Former New York Mayor Ed Koch just sent a message to President Obama: Change your position on Israel, or face trouble with Jewish voters in 2012.
And he delivered that message at the ballot box in New York City.
Koch is a Democrat, but in last week's special election to replace U.S. Rep. Anthony Weiner last week, