Skip to comments.Ed Koch Still Pulls No Punches: New Book Includes Surprising Revelation About James Baker
Posted on 02/29/2008 5:37:29 AM PST by SJackson
Although Ed Koch has not held elected office for nearly two decades, the feisty former mayor of New York City remains a powerful force in American politics and in the American Jewish community. Reporters still ask for his comments on the latest news developments, and candidates for office still seek his endorsement.
Now Koch has a new book out and it contains a stunning revelation that may ignite a second round of his now-famous clash with James Baker.
Round One of Koch vs. Baker exploded across headlines around the world in March 1992, when Koch revealed, in his New York Post column, that then-Secretary of State Baker had made an obscene remark about American Jews.
Koch reported that during a White House meeting, one participant mentioned something to Baker about growing Jewish concern over his unfriendliness toward Israel. According to Koch, Baker replied: "[Expletive] em. They [the Jews] didnt vote for us."
Bakers ugly statement had been quoted to Koch by someone who was present at the meeting. Not surprisingly, Koch could not divulge the identity of his source. That put him at a considerable disadvantage when Baker vehemently denied the allegation and State Department spokeswoman Margaret Tutwiler called Kochs expose "garbage."
But now Koch is setting them straight.
In his new book, The Koch Papers: My Fight Against Anti-Semitism, on which he and I collaborated, Koch reveals for the first time the name of his source: Jack Kemp, who at the time was serving as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development.
Not only was Secretary Kemp an unimpeachable source, but Bakers statement was consistent with his record concerning Jews and Israel, reaching all the way back to his 1952 senior thesis at Princeton University. In his thesis, young Baker defended the 1940s anti-Zionist policies of British Foreign Secretary Ernest Bevin.
In a foreshadowing of his 1992 attack on American Jewish voters, Baker at Princeton lambasted "the irrational and extreme behavior of American Zionists [in the 1940s]" and dismissed U.S. support for Jewish statehood in 1947 as nothing more than a case of "the vote-conscious American Government back[ing] its Zionists."
In more recent years, Baker reportedly referred to pro-Israel members of Congress as "the little Knesset," according to the Los Angeles Times. The late David Bar-Illan, who at the time was one of the editors of the Jerusalem Post, reported in Maariv in 1992 that Baker once remarked, "Jews remember the Holocaust, but they forget insults as soon as they smell cash."
Koch, for one, has not forgotten either Bakers insults or his policies. The Koch Papers reminds us that U.S. Mideast policy when Baker was secretary of state was consistently unfriendly to Israel, from pressuring the Jewish state to refrain from defending itself against Iraqi missile attacks to withholding U.S. loan guarantees for the absorption of Soviet Jewish immigrants.
A fresh reminder of the Baker days was provided just last month, when Japans largest newspaper, Yomiuri Shimbun, revealed that in 1991, when Baker was secretary of state, Israel was preparing to strike at a North Korean ship smuggling Scud missiles to Syria "but canceled it at the eleventh hour under U.S. pressure." One wonders how Baker would have responded if he were secretary of state during Israels recent strike on an apparent Syrian nuclear facility developed with North Korea.
In The Koch Papers, which will be published this week by Palgrave MacMillan, Mayor Koch and I bring together many of his previously unpublished memoranda and speeches on anti-Semitism, the Holocaust, and Israel, as well as some of his most powerful columns from the New York Post and other periodicals. The book also features a number of articles on which he and I have collaborated in recent years, including a lengthy essay on anti-Semitism and anti-Zionism that we wrote exclusively for this volume.
The Baker-Kemp revelation is perhaps the books most explosive element, in view of media reports that Baker could be a candidate for a senior position in a future administration. In an interview with the Israeli newspaper Haaretz in 2006, Senator John McCain said his administration would send "the smartest guy I know" to deal with the Arab-Israeli negotiations "Brent Scowcroft, or Jim Baker though I know that you in Israel dont like Baker."
