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November 24, 2014 / 2 Kislev, 5775
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Posts Tagged ‘Ed Koch’

Koch Leaves Most of His Estate to His Nephews

Tuesday, March 12th, 2013

Approximately $3 million of the estimated $11 million estate of former New York City Mayor Ed Koch was signed over to his three nephews, and $100,000 each was willed to his long-time secretary to the LaGuardia and Wagner Educational Fund for the purpose of creating a program to promote public and government service.

His sister will receive about $500,000.

His political memorabilia will go to the New-York Historical Society, New York media reported.

Recalling Ed Koch’s Political Hypocrisy

Wednesday, February 20th, 2013

Now that the tributes to Ed Koch have abated, it behooves us to recall one of the less praiseworthy aspects of the former mayor’s character – his abject hypocrisy on race relations, particularly as they manifested themselves in his incessant criticism of Rudy Giuliani.

Giuliani was elected in 1993 to restore order and sheer livability to a city left adrift by Koch and made all the worse by Koch’s hopelessly overmatched successor, David Dinkins. (It may be difficult to recall more than two decades later, but Koch’s stock had plummeted to such depths in1989 that he lost the Democratic primary that year to the ineffectual Dinkins by a solid margin.)

Like Koch before him, Giuliani faced fierce resistance to his policies from the city’s self-styled community activists and black leaders. Giuliani, however, was far more successful than Koch in turning back decades of liberal fiscal and welfare experimentation that nearly bankrupted the city, as well as liberal social and law enforcement policies that left citizens cowering in fear behind bolted doors.

Koch certainly was an improvement over his two immediate predecessors, the liberal Democrat Abe Beame and the even more liberal Republican John Lindsay, but when Koch assumed office in 1978 the city’s economic house was already on its way to being put in order thanks to the efforts of politicians like Governor Hugh Carey and bankers like Felix Rohatyn.

Koch’s outsize personality, and his very public repudiation of the liberal pieties he himself had so slavishly subscribed to for decades, made him a popular figure in the city for the first two of his three terms in office. But he never got a handle on a skyrocketing crime rate and the entrenched municipal corruption.

That Giuliani managed to tame a city long characterized by many as “ungovernable” had to have bothered a man with Koch’s healthy self-regard. In short order Giuliani was being hailed as the best mayor the city had seen since La Guardia – and Koch was aligning himself with some very strange political bedfellows, most notably the Rev. Al Sharpton. (The Village Voice trumpeted Koch as the man “who made Al Sharpton kosher.”)

Koch became a chronic – some would say compulsive – critic of Giuliani. His criticism grew so predictable and mindless that the very title of a collection of his newspaper columns on the mayor – “Giuliani, Nasty Man” – had about it the whiff of parody.

With his new pal Sharpton in tow, Koch took particular delight in skewering Giuliani over his handling of racial issues. Koch no doubt hoped New Yorkers would forget just what a racial tinderbox the city had been during his own mayoralty.

The Harlem pastor Calvin Butts, for example, had labeled Koch “an instigator of the climate of racial fear in this city,” while CUNY professor Marshall Berman charged that Koch “has been remarkably adept at polarizing blacks and Jews.”

Koch reached a nadir in his campaign against Giuliani in October 1995. The UN was marking its fiftieth anniversary and Yasir Arafat was being feted all around town as a man of peace. When Giuliani learned that Arafat had been invited to a Lincoln Center concert to be performed by the New York Philharmonic, he dispatched aides to tell Arafat and his entourage to make themselves disappear from the premises.

Koch wasted no time in holding a joint press conference with David Dinkins (of whom Koch had once written, “I thought the city would be destroyed if we had to live through a second Dinkins term”) to denounce Giuliani.

“Mayor Giuliani,” Koch told reporters, “has behavioral problems dealing with other people.”

Giuliani took the criticism in stride, telling a UJA-Federation fundraising breakfast shortly after the controversy that he was “proud of that decision. I’d make it again, and the day I’d stop making it is the day I’d resign as mayor…. When I write my memoirs, this is one of the things that I probably will be proudest of.”

On that day Giuliani showed himself to be the kind of fearless politician Ed Koch once took such pride in being.

