We would like to believe County Executive Bruce Blakeman was not trying to use Israel’s war with Hamas as payback for Hofstra University’s challenge to Nassau’s 99-year lease with the Las Vegas Sands to develop a casino, hotel and resort at the Nassau Coliseum that he favored.
Or that Blakeman was not trying to use a war that has already claimed the lives of 1,200 Israelis and as many as 13,000 Palestinians to gain political favor in Nassau from supporters of Israel’s far-right government under Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his political ally, former President Donald Trump
Or that Blakeman was not trying to distract focus from his role in promoting settlements in the West Bank of Israel that many in Israel and the United States believe played a major role in the intelligence failure that allowed the slaughter of Israeli men, women and children by Hamas on Oct. 7.
But Blakeman’s demand that Susan Poser resign as president of Hofstra University, a private college, leaves us with no other choice.
“Rather than take a stand against evil and clearly condemn Hamas, President Poser sought equivalence between Hamas’ terrorist slaughter of innocent women and children with the contested political agenda of the Palestinian people,” Blakeman said in a release issued by his office on Nov. 28, six weeks after Hamas’ attack on Israel. “She is wrong, misguided, and her judgment puts into question her ability to lead Nassau County’s largest private university and guide Hofstra University alumni.”
What did Poser say that required Nassau’s top elected officials to demand the resignation of the county’s largest private university? Nothing.
On Monday, Oct. 9, two days after Hamas’ attack, Poser, who like Blakeman is Jewish, addressed Hofstra’s students and staff.
“The world woke up on Saturday morning to news of the horrific and brutal attack by Hamas on Israel and the unspeakable, organized violence and hostage-taking against men, women, and children,” Poser said. “The death toll now is over 1,200 and will undoubtedly climb.”
Exactly how does that statement seek “equivalence between Hamas’ terrorist slaughter of innocent women and children with the contested political agenda of the Palestinian people?’
Answer: it doesn’t.
Poser is clear in blaming “Hamas for a “horrific and brutal attack” and “the unspeakable, organized violence and hostage-taking against men, women, and children.”
Poser went on to say in her first message that “as a community, we must abhor violence. At the same time, individuals can have differing political views, particularly given the complexity of the politics and history of this region of the world.”
She said in a second message “there is a complex history and conflicting views about the causal underpinnings of the current crisis. This is one of the reasons that lasting peace in that part of the world has been so elusive and contested. But what is not contested is the tragic loss of life of innocent Israelis, Palestinians, and many others.”
These are reasonable statements in light of the violence that took place on college campuses across the country targeting Jewish students and the mission of a university to support civil debate.
Blakeman appears to be trying to falsely link Poser’s response to the disgraceful silence about Hamas’s attack by university presidents at such prestigious schools as Harvard, Columbia and Stanford. And destroy Poser’s reputation and career in the process.
The reality is that Poser’s response has helped Hofstra avoid the divisive rhetoric and violent attacks seen at those schools.
And if Poser’s response was so inappropriate, why did Blakeman wait six weeks to air his criticism publicly?
Blakeman did make earlier calls to the Hofstra University Board of Trustees for Poser’s resignation, saying he was “shocked” by her comments.
“Dr. Poser’s callous and unconscionable statement is completely out of step with the vast majority of Nassau County residents,” Blakeman said in one letter to the Hofstra board. “With no allies in business, labor or government, Hofstra would be wise to part ways with Dr. Poser.”
In effect, Blakeman was telling the Hofstra board, mobster-style, you have a lovely university here — I would hate to have something happen to this.
Blakeman, who was the Nassau County Republican Party’s liaison with the 2020 Trump campaign, did not express any similar outrage when the former president echoed Adolf Hitler in a Labor Day speech calling those on the other side of the aisle “vermin” and railing against “communists, Marxists, fascists and the radical left thugs”
Or when Trump said in 2017 there were good people on both sides when protesters confronted neo-Nazis in Charlottesville defending a statue of Confederate General Robert E. Lee and chanted “Jews will not replace us.”
By applying Blakeman’s standard to Poser, shouldn’t he resign as county executive?
To its credit, the Hofstra Board of Trustees was not cowed by the implied threat in Blakeman’s letter.
“Indeed, under President Poser’s leadership, Hofstra University has remained an academic center of mutual respect and peace, even in these difficult times,” Hofstra Board Chair Donald Schaeffer said in a letter to Blakeman on Nov. 3.
No mention was made during this time of the lawsuit filed by Hofstra in April claiming the Nassau County Planning Commission violated state open meeting laws when it held a meeting in March to discuss the fate of the proposed Las Vegas Sands event center and casino.
A State Supreme Court judge in November voided the 99-year lease agreement that permitted Las Vegas Sands to develop a $4 billion casino and entertainment project at the site of the Nassau Coliseum property in Uniondale based on Hofstra’s lawsuit.
Blakeman has been joined in his campaign to oust Poser by Nassau County Legislator Masi Pilip, a former member of the Israeli Defense Force who is now being discussed as the Republican candidate for former Rep. George Santos’ seat now that he has been ousted.
Sadly, this probably improves Pilip’s chances of becoming the Nassau Republican Party’s pick to run in the 3rd Congressional District. This is, after all, the same party that made Santos its standard bearer. Twice. And Pilip has marched in lockstep with Blakeman during her first two years as a Nassau County legislator.
State Assemblyman Charles Lavine, who serves as president of the New York chapter of the National Association of Jewish Legislators, correctly said Blakeman’s demand that Poser resign was “calculated to please his MAGA base” and “another partisan political threat to academic freedom.”
Lavine went on to say that “contrary to Blakeman’s ideation, her statement explicitly damned Hamas. It is beyond obvious that Blakeman’s manufactured attack was intended as revenge for Hofstra’s resistance to his plan to redevelop the hub.”
This is not the first time that Blakeman attempted to exploit conflict in Israel for political reasons.
In May 2022, he announced that Nassau County had signed an economic and cultural agreement with “Judea and Samaria,” an Israeli-designated administrative territory that encompasses the Israeli-occupied West Bank.
It is here that Netanyahu’s extreme right-wing government has financially supported and armed Israeli settlers in taking land occupied by Palestinians in violation of international law.
Many in Israel and the United States say that Netanyahu’s focus on supporting the settlers and bringing extreme ideologues into his cabinet to replace seasoned professionals were behind Israel’s failure to identify the threat posed by Hamas in Gaza.
The expansion of settlements is also a growing obstacle to the two-state solution that the Biden administration and most in the Middle East see as the only path toward long-term peace between Israel and Palestinians.
How do we know that Blakeman was playing politics with the agreement with Judea and Samaria? He told us.
In a press release in 2022, Blakeman said he was joined in announcing the agreement by then-Congressman Lee Zeldin, the Republican candidate for governor whose district did not include Nassau County.
Blakeman concluded his press release by noting that “Nassau County is home to approximately 230,000 Jewish residents, including some of the largest synagogues in the United States.”
And then added for good measure that he is Nassau’s first Jewish county executive and Congressman Zeldin is one of two Jewish Republicans in Congress.
The problem with this is that Jewish MAGA supporters in Nassau, while they have grown in influence in places like Great Neck, do not represent most Jews in Nassau. Or this country.
President Joe Biden received 77% of the Jewish vote in 2020 and leads by a similar margin over Trump now. American Jews also tend to support a two-state solution that would provide peace and dignity to Israelis and Palestinians.
Like Netanyahu, Blakeman has yet to explain how Israel can remain both a Jewish state and a democratic state with a one-state solution in which Muslims would eventually outnumber Jews.
What is clear is that Blakeman is playing politics with Israel’s war against Hamas and is willing to make Poser another innocent victim.