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'Siding with oppressors': New York City Mayor Eric Adams Israel trip sparks controversy

Critics are calling the trip "outrageous", as it comes during judicial reform protests in Israel and a migrant crisis in New York
New York City Eric Adams visits the Western Wall in Jerusalem, on 22 August 2023 (New York City Mayor's Office)

New York City Mayor Eric Adams’ three-day trip to Israel, including a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and a "senior settler leader", has caused backlash among New York leaders, Jewish Americans and Palestinian Americans. 

New York City Council member Tiffany Caban called his visit “outrageous and irresponsible”.

“What message does [Mayor Adams’] tour of Israel send to tens of thousands of Palestinian New Yorkers?” Caban wrote Tuesday on X, which is formerly known as Twitter.

“This year alone, Israeli soldiers and settlers have killed over 170 Palestinians in the West Bank,” Caban wrote.

Adams travelled to Israel on Monday to “learn about Israeli technology and discuss combined efforts to combat antisemitism”, his office said in a statement.

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On Tuesday, Adams had a meeting with settler leader, Yisrael Gantz. According to the Binyamin Regional Council’s office, Adams agreed to tour illegal settlements with Gantz the next time they meet, The Times of Israel reported

Middle East Eye reached out to Adams' office with questions, but the office referred us to a link to a virtual briefing.

New York City has the largest Jewish population in the world outside of Israel.

Last week, Israel's finance minister, Bezalel Smotrich, said he plans to allocate around $180m to illegal settlements and outposts in the occupied West Bank and other “unregulated areas”. 

Outposts are built by Israeli settlers in the West Bank on private Palestinian lands without government authorisations and are often turned into official settlements. 

Smotrich’s plans were condemned after he recently decided to hold back $55m dedicated to developing Palestinian municipalities in Israel.

“I did not go into any conversations with settlements. That was not mentioned at all in the meeting when we met with other leaders. At no time did we talk about settlements. That is not why I'm here,” Adams said in a virtual briefing with reporters on Tuesday.

On Tuesday, Adams also had a private meeting with Netanyahu. Later to reporters, Adams said that he did not want to comment on the issues confronting Israel.

“I listened. I didn’t weigh in. I think the people of Israel will determine their destiny,” he said.

“I have many challenges in my city, and I wouldn’t want someone to come in and interfere in how I work them out."

Eric Adams and Netanyahu
New York City Mayor Eric Adams meets with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday (New York City Mayor's Office)

While Adams and Netanyahu did not discuss the illegal settlements in the West Bank, they talked about Israel’s vaccine campaign during the pandemic, and according to the New York Times, they both tasted vegan honey.

“We have an unbreakable bond, New York and Israel, and we're going to continue to build on that, and I am blessed to continue to do so as the mayor,” he said.

Adams added that he is grateful for speaking with people who are “dedicated to creating an even better future for the nation of Israel.

“You're a great friend of Israel. You live in a city which is the intellectual, cultural, financial hub of the world - and we're sort of another hub. And I think if you combine the hubs together, we will be better for it,” Netanyahu said in a video. 

'Siding with oppressors'

Beth Miller, the political director of Jewish Voice for Peace Action, told Middle East Eye that Adams flew to Israel to strengthen ties with an “extremist and racist” government, rather than staying in New York to address the migrant crisis. 

“Adams does not even pretend to care about the Palestinian families and communities that are under daily attack from Israeli soldiers and settlers, the Palestinian homes and schools being destroyed by the Israeli government, or the 41 Palestinian children killed by Israeli forces this year alone,” Miller said.

Ester, who did not want to give her last name, is a Jewish woman living in New York. She told Middle East Eye that seeing Adams in Israel truly upset her. 

“The mayor is aware of the Palestinian kids that are murdered by Israeli forces. He knows about journalist Shireen Abu Akleh, who was murdered by Israeli forces. Yet he meets with the very people that allow this.”

She added that Adams should be more focused on taking care of the migrant crisis in New York instead of travelling to Israel where there is a crisis as well, she said referring to the controversial judicial reforms.

Last month, the Israeli parliament voted to limit the so-called "reasonableness" law. The legislation would prevent the Supreme Court from striking down government decisions on the basis that they are "unreasonable".

New York City Mayor Eric Adams to meet Netanyahu during Israel visit
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Ever since the introduction of these reform proposals in January, weekly demonstrations have drawn tens of thousands of Israelis, making the largest protest movement in the nation's history.

“There’s a crisis, but it’s more important for our mayor to share vegan honey with the leader of a state that is practising apartheid,” she said. 

Last year, Amnesty International released a report that labelled Israel as an apartheid state, becoming the latest organisation to join a cadre of human rights groups that have used the term to describe Israel's discriminatory treatment of Palestinians.

The 280-page report, based on research conducted from 2017 to 2021, said that since 1948 Israel has pursued policies that "benefit Jewish Israelis while restricting the rights of Palestinians".

"Israel’s system of institutionalised segregation and discrimination against Palestinians, as a racial group, in all areas under its control amounts to a system of apartheid, and a serious violation of Israel’s human rights obligations," Amnesty International said.

Sofia Mohamed, a Palestinian-American college student living in New York, told Middle East Eye that a leader of New York going to Israel is nothing short of surprising.

Earlier this month, House minority leader Hakeem Jeffries visited Israel alongside fellow House Democrats. 

His meeting with Netanyahu drew criticism from those backing pro-democracy protests.

In 2015, then-New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio visited Israel. He said he wanted to meet with Palestinians but then cancelled his plans, citing security issues.

“Eric Adams claims that he’s in Israel to show support to Israelis and Jews because New York has the biggest population of Jews, but what about the Palestinians that he represents?” Mohamed said.

“We see this over and over again. Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslims are all ignored. He didn’t even meet with Palestinians on his trip there.”

There were no apparent or disclosed plans that he would be visiting the West Bank or meeting with Palestinian leaders. 

According to Mohamed, elected officials in New York haven’t been saying much. 

“My ‘progressive’ council member hasn’t said a word. Neither has my assembly member,” she said. “This is saddening. It is clear he is siding with the oppressors.”

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