No one likes being played for a fool, and former New York mayor Ed Koch isn’t enjoying President Obama’s decision to nominate Chuck Hagel as secretary of defense. Hagel has raised many hackles among supporters of Israel for, among other things, often declining to condemn Palestinian groups as terrorists.
Back in September 2011, Obama became desperate to secure Koch’s endorsement after he led many New York Jews in support of Republican Bob Turner in the congressional special election in Brooklyn called to replace the disgraced Anthony Weiner. Turner won a stunning victory in the most Jewish congressional district in the country, leading Koch to declare that he and other Democratic Jews had “sent a message” to Obama that he dare not ignore their concerns about his policies toward Israel.
Obama proceeded to shower attention on Koch, and even delivered a United Nations speech opposing the Palestinians’ bid for statehood. Two weeks after the special election, Koch declared himself satisfied.
“Whatever rift existed before — and there was — that’s gone,” Koch told the New York Times in September 2011. He promised to travel the country to make the case for Obama’s election with Jewish voters: “He’s got me to go out there and persuade them.” Obama eventually won Florida’s critical 29 electoral votes by less than a percentage point.
That was then, now is Hagel. Koch is bitterly disappointed in the president’s in-your-face nomination of the former Nebraska senator.
“The president’s a very charming guy, and when you’re with him you believe him. . . . The Jewish community is outraged,” Koch told Politico. “I don’t think the president is anti-Israel or certainly not anti-Semitic. But he has a different philosophy. And his philosophy is that getting the Islamic world to be supportive of the United States is more important than preventing Israel from being [crushed].”
It’s not uncommon in politics for someone to be misled. But it’s sad to see the normally astute Ed Koch confront the stark reality that he and President Obama simply occupy different worlds when it comes to Middle East issues.