Can Bakers hopes for a new government post survive Kochs revelation about the 1992 remark? That remains to be seen.
In the meantime, Baker is not the only Koch nemesis who could end up in a position to influence U.S. policy toward Israel. Also in the running, it appears, is Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as President Jimmy Carters national security adviser. Years before Bakers hostile remark about American Jews, Brzezinski, then an adviser to candidate Carter, was reported (by Marvin Kalb) to have said to an Israeli official, "How will you like the idea of working with a new president who owes nothing to the Jews?"
In March 1980, Koch caused a major controversy when he criticized Brzezinski and three other top Carter Mideast advisers as a "Gang of Four" who were trying to turn the U.S. against Israel. (The reference was to a group of Chinese leaders who had been pushed out of power by their rivals.)
During his years in the Carter administration, Brzezinski did indeed push for a tilt against Israel, as he acknowledged later in his memoirs of that period. More recently, he and several colleagues issued a statement urging the U.S. and its allies to engage in "a genuine dialogue" with Hamas. Brzezinski has endorsed Senator Barack Obama for president and reportedly is part of Obamas circle of foreign policy advisers.
The Koch Papers had its origins in two important appointments that Koch received in recent years. In 2004, he was selected by the president to lead the U.S. government delegation to the international conference on anti-Semitism held in Berlin. The following year, he was appointed to the United States Holocaust Memorial Council, which oversees the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum.
Given Kochs new prominence as a spokesman on issues related to anti-Semitism and the Holocaust, it seemed the time had come to prepare a volume showcasing the many important statements he has made on these subjects over the years.
One of the most fascinating aspects of The Koch Papers is the inclusion of never-before-seen private correspondence between Koch and prominent public figures about anti-Semitism, from Woody Allen to African-American scholar Henry Louis Gates.
The correspondence with Allen revolves around Kochs 2002 call for a boycott of France in response to rising French anti-Semitism. Allen strongly opposed a boycott.
"I happen to be one of Mr. Allens fans, and I had the honor and pleasure of making a cameo appearance in his film Manhattan Stories when I was mayor," Koch noted. "I also run into him on occasion because our taste in restaurants is apparently rather similar." But Koch pulled no punches in telling Allen that his statements defending France and opposing a boycott "have given the French people and their government undeserved cover for their tolerance of anti-Semitic behavior and shamefully inadequate response to it."
Readers will be surprised to discover on which points Allen refused to yield, and on which ones he backed down.
The exchanges with Woody Allen are particularly interesting in light of another segment of the book: the recent exchange that Mayor Koch and I had with the French ambassador to the United States after the ambassador claimed, erroneously, that anti-Semitic incidents in France had decreased by 47% in the past year.
Kochs straightforward style has a way of getting others to speak up, and in this book we present, for the first time in print, an intriguing discussion that he ignited in 2004-2005 about how to respond to anti-Semitism on campuses.
Focusing on the controversy over a cartoon in a Rutgers University newspaper mocking the Holocaust, Mayor Koch initiated correspondence with university presidents, scholars and free speech specialists about whether Rutgers was correct that it was powerless to respond. Among those weighing in on the controversy: Rutgers president Richard McCormick; Princeton president Shirley Tilghman; the then-president of Harvard, Lawrence Summers; constitutional expert Frederick Schwarz; and former U.S. senator Bob Kerrey.
Kochs lifetime of confronting anti-Semitism becomes more relevant every time one glances at the days news. From the recent poll showing almost one-third of Americans think Jews are disloyal, to the widespread anti-Semitism in the Arab media and schoolbooks, anti-Semitism is on the rise throughout the world and there is no respite in sight.
Just last week, new figures released by British Jewish leaders revealed that anti-Semitic violence in England reached a record level in 2007, with 114 assaults. That figure is the highest since the tracking of such attacks began in 1984.