Ed Koch and New York’s Fighting Generation

Wednesday, February 13th, 2013

The last sentence on Ed Koch’s tombstone reads: “Above all, he loved his country, the United States of America, in whose armed forces he served in World War II.”

The preceding two lines engraved on the headstone of the former New York City mayor, who died on February 1 at the age of 88, declare that “He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith. He fiercely defended the City of New York, and he fiercely loved its people.” The stone also includes the first line of the Shema in Hebrew and English.

Unfortunately, the Koch obituaries in New York City’s three major daily newspapers devoted just one or two flimsy sentences to his pivotal wartime experiences (1943-46), and none even mentioned that he fought in the outstanding 104th (Timberwolf) Infantry Division for a month in the fall of 1944.

Additionally, at his funeral at Temple Emanu-El on February 4, none of the eulogists, who included former president Bill Clinton, Mayor Michael Bloomberg and the Israeli consul general in New York Ido Aharoni, discussed Mayor Koch’s World War II service. Only Koch’s law partner, James F. Gill, said in passing that Koch served “as a soldier in World War II.”

Ironically, an “appreciation” of Koch in the Forward by Jonathan Soffer, a history professor and author of Ed Koch and the Rebuilding of New York City, erroneously stated that he “joined the 104th Infantry Division, and fought against the Wehrmacht in the Netherlands, Belgium and Germany in the spring of 1944.”

In reality, the only fighting in the “spring of 1944” in northwest Europe occurred during the season’s last two weeks beginning on D-Day, June 6, 1944, when the Americans, British and Canadians stormed ashore in Normandy.

But the Allies were then bottled up in northern Normandy until the last week of July 1944, when the American-led breakout (Operation Cobra) occurred, and the Second, Third, Fourth and Sixth Armored divisions swept down the Cotentin Peninsula and demolished the entire left flank of the Wehrmacht’s defenses. By early September, in conjunction with the Franco-American invasion of the French Rivera on August 15, 1944, the American-dominated Allied armies had liberated most of France.

Ed Koch’s 104th Infantry Division, commanded by the highly competent General Terry de la Mesa Allen, first entered combat in late October 1944, when it was assigned to the Canadian First Army. In Citizen Koch, a 1992 autobiography, Koch provides a brief and confusing account of his combat record, writing that his “frontline duty was curtailed after about three months by another accident.”

But since the 104th Infantry Division entered combat on October 23, 1944, and since Koch said his “combat duty” ended in November 1944, he could not have been on the frontlines for more than five weeks. It’s important to realize, however, that many 15,000-soldier American infantry divisions suffered severe casualty rates in their battles with the highly skilled Wehrmacht in northwest and central Europe between June 6, 1944 and May 8, 1945. The website of the 104th Infantry Division’s Veterans Association states that 34,000 men served in this division, which means it had 19,000 replacement soldiers.

The commanding officer of the Timberwolves, General de la Mesa Allen, was even more intense than General George Patton, his superior officer in North Africa and Sicily. In these campaigns between November 1942 and August 1943, Allen ably led the fabled First Infantry Division, and his assistant division commander was Theodore Roosevelt Jr., who would win the Medal of Honor for his uncommon bravery and competence with the Fourth Infantry Division on Utah Beach on D-Day.

A month after D-Day, General Roosevelt, son of the 26th president, died of a heart attack and is buried in the Omaha Beach Cemetery next to his brother Quentin Roosevelt, who was killed twenty-six years earlier flying for the U.S. Army Air Service in World War I. Another great New York City mayor, Fiorello La Guardia, also flew in General John J. Pershing’s Air Service in World War I. (My maternal grandfather, David Schneiderman, and his brother Reuben, born on the Lower East Side in 1892 and 1894, respectively, were among the 250,000 Jewish Americans who served honorably in World War I.)

The Koch obituaries in the major New York dailies also omitted the fact that on April 11, 1945, the Timberwolves and their brother division, the sterling Third Armored Division, liberated the notorious Nordhausen/Dora-Mittelbau concentration camp, where the Nazis built the V-1 and V -2 rockets that wreaked such human and physical devastation on London in 1944 and 1945.

