Editorial: Nassau officials suddenly go silent on Israel

Editorial: Nassau officials suddenly go silent on Israel

What do Nassau County, town and village officials think of Israeli lawmakers approving a contentious plan of Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu to restrict the influence of the Supreme Court?

The plan, opposed for months by tens of thousands of Israeli protesters, is seen by many as a threat to Israeli democracy, the country’s national security and its economic well-being.

More than 10,000 reserve pilots, intelligence officers, commandos, military instructors, army medics and infantrymen had threatened to resign from volunteer duty if the government pressed ahead with the judicial overhaul bill that was approved by the Knesset, the Israeli parliament.

And a Times of Israel poll last week of 734 Israeli founders and CEOs of start-ups and managing directors of venture capital firms found that more than two-thirds were taking steps to move their assets outside Israel in anticipation of the new law. There’s also been a reported surge in Israelis seeking second passports

What does that have to do with Nassau County, town and village officials? Doesn’t the United States have a president and State Department to handle issues like this?

Well, local officials across the county have not let the country’s foreign service prevent them from regularly commenting on matters concerning Israel and, in some cases, taking their own actions.

In May 2022, Nassau County Executive Bruce Blakeman announced that Nassau County would sign an economic and cultural agreement with “Judea and Samaria.”

Judea and Samaria, whose names go back to Biblical times, is now an Israeli-designated administrative territory that encompasses the Israeli-occupied West Bank, excluding East Jerusalem.

“This agreement will establish a long-term relationship of cooperation and friendship based on the principle of equality in sovereignty with Judea and Samaria,” Blakeman said in 2022.

This strongly suggested support for Israel’s unilateral annexation of the West Bank and an end to the two-state solution with Palestinians that has been the cornerstone of America’s Middle East policy since 1993.

Blakeman did not say last year if he, like the far-right members of Netanyahu’s current coalition, supports the end of the two-state solution. But given his previous comments, he should do so now.

He should also say now if he supports Netanyahu’s plan to restrict the influence of the Israeli Supreme Court – the only check on him and Israel’s parliament.

Unlike the United States, Israel has only one House and no constitution to prevent a majority of lawmakers from doing pretty much whatever they want to do.

In August of last year, following Blakeman’s announcement, Village of Great Neck Mayor Pedram Bral signed an agreement for the village to become a sister city with two towns in the Israeli-occupied West Bank.

The international community considers all Israeli settlements in the West Bank to be illegal and their growth has been the source of a heated debate in Israel.

A year earlier, town and county officials in Nassau reacted swiftly to the news that Ben & Jerry’s would not sell ice cream in the Israeli-occupied West Bank or East Jerusalem as of 2023.

Not that Ben & Jerry’s would no longer be sold in Israel. That would continue. The ban, they said, would only apply to the Israeli-occupied West Bank or East Jerusalem.

Republican Hempstead Town Supervisor Don Clavin said he had directed every department and commissioner to make sure that not only was the town not selling Ben & Jerry’s ice cream but any other product of the company that owns Ben & Jerry’s, Unilever Corp.

This covers 400 brands, including Dove soap, Lipton tea, Breyers ice cream, Klondike Bars and Hellman’s mayonnaise.

Hempstead officials said their actions followed legislation approved in 2016 prohibiting the town from doing business with any company boycotting Israel in what is known as the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, or BDS movement.

Then Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, a Democrat, said she was “disappointed by Ben & Jerry’s decision to align itself with the anti-Israel BDS movement, which unfairly and dangerously singles out the world’s only Jewish state.”

Then North Hempstead Supervisor Judi Bosworth, a Democrat, sounded a similar note in opposing a company refusing to sell ice cream in land occupied by Israel since 1967.

But so far, none of these officials has had anything to say about what many Israelis see as a threat to the country’s democracy. And the call by some in Netanyahu’s far-right coalition to annex the West Bank. At a time when Ukraine and a coalition led by the United States are trying to repel Russia’s effort to take over Ukraine.

Why the silence now?

Blakeman, a Republican, appeared to acknowledge in 2022 that politics played no small part in the county’s agreement with Judea and Summaria by pointing out in a press release that “Nassau County is home to approximately 230,000 Jewish residents, including some of the largest synagogues in the United States.”

That point seem to be underlined when he concluded his release by noting he was Nassau’s first Jewish county executive and then Congressman Lee Zeldin, who was at the time the Republican candidate for governor, was one of two Jewish Republicans in Congress.”

Unsaid was that there were 35 Jewish members of Congress who are Democrats, including 10 senators.

Neither Blakeman nor any of the other elected officials would be the first to pander to an ethnic group. So perhaps they only spoke and acted when they found it politically advantageous.

Many moderates in Israel and this country, especially among Democrats, have strongly opposed Netanyahu’s plan.

This is less so among conservatives in both countries and Republicans here who support former President Donald Trump, a close ally of Netanyahu, who currently is also facing corruption charges.

Many believe that restricting the court’s authority in Israel will result in the charges being dropped against Netanyahu. Sound familiar?

Does it matter if officials in Nassau County from either party comment and even vote as our elected officials on issues related to the foreign policy of the United States? Other than getting local votes?

Probably not.

But that doesn’t mean the words of our elected representatives do not have consequences, intended or otherwise.

Based on what was being said in Nassau County, Israel’s leaders certainly could not be faulted if they believed that their country would not face criticism in how they dealt with Palestinians in the West Bank or the country’s efforts in finding a two-state solution.

This is not in Israel’s best interests if you want to see Israel remain a Jewish state and a democracy. Sometimes good friends need to be prepared to offer uncomfortable truths.

So Nassau officials may bear some responsibility for some of the extreme policies that are now being considered in Israel.

If Nassau officials were acting on principle in the past, they should speak up now in defense of democracy in Israel and a two-state solution.

The stakes are now so much higher than the sale of ice cream on the West Bank.

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