At a Tense Moment, Eric Adams Visits Israel in a Show of Solidarity (2023)



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As Mayor Eric Adams faces mounting challenges at home, he is making a trip to Israel, a rite of passage for New York mayors.

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At a Tense Moment, Eric Adams Visits Israel in a Show of Solidarity (1)

By Emma G. Fitzsimmons

Reporting from Jerusalem

Mayor Eric Adams of New York City traveled to Israel on Monday, the beginning of a rare three-day foreign trip to highlight his ties to the Jewish community.

His visit to Jerusalem and Tel Aviv comes at a precarious moment as Benjamin Netanyahu, the Israeli prime minister, and his far-right government have limited the power of the nation’s judiciary — part of a broader fight over Israel’s future. The political schism has prompted widespread protests by those who fear Israel is abandoning its democratic traditions.

At the same time, the Israeli government has taken major steps to crack down on armed Palestinian fighters, launching the largest air attack on the West Bank in nearly two decades.

Mr. Adams, a moderate Democrat in his second year in office, has close ties to the ultra-Orthodox community in New York. The mayor’s office said in a statement that Mr. Adams planned to “learn about Israeli technology and discuss combined efforts to combat antisemitism.”

On Monday, Mr. Adams attended a rooftop soiree in Jerusalem with Jewish, Christian and Muslim religious leaders and spoke about the importance of his faith. The mayor called on people of faith to help address global problems, such as migrant crises and wars.

“We have an awesome responsibility and obligation to heal our nations,” he said. “We will be held accountable — those of us of faith.”

The mayor, who is known to enjoy nightlife, was later spotted at an outdoor market, Machane Yehuda, that was filled with revelers.

A trip to Israel is a rite of passage for mayors of New York City, which has the largest Jewish population in the world outside Israel. But the political crisis in Israel could make the trip more difficult to navigate.

Earlier this month, Representative Hakeem Jeffries, the House minority leader who is from Brooklyn, traveled to Israel with House Democrats and was criticized by supporters of pro-democracy protests for meeting with Mr. Netanyahu. When Bill de Blasio, the left-leaning former mayor, visited Israel in 2015, he said he wanted to meet with Palestinians but scrapped a plan to visit the West Bank over security concerns.

The mayor’s office said that Mr. Adams planned to meet with Mr. Netanyahu on Tuesday and that he would meet separately with “leaders in the protest movement.” Neither meeting will be open to the press.

Mr. Adams, a travel enthusiast, has visited Israel twice in the past and said during the mayoral campaign that he wanted to retire in Israel, possibly in the Golan Heights.

“I am going to try to find a plot of land so it can be my retirement place,” Mr. Adams told the magazine Mishpacha. “I love the people of Israel, the food, the culture, the dance, everything about Israel.”

Asked on Monday about those plans, Mr. Adams said that Israel was one of eight places he was considering.

“I love Senegal, I love Nigeria, I love Israel, and I have a few more I want to keep secret so the press won’t be able to find me when I retire,” he said.

The mayor’s trip is being hosted and paid for by two groups, the UJA-Federation of New York and the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, mainstream groups that represent a diverse cross section of Jewish communities.

Visiting Israel is a high-profile opportunity to show solidarity with a large and influential voting bloc in New York. David G. Greenfield, executive director of Met Council, a prominent Jewish nonprofit, who joined Mr. Adams at the reception, said that the mayor had deep relationships with the Jewish community and understood how to navigate the different constituencies.

“In certain respects, the mayor of New York City is treated as a head of state in Israel,” he said. “I think he’ll be warmly received because he’s very publicly pro-Jewish and pro-Israel.”

Back at home, Mr. Adams has had a rough few months. He has struggled to respond to an influx of migrants from the southern border — a crisis that has caused friction with President Biden and Gov. Kathy Hochul. A longtime associate of Mr. Adams was charged in a straw donor scheme to raise money for his mayoral campaign; the mayor was not implicated. The news website The City published a story on Friday about other questionable campaign donations.

At the same time, Mr. Adams has been gearing up to run for re-election in 2025.

“It’s pretty clear that Adams would like to shut down a possible primary challenge, and so he’s working to put together his coalition,” said Ester R. Fuchs, a political science professor at Columbia University. “While he has strong ties with the ultra-Orthodox community, those groups do not constitute all of the Jewish voters in New York. The trip is a demonstration of respect for the Jewish community.”

In 2003, Ms. Fuchs traveled to Israel with Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg as a special adviser. She said she hoped that Mr. Adams would meet with officials who have participated in pro-democracy protests, such as Ron Huldai, the mayor of Tel Aviv. Mr. Adams is expected to have dinner with Mr. Huldai on Wednesday.

The New York Jewish Agenda, a left-leaning Jewish group, echoed Ms. Fuchs’s advice, saying on Thursday that Mr. Adams should “engage with the pro-democracy movement that so many New Yorkers support.”

When Mr. Adams took his first major foreign trip to Qatar and Greece last December, his office provided few details about his itinerary and little press access. Fabien Levy, the new deputy mayor for communications, said that the mayor planned on being available to reporters every day he was in Israel.

On Monday, Mr. Adams told reporters that he hoped to learn from officials in Israel about how to use technology on “everything from building inspections to public safety to early detection of viruses.” He was accompanied on the trip by Tania Kinsella, his new first deputy police commissioner.

The guests at the reception included Fiona Darmon, an Israeli venture capitalist; Natan Sharansky, an Israeli politician and Soviet dissident; and Jewish leaders from New York, including Chanina Sperlin, a Hasidic leader in Crown Heights.

As ceviche appetizers were passed, Fleur Hassan-Nahoum, a deputy mayor in Jerusalem, said that she preferred Mr. Adams to Mr. de Blasio, who she thought had seemed weak on crime.

“All of my friends in New York that I respect and admire and that do a lot of good things in the city were behind him in the campaign, so that was good enough for me,” she said.

Mr. Adams, a former police officer who ran on a public safety message, has long been an evangelist for technology, from dog-like police robots to facial recognition technology and gun detection machines.

During his visit, the mayor is also expected to discuss a rise in antisemitic attacks, an issue he has sought to address in New York where the incidents are at the highest level in decades.

Basil Smikle, director of the Public Policy Program at Hunter College, said that the trip fit well with the mayor’s focus on public safety. But he encouraged Mr. Adams, who is known for speaking off the cuff, to not wade too deeply into Israeli politics.

“When you step out of the country, you start getting into conversations about foreign policy,” he said, “and that’s where it becomes important to stay on script and stay on message.”

Emma G. Fitzsimmons is the City Hall bureau chief, covering politics in New York City. She previously covered the transit beat and breaking news. More about Emma G. Fitzsimmons

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