and end abortion and a whole host of other domestic issues. And that is what Romney is for. I could never support him.
AJ: Have you met him?
EK: I have not met, no.
AJ: So was it an easy choice for you?
EK: Very easy.
AJ: Do you see any positives in Romney?
EK: Oh, yes. I think Romney is a decent man. I mean, listen, I don’t think people who disagree with me are evil. We disagree. And if we disagree on substantial issues and I have to make a choice in voting, I will obviously vote against you. But that doesn’t mean that I dislike you or that I think you’re an evil person. We disagree, that’s all.
AJ: So what are your thoughts on the way the Jewish community is structured around election season? I mean, you’ve got people on both sides of the aisle. Do you think it’s good that there are Jewish Democrats and Republicans?
EK: Oh, yes, I believe it’s harmful for a community to be exclusively for one party. I think it’s a big, big mistake. That is the position of the African-American community, which is 95 percent Democratic. It’s understandable, but it’s not helpful when a Republican administration comes into being. The Jewish community is not as intense as that, but I think that they are far too tied to the Democratic party. Even though I’m a Democrat I think they should make clear that the candidate, whether Democrat or Republican, has to win their support in every election and not be taken for granted.
The Jewish community currently is taken for granted by the Democratic party.
AJ: Do you think what took place with the whole Jerusalem fiasco (the omission of reference to Jerusalem as Israel’s capital in the Democratic Party platform) was an indication of that?
EK: Well, the problem is that young Jews are not as supportive of Israel as they should be. They have forgotten the Shoah. They have forgotten that when the Nazis came for their parents they also took the youngsters and 6 million died. I’m of the belief that the leaders of the Jewish community have to do more to make Jews aware, young Jews aware, of the importance of Israel. What I say to people who ask me why am I so supportive of Israel is I say to them, ‘I’m never going to live in Israel. I visited it six times in my life; I’ll be there probably once more. I’m an American citizen.
I owe my country everything, but I know that in the ’30’s when Hitler offered to allow the German Jews to leave if any country would take them, no country would take them. Whereas if Israel had been alive and well, it would have taken ultimately all 6 million if they were free to go no matter what their physical or financial condition was.
That’s why I also know that every night there’s a community somewhere – a Jewish community – in danger, and that Israel is always available as their sanctuary. I know that when the Arabs took the plane to Entebbe, they let all of the non-Jews free, keeping 83 Jews hostage. And the rest of the world did nothing, and thank G-d Israel was able to rescue them.
AJ: So in terms of the Democrats not taking the Jewish vote for granted, what kind of statistics do you think would be a better balance?
EK: I don’t suggest a balance. I suggest that they consider both parties in every presidential election. I’m not suggesting a balance. It could be a time when they would all vote for the Democratic candidate as in the days of Goldwater, Johnson in ’64. But I do not believe that any community should be perceived by any party as theirs no matter what they say, no matter what they do.
AJ: You’ve crossed party lines on a number of occasions.
EK: Yes, I’ve crossed party lines. I supported George Bush in 2004.
Okay, and the reason I supported him, I said, ‘I don’t agree with him on a single domestic issue, not one, but I believe that he understands the nature of terrorism and John Kerry does not. I said John Kerry thinks that terrorism is just another form of criminality. Not so. Terrorism, as I define it, is those who believe that you can kill innocent people in support of achieving a political goal. That for me is terrorism, and I –
AJ: So you haven’t seen the same problem with President Obama?
AJ: He’s done a lot to move Guantanamo prisoners into state legal systems.
EK: He kept Guantanamo open. Everybody said he should close it.
EK: But it’s open, isn’t it?
AJ: Right. It is open, but he says that it’s not because of him.
EK: I don’t understand. Who was it who ordered the killing of Osama Bin Laden? Wasn’t it President Obama?
AJ: It was the president.
EK: You bet. I believe he understands terrorism. I absolutely believe that. I didn’t think John Kerry did.
AJ: One last question. How do you define the Mayor Koch legacy?
EK: Well, there are four or five things that people will always remember I’m told, and I hope. One is that I gave the people of the city of New York back their sense of pride. That’s what Moynihan said. ‘He gave them back their morale,’ he said about me. I balanced the budget for the first time in 15 years. I rebuilt the Bronx and Harlem and Brooklyn. Added 250,000 housing units. I created the Public Financing Board that the New York Times says is the best in the nation. And finally, I removed all politics from the selection of criminal court and family court judges that the mayor appoints. Before me it was political obligation. Somebody did something for the mayor, he made him a judge on occasion. I took that and changed it. Everybody agrees that it is now non-political. Those are the things. I appointed 140 judges in my 12 years, and they were all recommended to me by a committee. I didn’t come up with the names.
So those are the things that I hope people will remember. And mostly from my own point of view, I hope they will remember that I love the people of the city of New York, and I hope they love me.