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“You can’t ever make serious progress against terrorism unless you deal with Israel. We are not dealing with Israel. We’ve backed away. We’re afraid of the political consequences.”

Pat Buchanan talking? No, in fact it was former New York governor Mario Cuomo. Furthermore, said Cuomo in an interview with the New Haven Register, the U.S. should tell Israel: “Up until now it was just you and the Palestinians killing one another – now you are killing us. Now there are people out there who are taking Israel as the provocation to terrorize us all over the globe – in the United States and elsewhere.”


And Cuomo suggested that Israeli leaders be told that “you have a responsibility to all of us (and) we are going to be more assertive in dealing with you…. So let’s sit down and talk.”

Forty-eight hours after his words appeared in print, a backpedaling Cuomo called the Register to “clarify” his comments. “We have to be more assertive as to both sides, to force them together, not just the Israelis,” he said, although he did not retract any of his earlier statements.

More surprising than the harsh tone of Cuomo’s remarks was that no New York newspaper, or any media outlet, for that matter, reported them. Then again, given Cuomo’s status as a Democratic icon – and in light of the relatively positive press coverage he received during a 12-year tenure as governor that was long on rhetorical flourishes and short on tangible accomplishment – the silence of New York’s media lambs was to be expected.

Imagine, though, the din that would ensue were a former Republican elected official, particularly one perceived throughout his years in office as being unflinchingly pro-Israel – Al D’Amato, say – to characterize Israel as somehow bearing responsibility for terrorist attacks on Americans.

Just visualize the breathless teasers for the local evening newscasts: “Former senator slams Israel – details at 11.” Or how about “Influential Republican says it’s time to get tough with Israel – Marcia Kramer is here with the story.”

The local newspapers would weigh in with stories and editorials; the Times would praise the politician for his bracing forthrightness in speaking unpleasant truths and his deep sagacity in embracing, if somewhat belatedly, what the Times in its infinite wisdom had long been expressing.

In the situation at hand, the only mention appeared in a scathing New York Sun editorial, some ten days after the New Haven Register first reported Cuomo’s remarks. (The Sun, tweaking Cuomo’s intellectual pretensions, noted that the former governor “has a history of missteps on the Middle East” and reminded readers of Cuomo’s ridiculous suggestion in 1990 that the first President Bush defuse the Gulf crisis of that day by offering Saddam Hussein “a little bit” of Kuwait.

Predictably, Cuomo fired off a rather defensive letter to the Sun in which he reviewed his long record of support for Israel and reiterated what he told the New Haven Register in his follow-up chat – that both sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict need to agree to a negotiated settlement. But again, as was the case with his attempt at clarification in the Register, Cuomo did not disown any of the statements attributed to him in that first Register article, nor did he claim to have been misquoted or quoted out of context.

Actually, Cuomo’s remarks to the Register are nothing new. On October 5 of last year, he told WNBC TV’s Gabe Pressman that “the biggest aggravation in the Arab world, the biggest reason for their anger toward us and the creation of those suicide terrorists, is Israel and the difficulty with the Palestinian issue.”

And in a speech to the National Press club in January 2003, Cuomo said that Democrats needed to “point out that the president was wrong [in June 2002] to effectively withdraw from active participation in the attempt to end the incessant killing going on in Israel.”

In other words, President Bush “was wrong” in renouncing Yasir Arafat as a viable peace partner and throwing down the gauntlet to the Palestinians by telling them that if they wanted a state of their own, they needed new leadership and a new sense of accountability.

Makes about as much sense as offering Saddam “a little bit” of Kuwait.


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Jason Maoz served as Senior Editor of The Jewish Press from 2001-2018. Presently he is Communications Coordinator at COJO Flatbush.