For Andrew Cuomo this was more than a governor visiting another country in times of crises, or a bipartisan display of New York’s support of Israel. Nor was this 2-day trip part of his reelection bid, a charm offensive to court Jewish voters and donors, as some pundits had suggested.
A top foreign official visiting Israel and demonstrating a show of support is always a plus for the dignitary and the host. It brings positive headlines for both sides and it gives the two separates by ocean to get to know each other in a more personal manner.
The perception about Israel in the media and around the world is not going to change by a 30-hour visit. Moreover, the governor is well poised to win his reelection with a comfortable margin in November, and has scuffed up his chest with more than $30 million.
The trip, as much as I may sound cynical, was first and foremost about Cuomo establishing himself as a national figure, a statesman that is embraced by leaders abroad and a uniter that has proven his ability to unite various factions around a common cause.
Andrew Cuomo in Israel was hawkish, respectful and unapologetic. He sided with Israel’s argument on the conflict with the Palestinians, though respected those who have expressed sympathy with the Palestinians situation in Gaza and drew a sharp line between what his own personal views were to what the overall US administration’s offices policy was. In a nutshell, Andrew Cuomo was more hawkish than Hillary Clinton and more loving than President Barack Obama.
When asked numerous times by accompanying reporters why he has not scheduled a visit to the Dome of the Rock or visit Palestinians in the West Bank or Gaza, the governor’s answer was: ‘we didn’t have time this time round’ … and ‘I am not considering another trip abroad in the near future.’ On the other hand, he was crystal clear in his defense of Israel’s right to defend itself from Hamas rocket fire by all means and did not shy away from expressing views identical to many Republicans on the conflict, especially in light of recent polling data showing Democratic voters shifting away from total support of Israel in her conflict with the Palestinian people.
This was also a chance for Cuomo to spend some quality time with reporters covering him all year round in Albany, giving them personal gestures.
Since I was the only City reporter-covering city politics not Albany politics-covering the trip, I was too given a chance to see Cuomo in a different light than how he is generally perceived when he appears all stiff on live stream and at official announcements. During the flight, as he came to the back greeting passengers, he left a few buttons of his shirt open with glasses-not reading bifocals- hanging down. While eating pizza at a local pizza store, he joked around with reporters surrounding him and teased them like there was no tomorrow. The governor also hosted a dinner at the hotel, where he sat on one table with Albany reporters, engaging in an almost two-hour off the record discussion.
After a visit to the Western Wall, Mart Zuckerman, a participant in the delegation and the owner of the Daily News, remarked that the Governor has shown great leadership by taking his first international visit as a gesture of support to the Jewish people. To which the governor quipped, “Let it be reflected in the editorials.”
Councilman David Greenfield, who was on a family visit in Israel was invited by the governor to join him at the Western Wall and at dinner in his suite at the hotel. Mayor of Jerusalem Nir Barkat, as well as US Ambassador to Israel Dan Shapiro also joined the governor for dinner and drinks.
In part, the Jerusalem visit was also an opportunity for the governor to engage with NY residents, greeting them on his stroll down Ben Yehuda valley, in the Old City and on the plane, and posing for photos and selfies.
On top of that, Cuomo was treated by the Israelis as a top diplomatic dignitary. He met with Israel’s top leaders – President Reuven Rivlin (who had a slip of the tongue, calling him ‘Mr. President’ during his opening statement), Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and Defense Minister Moshe Ya’alon. At the President’s residence, the red carpet was rolled out for him and at the Prime Minister’s office he was given the privilege only given to top foreign leaders – a press availability with the Prime Minister at a podium outside the cabinet room, where the hour-long meeting took place. NY Consul General, Ambassador Ido Aharoni and the Prime Minister’s deputy chief of staff accompanied him during the day.
What I learned from the trip was: Andrew Cuomo is a governor of all New Yorkers; He’s a reliable friend and strong supporter of Israel, and he is confident about himself, capable of of navigating his way thorough the difficulties of running a national campaign, without being too boring or baffling verbal miscues.
Jacob Kornbluh reporting from Jerusalem
This post was edited on 22:23
P.S. Below are some photos with descriptions as caught on my phone during this trip.