Ed Koch, FDR, and the Holocaust

Wednesday, February 6th, 2013

“Mayor Koch last night took on the ghost of President Franklin D. Roosevelt,” an item in the New York Daily News in 1988 began, which probably surprised no one, since Ed Koch had spent a lifetime taking on everybody who deserved to be taken on, whether they were alive or dead. Indeed, his willingness to vigorously battle for what he believed and let the chips fall where they may was precisely what endeared Koch to so many people across the political spectrum.

As a historian who has written about President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s response to the Holocaust, what intrigued me about that 1988 speech was the unique way in which the New York City mayor framed his criticism of FDR: “I will never forgive him for closing the doors to Jews who could have left Germany. Never will I forgive him. If you believe in purgatory – and I don’t even know what it is – that’s where he is, for that sin.”

In the years to follow, as Mayor Koch and I became friends and then coauthors, I had the opportunity to speak with him about that “purgatory” remark. And when a reporter from Italian National Television who was scheduled to interview Koch on the 65th anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz asked me what topics I thought he should raise, I suggested bringing up the purgatory issue.

“I think it’s a Catholic expression,” Koch told him. “I’m not Catholic, I’m Jewish. I don’t think Jews have purgatory. I’m not really sure, I’m not religious myself, although I believe in God. But ‘purgatory’ [means] that you have an opportunity to deal with your sinful life and ultimately get to Heaven…you have to spend a time in purgatory, winning the right to enter Heaven.”

President Roosevelt “did many, many good things,” Koch emphasized, recalling FDR’s role in “saving the United States from the Depression” and leading America against Hitler in World War II. But FDR “also had an opportunity to save Jews before World War II,” and his failure to do is what landed him in purgatory, Koch explained. He cited Roosevelt’s decision to turn away the refugee ship St. Louis; his refusal to instruct the State Department to permit Jewish immigration up to the maximum allowed by law (the quotas were woefully under-filled); and the sham Evian Conference of 1938, which the Roosevelt administration convened to give the impression of concern for the Jewish refugees, without actually doing anything to aid them.

For me, however, perhaps the most significant part of the interview was Koch’s analysis of anti-Semitism in the U.S. in the 1930s and 1940s. Given the public mood in those days, was it politically possible for FDR to have done much for the Jews? Scholars looking at this issue tend to rely on newspaper reports, public opinion polls about prejudice, and statistics about the size of anti-Semitic organizations. But an eyewitness account can be very revealing. And Koch, having grown up in hardscrabble neighborhoods in Newark and Brooklyn in the 1930s and 1940s, had much to say about the subject.

“Yes, there was a lot of anti-Semitism in America in those years, but that is no excuse for Roosevelt’s inaction, which was vile,” Koch asserted. “A leader has to lead. He has to try to change minds.”

What about claims that helping the Jews would have undermined Roosevelt’s ability to convince the public to fight Hitler? “I don’t accept that,” Koch said. “I believe that the American public could have accepted saving Jews.” He wasn’t a sociologist. He just knew what he had experienced among the people he met in the neighborhoods where he lived and worked. Some were bigots. But most weren’t.

Koch wasn’t just speculating when he expressed his faith in the basic decency of most Americans. In April 1944 – while the Holocaust still raged, and before the deportations of Hungarian Jews began – the White House quietly commissioned a Gallup Poll on the subject. It asked the public about offering “temporary protection” to Jews fleeing Hitler. The supposedly anti-Semitic American public supported the idea by a margin of seventy percent to twenty-three percent. Despite that overwhelming public sentiment, President Roosevelt agreed to create just one refugee camp – in upstate New York, where some nine hundred eighty-two refugees were brought in the summer of 1944.

Ed Koch: Fiercely Jewish But Buried in a Churchyard

Tuesday, February 5th, 2013

It was spookily ironic that former New York City mayor Ed Koch died on the anniversary of the death of Wall Street Journal reporter Daniel Pearl, when Koch had long ago chosen to have etched on his headstone the final words of Daniel Pearl, spoken just before Muslim terrorists beheaded him.

On Koch’s headstone, beneath a Mogen David, are the words:

“My father is Jewish, my mother is Jewish, I am Jewish.”

No one could doubt the pride in his religion, but following his funeral at Manhattan’s Temple Emanu-El, Koch’s remains were buried in a plot outside the Episcopalian Trinity Church in the Washington Heights neighborhood of New York City.

