In 2010 the late Mayor Ed Koch, a beloved leader in the Jewish Community, publicly asked “Where are the voices of Jewish members of Congress to protest President Obama’s hostility to Israel?” In so speaking he inspired this young novice to challenge the silence of a 29 year career politician.
Mayor Koch’s great legacy was not what he stood for — but how he stood — strong and fearless – unabashed — at times combative but always with great candor and conviction. It was not about party — but about city and country. It was about leading — educating — and fighting tenaciously for what he knew in his heart to be right.
He understood that his people and his country were inextricably bound by their shared values and love of freedom. He realized that the fate of the two nations would depend upon the ability of each generation to understand the nature and danger of tyranny — to clearly express it — and to have the character and resolve to defeat it.
His persona and his character were shaped during World War II. As a young infantryman he was deployed to a unit which liberated the Nordhausen/Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp in Germany. He witnessed firsthand the atrocities of the Holocaust Period – the great human toll that was extracted when leaders failed to confront evil head on — with clarity, consistency and strength.
He spoke of having encountered antisemitism while in the service. He knew the importance of truth and of combatting hate and intolerance with vigilance and consistency. He knew that words lead to actions — and that messages have consequences.
Now that he is gone it is up to the next generation of Jewish leaders to carry on.
Many were appalled at President Obama’s nomination of former Nebraska senator Chuck Hagel as Secretary of Defense. Hagel had long been criticized on both sides of the aisle for his extreme and controversial views on military and nuclear disarmament; his legitimization and appeasement of Iran and its terrorist surrogates and his lack of support for Israel. Democratic New York Congressman Eliot Engel characterized Hagel’s outlook as having “some kind of endemic hostility toward Israel.” It was widely commented that this nomination would send a wrong message to our friends and our foes at a critical time.
Just prior to his death, Mayor Koch expressed dismay with the nomination. In an interview with the editor of The Algemeiner, the Mayor explained :
“Frankly I thought that there would come a time when President Obama would renege on what he conveyed as his support for Israel – it comes a little earlier than I thought it would.”
He believed “the appointment of Senator Hagel would “embolden Islamists and will be damaging to the U.S.-Israel relationship.” He stated “I believe it will encourage the Iranian program. I believe it will encourage the jihadists”.
In that same interview Mayor Koch went on to say that the senators from New York could determine the fate of this nomination. He said this was “a test for Chuck Schumer — where he stands and what he will say”.
One would have expected this to have been a “no-brainer” for Schumer. Referring to his last name — a “shomer” — in a heartwarming and dramatic speech before 2000 Jewish activists, the senator explained that he was “a watchman guarding the gates of ancient Jerusalem and the Temple. And that was his mission: defending the Jewish people and Israel from those who’d attack it or wish it ill.”
But rather than stand tall in the face of the Hagel nomination — the senior senator from New York and self-annointed guardian of the Jewish people shirked and spun. He almost immediately rubber stamped the nomination and encouraged his colleagues to do the same. After a brief 90 minute meeting with Hagel at the White House he released a not so kosher two page absolution stating generally that that the nominee had done an “about face” with which he was completely comfortable. He didn’t request any written disclosure or wait to review the disclosure requested by other senators. Nor did he wait to hear Senator Hagel’s testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee.
After Senator Schumer gave his blessing, the danger of the Hagel nomination became even more apparent. Senator Hagel’s testimony before the Armed Services Committee was by all accounts disastrous. Most significantly, while Senator Schumer expressed his complete comfort with Hagel on Iran, the nominee fundamentally misstated the Administration’s policy on this critical national security issue as containment and had to be corrected by Committee Chairman Levin. He also seemed determined to bolster the legitimacy of the oppressive theocratic regime in Tehran suggesting that the 2009 election was “free” and “fair.” Also, disconcerting was Hagel’s continued refusal at the hearing to support a letter condemning the Palestinian Intifada – an incessant period of terrorism in which “suicide” and other bombings resulted in the horrific murder of over 1,200 and wounding of over 8,000 Israeli civilians. Additionally, the nomination appeared to have emboldened every anti semite and enemy of Israel from here to Timbuktu as the internet was swarmed with messages disparaging the Jewish people and the Jewish homeland in response to the hearing.
One would think that these subsequent revelations would have encouraged Senator Schumer to rethink his position. On the contrary, this week he made two misleading public pronouncements in an effort to defend the indefensible. First, after an appearance at an Association for a Better New York breakfast in Lower Manhattan he stated “The main fight on Hagel is coming from the neocons. And they resent Hagel’s apostasy on Iraq.” This is of course patently false as the opposition to Hagel spans across the political spectrum and is based on a myriad of issues. Secondly, Senator Schumer stated that Senator Hagel had tears in his eyes when told of the insensitivity of his reference to the “Jewish Lobby”. When the statement is taken in its full context (“The Jewish lobby intimidates people into doing a lot of dumb things down here”) it seems a trifle difficult to believe that Hagel could not have been aware of the implication and provocation of the remark. Moreover, contrition of the nature described by Senator Schumer certainly was not apparent at the committee hearing.
Unfortunately, Senator Schumer’s hasty endorsement of Chuck Hagel for Secretary of Defense, and his duplicitous efforts to continue to try to justify that endorsement, reek of partisan politics and political expedience — and most certainly lacked the purity of divine purpose. We hope and pray that Senator Schumer will be true to his mission — and will reconsider his words, his actions and his support.
While our government appears unwilling to send a clear message to those seeking our destruction – we must send a clear message to our government.
Please stand strong and clear for peace.
Please put our national security ahead of party and politics.
Please stand strong and clear for truth, love and tolerance.
We are watching and we will not back down.
Indeed, if Mayor Koch’s great legacy was how he stood — his greatest legacy of all must be that he inspired others to stand.