Meanwhile, the Jewish Telegraphic Agency reports that the wearing of baseball caps has become widespread among Orthodox Jewish men in France who fear that wearing a yarmulke will invite anti-Semitic attacks. Jewish women, too, "have been hiding signs of their Jewishness," according to the report. "Many tuck away the Stars of David or Sephardic hamsa ornaments they wear around their necks before going out." The environment of fear has prompted many Jewish parents to pull their children out of public schools, and has encouraged others to emigrate to Israel. The number of French Jews moving to Israel last year, 2,717, is triple the number who went in 2000.
Anti-Semitism here in the United States, and in Ed Kochs beloved Big Apple, is naturally a significant topic of discussion in The Koch Papers. Subjects such as anti-Semitism in the guise of hostility to Israel, celebrity anti-Semitism, and the recent attacks on the "Israel lobby" receive their due. Appropriate attention is also devoted to Kochs well-known clashes with African-American leaders who have made anti-Jewish remarks, such as Jesse Jackson and Al Sharpton. Yet at the same time, Koch searches for common ground between the Jewish and African-American communities, in an important and hopeful essay, written expressly for this volume, titled "Black-Jewish Relations: Looking Ahead."
One section of the book focuses on the most horrific manifestation of anti-Semitism in history, the Holocaust. Kochs perspective, particularly with regard to how the Allies responded to the Nazi genocide, pulls no punches. In an interview included in the book, conducted just before international leaders gathered at Auschwitz to commemorate the sixtieth anniversary of the camps liberation, Koch remarked:
"The death of millions of Jews has to weigh on the consciences of the many nations that could have made a difference by giving refuge to the Jews. It would be a small atonement, but the world leaders who attend the Auschwitz ceremony should get down on their knees and ask God to forgive them for how their countries acted during the Holocaust."
Elsewhere in the interview, Koch strongly criticized President Franklin Roosevelt for barring Americas doors to Jewish refugees and refusing to bomb the death camps.
Koch had sharp words for the Holocaust-era American Jewish leadership, too:
"Jewish leaders did not do enough. Did they get arrested? Maybe they would have, if some other group was being persecuted. Some of them thought [that] the less they said, the better or that they shouldnt say as much as they would like, because it would increase anti-Semitism. They should have stormed the gates of the White House to demand action. But they were afraid of anti-Semitism afraid they would make things worse. Only a few people spoke out, like Ben Hecht, and of course Henry Morgenthau, the secretary of the treasury, whom we revere for his role in convincing Roosevelt finally to create the War Refugee Board, which saved some Jewish lives late in the war."
As readers will discover, The Koch Papers also contains two unexpected treats. One is a foreword by Pete Hamill which is really an essay itself, and a fascinating one at that. Hamill, the outspoken Irish-American newspaperman, best-selling novelist, and former editor-in-chief of the New York Post and New York Daily News, eloquently recalls the contrast between his neighborhoods joy at the end of World War II and the gruesome scenes of the liberated Nazi death camps which he, as a child, watched on newsreels in the local RKO movie house.
"When I was about eight, I was convinced that if God could talk to us, He would sound like President Roosevelt," Hamill writes. "But the footage from Buchenwald made me think other things, none of them spoken, all of them creating doubts that would last a lifetime. Later I would know that my unspoken questions were shared by millions of others. Where was Roosevelt?"
In this book, Hamill notes, "Koch remembers his own version of what I saw in the RKO Prospect: those first films from Buchenwald and Auschwitz. There was a major difference. I saw them as a Catholic school boy. Ed Koch saw them through the eyes of a tough proud Jew, the knowing eyes of a New Yorker, the eyes of an infantryman at whom bullets had been fired with intent to kill. And he, too, was shocked. In these pieces Koch is not speaking as a former Mayor of New York. He speaks, over and over again, as a Jew, and as a rememberer. I always saw him then (and now) as the very best kind of American: a free man, who says what he believes should be said, directly, without fear. He is also, in this time of pervasive national amnesia, an American with memory."