As Mayor Bloomberg noted, “Just think about it, a Polish Jew, in an Episcopalian Churchyard, in a largely Dominican neighborhood.”

Koch bought his burial plot in 2008, when the Trinity Churchyard was the only cemetery in Manhattan that still had plots available.  He explained at the time that he could not bear the idea that his body would have to leave New York City.  “This is my home, the idea of having to go to New Jersey was so distressing to me.”

In addition to quoting Daniel Pearl’s last words, Ed Koch chose the words for the rest of the inscription on the support stone of his tombstone.  It reads:

He was fiercely proud of his Jewish faith. He fiercely defended the City of New York, and he fiercely loved its people. Above all, he loved his country, the United States of America, in whose armed forces he served in World War II.

Above that, on the tombstone itself, is the first line of the Shema.

Hear O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is One.

It is highly unorthodox for a Jew to be buried in a churchyard, but the greatest concern is the sanctity of the individual graves, not the cemetery. Some rabbis believe it to be permissible if, surrounding the plot containing the Jewish remains, there is an enclosure or physical barrier about 40 inches high, thereby effectively creating a separate cemetery.

Hiz Onner Ed Koch Dies at 88

Friday, February 1st, 2013

Ed Koch, the pugnacious former New York mayor whose political hechsher was eagerly sought by Republicans and Democrats alike, has died.

Koch, 88, died Friday morning, the New York Times reported. Koch, famous for greeting constituents with “How’m I doing,” presided over New York’s most difficult late 20th century years, from 1978-1989, and helped spur the recovery that would flourish under one of his successors, Rudy Giuliani.

Koch’s third term was mired by corruption scandals and burgeoning racial tensions and after losing his fourth bid for reelection in 1988, Koch retired into a happy existence as a Jewish yoda, blessing or cursing political penitents as he saw fit, and not always hewing to the prescripts of his Democratic Party.

Koch never met a solicitation for an opinion that he didn’t like.

He endorsed Giuliani, a Republican, in his successful 1992 bid to defeat David Dinkins, who had defeated Koch four years earlier, and went on to share — and sometimes take over — the stage at endorsements for other Republicans, including New York Gov. George Pataki, Sen. Al D’Amato and New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

He stumped hard for George W, Bush’s presidential reelection in 2004, and was not afraid to tell baffled Jewish Democrats why: Bush had Israel’s back, according to Koch.

Four years later, Republicans hoped to win a repeat endorsement for Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.), but Koch, alarmed at what he saw as Republican plans to degrade the social safety net he had championed as a congressman in the 1970s, instead threw in with Barack Obama.

He proceeded to become Obama’s biggest Jewish headache, lacerating the president with criticism for his perceived coolness to Israel.

“I weep as I witness outrageous verbal attacks on Israel,” he wrote on the Huffington Post in April 2010. “What makes these verbal assaults and distortions all the more painful is that they are being orchestrated by President Obama.”

In 2011, Koch endorsed Bob Turner, a Republican contending what was seen as a safe Democratic seat in a special election, even though his opponent, David Weprin, was both Jewish and stridently pro-Israel.

Turner won and, message sent, Koch watched Obama retreat from criticism of Israel’s settlement policies — and did not hesitate to claim credit for the conversion.

“I believe the recent vote in the 9th Congressional District in New York affected in a positive way the policy of the U.S. on the Mideast,” Koch wrote supporters in an email after that election.

Koch turned away Republican pleas to re-up his attacks on Obama before the last election, and enjoyed telling friends that he had received no less a pleader than Sheldon Adelson, the casino magnate who made the president’s unseating his mission.

Koch instead enthusiastically endorsed Obama in a long video just before the election — an appearance Jewish Democrats credit with upping Obama’s Jewish numbers in Florida, a critical swing state.

Ed Koch: Tom Friedman’s Skewed Vision Of Non-Violence

Wednesday, April 18th, 2012

In his April 4th New York Times column, Thomas Friedman endorsed what he designated to be “non-violent resistance by Palestinians” against Israel. He added that Palestinians need to “accompany every boycott, hunger strike or rock they throw at Israel with a detailed map” delineating their territorial demands.

