cuomo's course

Cuomo steps up effort to promote new pro-Israel group in series of media hits

The former New York governor cautioned about the rise in far-left anti-Israel sentiment on a recent episode of his podcast

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New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo speaks before getting vaccinated at the mass vaccination site at Mount Neboh Baptist Church in Harlem on March 17, 2021 ,in New York City.

Former New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, in a series of media appearances on Friday, stepped up his recently announced effort to raise the alarm over dwindling support for Israel within the Democratic Party, as he prepares to launch a pro-Israel group that has fueled speculation he will run for office again.

In two episodes of Cuomo’s podcast, as well as an interview on 77 WABC Radio late last week, the former governor, who resigned from office in 2021 amid accusations of sexual misconduct, expanded on recent comments in which he suggested that anti-Israel sentiment among far-left Democrats is contributing to a global rise in antisemitism.

“I think my own party, the Democratic Party, has to hear this and has to be more active and more engaged,” he said in a bonus episode of his weekly podcast, “As a Matter of Fact … With Andrew Cuomo,” released on Friday. 

In the past, “the Democratic Party was always synonymous with support for Israel,” Cuomo, who has long identified as a staunch advocate of the Jewish state, claimed on his show. “There was no difference, and it is now a very different situation.”

“The Jewish community should be aware of that, and they do have connections with the Democratic Party,” he went on. “It’s now time to communicate to the Democratic Party, ‘We need you as a friend, and we need your voice, and we need you to speak up.’”

Cuomo unveiled his plan to establish a new organization called Progressives for Israel two weeks ago at an event in Manhattan commemorating the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw Ghetto Uprising. “I am going to call the question for Democrats,” he said in prerecorded remarks. “Do you stand with Israel or do you stand against Israel, because silence is not an option.”

The former governor did not provide additional details on Friday regarding his plans for the group, even as he elaborated on his motivations for seeking more formal involvement in pro-Israel advocacy.

A spokesperson for Cuomo told Jewish Insider in an email that “more details will be released in the near future,” but he gave no specific timeframe for the launch.

The announcement on March 13, first reported by JI, was widely ridiculed on social media, particularly among left-leaning activists who cast suspicion on Cuomo’s effort to claim the progressive mantle.

On his podcast last week, Cuomo, a moderate Democrat who frequently clashed with progressive lawmakers during his gubernatorial tenure, indirectly responded to such criticism, insisting that progressivism “is not a new concept” and “just calling yourself a progressive does not make you a progressive.”

“Let’s really understand what it means to be progressive and challenge a lot of what people now call as progressive policy,” he said. Cuomo, 65, suggested that the new vanguard of progressive activists had not sufficiently reckoned with expressions of anti-Israel sentiment from within its own ranks, giving a pass to some criticism that he views as antisemitic.

“We’re at a point in the struggle where we must acknowledge that the challenge has gotten greater, and therefore our response must increase,” he explained. “What I worry about is, the challenge is increasing but the response is not increasing, and that’s what I’m hoping to spur.”

Cuomo’s new campaign enters the discourse as recent polling shows, for the first time, that Democrats sympathize more with Palestinians than Israelis. It also comes as Israel’s right-wing governing coalition moves forward with a controversial plan to weaken the judicial system, spurring mass protests across the Jewish state. 

In the U.S., a growing number of Democratic leaders, including President Joe Biden, have expressed concerns over the judicial overhaul proposal.

For his part, Cuomo took no firm position on the issue, even as he indicated that he was at least sympathetic to the argument in favor of reforming Israel’s Supreme Court. “There is a serious disagreement among the intellectuals and constitutional experts as to whether the judiciary has overreached,” he said in a separate podcast episode released on Friday. “Elected officials, elected bodies, normally make the legislation, not unelected justices.”  

More broadly, however, Cuomo argued that some opposition to Israel’s judicial overhaul unhelpfully “compounds the issue with Palestine,” leading to criticism that delegitimizes Israel as a Jewish state.

“There is no doubt that the debate concerning judicial power in Israel is real,” he acknowledged. “But I fear these political positions, either directly or indirectly, either purposefully or coincidentally, are driving or justifying antisemitic feelings and activity.”

The former governor expanded on that point during an appearance on the billionaire businessman John Catsimatidis’ radio show late last week.

“Antisemitism is off the charts. It’s exploding in this country and globally, and there are issues,” he said in a Friday evening interview on 77 WABC Radio. “There’s the Israel-Palestinian conflict and more and more support for the pro-Palestinian position, especially from the Democratic Party or the extreme of the Democratic Party. There’s then an issue on the judiciary, where the prime minister is trying to take power back from the judiciary, and these are legitimate issues and you can have legitimate differences.”

“My point is, you can have a legitimate difference on the opinion, but it doesn’t justify you being antisemitic, and that’s what we’re seeing grow,” he concluded. 

Cuomo said he had been motivated to launch a pro-Israel group because he does not believe there are “enough voices” from outside the Jewish community now “speaking up” against antisemitic incidents, which rose sharply in 2022, according to a recent report conducted by the Anti-Defamation League. 

“It’s not just up to the Jewish community to speak up on antisemitism,” Cuomo, who is Catholic, declared on his podcast last week. “It is the responsibility of all of us.”

Meanwhile, Cuomo said in the radio interview that he is “keeping” his “options open” as he weighs a potential comeback campaign.

The former governor is reportedly considering a challenge to Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY) in 2024, but he made no allusion to any specific plans while fielding a question from one caller who asked for an update on his current political aspirations. 

“I love public service, I think I have a contribution to make, I think I learned a little something about it, so all options open,” he said, “and that’s enough for now.”

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