Lancman On Jerusalem: ‘No Other Capital City In The World Has Its Status Questioned’: An Interview with Assemblyman Rory Lancman
New York State Assemblyman Rory Lancman (D-Queens) is a candidate in New York’s 6th Congressional District in the June 26 Democratic primary. Lancman, who served as an officer in New York’s 42nd infantry division and as a local community board member, recently met with The Jewish Press Editorial Board. He addressed Israel and local issues.
The Jewish Press: In general, should the U.S. tilt toward Israel in disputes with its neighbors? What is the basis for your position?
Assemblyman Lancman: Fairness and the pursuit of our national interest dictate that the U.S. support Israel in its disputes with its neighbors. Our struggle against terrorism and Islamic fundamentalism is a common one; so is our pioneering spirit and commitment to democracy. Israel has been a loyal and steadfast ally of the United States throughout the Cold War and the struggle against terrorism. Its public institutions are the most stable and accountable in the region. Compare the stability of Israel to Lebanon, where Hizbullah runs its own militia and sits in the government, or to Egypt, where the Muslim Brotherhood routinely harasses religious minorities and the Salafist movement seeks to abrogate the peace treaty with Israel, or to Syria, where the choice lies between the Assad dictatorship and an opposition that is equally determined to destroy Israel.
Is Israel treated fairly in the UN and its affiliated agencies? Should the United States support Israel when it is attacked in the UN and other international organizations?
When you look at the lopsided votes against Israel at the United Nations, you come away with one of two conclusions: that a nation the size of New Jersey is the biggest menace to world peace, or that our generation is experiencing the greatest expression of anti-Jewish bigotry since the 1930s. When you look at the prewar period, not a single world power stood up to express opposition to the Nazi threat, and few European Jews were given refuge by the democratic powers. Today, how many nations have the courage to say that Israel has fulfilled its obligations, while the Palestinians have not? If the UN cannot responsibly fulfill its mission, we have the right to speak out; our laws enshrine this principle. This is why we withdrew funding from UNESCO as a result of its recognition of Palestinian statehood.
Do you believe, as does President Obama, that the 1967 borders, with “swaps,” should be the starting point for negotiations between Israel and the Palestinians on final borders? Why?
The 1967 lines were never a recognized border for Israel, and it is dangerous to employ “1967 borders” as terminology in support of peace. It is, as the last three years of failure in moving the peace process forward even one inch have shown, an invitation to Palestinian intransigence and, worse, to the continued delusion that such “over the Green Line” locations as the Old City, the Mount of Olives and the burial sites of most of our biblical prophets would ever leave Jewish sovereignty. Indeed, prior to 1967, the Mount of Olives was desecrated, and Jews were forbidden from praying at the Kotel and at the tombs of our patriarchs. The starting point for negotiations with the Palestinians begins and ends with the borders necessary to secure and defend Israel and the historic presence of Jews in the land of Israel. It is unacceptable that while Israel extends full rights to its 1.6 million Arab citizens, the international community demands that certain territory deemed Palestinian be Judenfrei.
Should Israel halt settlement building as a precondition for negotiations with the Palestinians? Why?
Jews have a right to live anywhere in the world, especially anywhere within the Jewish homeland. It is immoral to suggest otherwise, and Israel has demonstrated its willingness and ability to make territorial compromise, including in territory where Jews live, in exchange for peace. The issue is a fig leaf for the Palestinian leadership’s failure to prepare the Palestinian people for a realistic peace settlement, and its failure to develop the considerable amount of territory under Palestinian control into a stable, democratic, peaceful society.
Should Israel commit, in advance of negotiations, to the release of Palestinians whom it has jailed for acts of violence against Israelis?
The Palestinian prisoners have a reason for being where they are. Most of them have professed their passion for violence and their records speak of support for Hamas, Islamic Jihad, and similar organizations. Some of the released prisoners have since returned to violence. Their recent hunger strike rings hollow considering their failure to recognize Israel and a peaceful path toward their statehood goals.
Should American policy favor Israel’s retention of the major Jewish population centers in West Bank settlements? Why?
This decision is ultimately for Israel to decide, but the locations of Gush Etzion and Ma’ale Adumim, for example, provide a vital security barrier for the capital city. There is no rational need for Israel to abandon major population centers in the West Bank to make way for a Palestinian state. In some of these centers, there are already three generations of families living and working. The best thing that we can do for the Palestinians and the peace process is to provide clarity: Israel’s major population centers in the West Bank aren’t going anywhere.
Do you believe American policy should be to support Israel’s retention of all of Jerusalem as its undivided capital? Why?
Jerusalem is the eternal capital of Israel. When Jerusalem was divided, Jews could not pray at our holiest sites, and Jewish institutions under Arab control were desecrated and destroyed. No other capital city in the world has its status questioned. The American public has spoken numerous times through its elected representatives recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel; for example, that the American embassy should be moved from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem, and that the State Department must recognize that Jerusalem is a part of Israel in the passports of American citizens born in Jerusalem.
Do you believe that parochial school students and their parents are entitled to the same assistance for the secular portion of their education as public school students and their parents?
As the parent of children attending Jewish day school, I know full well the challenge of paying both taxes to the government and as much as $12,000 annually to give each of my children a Jewish education. This is why I have proudly advocated for and supported legislation in furtherance of giving parochial school students and their parents the same assistance for the secular portion of their education as public school students and their parents, including the recent requirement that bus service be provided to yeshiva students after 4:30 p.m.
What is your general position on tuition vouchers? Tuition tax credits?
I am a co-sponsor of legislation in the Assembly that would provide tuition tax credits for parents, and I supported the law giving yeshiva students access to financial aid through the state’s Tuition Assistance Program.
Would you support legislation that would require the reasonable accommodation of religious practices for tenants, prisoners and students (e.g., for mezuzahs, sukkahs, electronic keys, kosher food in prisons, tournaments scheduled for Saturday/religious holidays) as it is now required in employment practices (“reasonable accommodation without undue hardship”) for employees?
As an attorney I represented individuals who were denied equal treatment, or denied a reasonable accommodation, due to their religious beliefs. As an assemblyman, I am a strong advocate for respecting the rights of people of all faiths. Tenants, students and prisoners deserve these same rights. The first amendment to our Constitution demands that government respect the religious practices of all Americans, including making reasonable accommodations to enable the faithful to worship and exercise their beliefs freely.
About the Author: Shlomo Greenwald is associate editor of The Jewish Press.
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