Friedman, I’m sorry to say, is allowing himself to be used by radicals whose goal is not peace but the destruction of Israel. Two prior prime ministers of Israel, Ehud Barak and Ehud Olmert, offered the Palestinian Authority a return of all but between 7 and 9 percent of the West Bank. That area would bring into the State of Israel most of the 300,000 Israeli Jews living on the West Bank, referred to by Israelis by the biblical names of Judea and Samaria. The 7 to 9 percent would then be replaced by land swaps.

Those offers from Israel were turned down by the Palestinian Authority. The Palestinian Authority has for the past year and a half refused to return to high-level peace negotiations unless Israel agrees to its preconditions which include a settlement freeze on all construction of Jewish homes in the West Bank and Jerusalem and a stipulation that negotiations proceed from what Israel believes are indefensible pre-1967 borders.

The Palestinian state called for under the two-state solution – which has been accepted by the current prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and his immediate predecessors – also includes Gaza. Under Prime Minister Ariel Sharon, the latter territory was totally evacuated by Israel. Since that evacuation in 2005 and after an election won by Hamas, the Palestinians in Gaza under Hamas have continued their war against the Jews. Recently, Hamas in one day sent 150 rockets into southern Israel, disrupting the economy of the area and endangering its population. The rockets are simply sent in the general direction of cities and towns with their civilian populations as the targets.

Supporters of the Palestinian Authority and its two components, Hamas and Fatah, hold Israel to blame for the lack of progress in peace talks. They are furious that Israel refuses to cede more territory under these conditions and thereby commit suicide in pursuit of an illusory peace.

Supporters of the Palestinian Authority include Jews in Israel itself and here in the U.S. However, it is rare that any Jewish supporters of the Palestinian Authority would urge the Palestinians to resume violence against the Jews of Israel. It therefore came as a shock to read in Friedman’s column that he endorses the resumption of rock throwing against Israelis.

Friedman’s article was itself, in effect, a rock thrown directly at Israel and the peace process. I caution Friedman not to recommend violence lightly. Having been a victim in 1991 of rocks thrown by Palestinians during the first Intifada – an injury requiring 9 stitches to suture my scalp where it was struck by a stone – I couldn’t help but wonder: how would Friedman feel if a child in Israel were to be struck by a stone, perhaps losing an eye or worse? Would Friedman blame himself for having encouraged the Arabs on the West Bank to hurl stones in what he describes as a “non-violent” measure?

I thank the Times for publishing my letter to the editor denouncing Friedman for including stone throwing as a “non-violent” tactic. I also wonder why the Times editorially has not denounced or chastised his behavior, so as to reassure its readers it does not agree with its premier foreign policy pundit.

Friedman, who welcomed the Arab Spring – which in Egypt and elsewhere has produced governments that are now dominated by Islamic groups like the Muslim Brotherhood that support the use of terrorism – is fast becoming the darling of Islamist terrorists everywhere.

My letter published by the Times follows:

Rock Throwing by Arabs To the Editor: Thomas L. Friedman (“A Middle East Twofer,” column, April 4) endorses what he calls “nonviolent resistance by Palestinians” against Israel. He adds that Palestinians need to “accompany every boycott, hunger strike or rock they throw at Israel with a detailed map” delineating their territorial demands.

I was attacked by “nonviolent” Arab rock throwers while touring the old Jewish quarter of Jerusalem in 1991. I needed nine stitches but was fortunate to have suffered only relatively minor injuries. If my attackers’ aim had been a little sharper, I could have lost an eye, or worse. Many Israelis as well as foreign tourists have been badly injured, sometimes permanently maimed, in such “nonviolent” assaults.

Israelis have even been murdered by rock throwing. Last September, Asher Palmer, 25, and his infant son, Yonatan, were killed when “nonviolent” rocks were thrown at their car, causing a fatal crash. We may disagree on borders, settlements, refugees or other contentious Arab-Israeli issues. But can’t we all agree that in the English language, the terms “nonviolent” and “rock throwing” are mutually exclusive?

Printed from: http://www.jewishpress.com/indepth/opinions/tom-friedmans-skewed-vision-of-non-violence/2012/04/18/

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