The Koch Papers also includes a powerful statement from a Catholic at the opposite end of the political spectrum. A blurb from conservative icon William F. Buckley, Jr. praises Kochs "extraordinary determination," his "obvious and fine instincts," and his "commitment to fighting the awful, sinful practice of anti-Semitism."
Anti-Semitism is one of the few issues on which Pete Hamill and William Buckley will agree, and The Koch Papers may be the only book that will ever bear endorsements from both of them. Chalk up another first for Ed Koch!
Still, it's the safe assumption.
That “ugly statement” was 100% true.
The Jewish vote is a democrat constituency.
Perhaps Baker should have phrased it more diplomatically?
“Regardless of our course of action, the Jewish vote will go to whoever is running as a democrat and whatever we accomplish will be undone...”
There, is that better?
If Mccain wants the anti-Semitic James Baker (not the first I heard Baker was a Jew hater) in his administration....you can bet McCain will be weak dealing vs Islamic Terror
Koch may be a liberal but he has been very supportive on the War on Terror
This is ethnic politics, not anti-Semitism.
You can bet that Baker would have given them what they wanted, if they had voted Republican.
He did, however, serve as the mayor's link to the Caped Crusader.
A situation caused to a large extend by Republican bigots like Baker.
Reagan got 39% of the Jewish vote in 1980.
31% in 1984
Bush I got 35% in 1988.
Secretary of State Baker, a bigot, tells Jews like me who voted for Bush to go FU*K ourselves. Classy from a Republican official.
Surprise, surprise, Bush I drops from 35% in 1988 to 11% in 1992, and though I wasn't one of them I can't blame any Jew for voting for Clinton over a President who tolerates bigotry.
And no, there's been no recovery, and yes, Republicans defend Bakers bigotry.
Let me also say that for an official to base American foreign policy on the voting habits of a domestic minority should be a disqualification from office. Shame on Bush I for never addressing this.
The President's job is to do the right thing.
James Baker was apparently more interested in returning favors and using the power of of the US government for if-you-scratch-my-back-I'll-scratch-yours deals.
Baker is beneath contempt and did not deserve to serve in the Reagan administration.
Nor do they still hold office.
If Baker was Jesse Jacskon, Calypso Louis Farrakhan, Carol Moseley Braun, Cynthia McKinney or Al Sharpton nothing would have been made of the comments.
Didn’t they say similar things and then not taken to task?
And shame on Bush II for never addressing Baker’s perfidy on the Iraq Study Commission.
I aggree with your equivalency, but I've seen criticism from all of them, both from the right and the left. Including Koch. You must not be looking.
Please ping me when any are nominated to cabinet positions.
Ed Koch and other Jews are HURT by words like these, forget what actions are taken because the Democrats actions are usually AWFUL against the Jews, but they say NICE WORDS.....so by Kemp telling this to ed, he has caused a bigger rift and more hurt feelings. Weird.
“Also in the running, it appears, is Zbigniew Brzezinski, who served as President Jimmy Carters national security adviser. Years before Bakers hostile remark about American Jews, Brzezinski, then an adviser to candidate Carter, was reported (by Marvin Kalb) to have said to an Israeli official, “How will you like the idea of working with a new president who owes nothing to the Jews?”
In March 1980, Koch caused a major controversy when he criticized Brzezinski and three other top Carter Mideast advisers as a “Gang of Four” who were trying to turn the U.S. against Israel. (The reference was to a group of Chinese leaders who had been pushed out of power by their rivals.)
“During his years in the Carter administration, Brzezinski did indeed push for a tilt against Israel, as he acknowledged later in his memoirs of that period. More recently, he and several colleagues issued a statement urging the U.S. and its allies to engage in “a genuine dialogue” with Hamas. Brzezinski has endorsed Senator Barack Obama for president and reportedly is part of Obamas circle of foreign policy advisers.”
Obama would definately ‘CHANGE’ our foreign policy! Brzezinski has actively undermined our efforts in the WOT!
Isn’t Zbigniew Brzezinski currently advising Barak Hussein Obama?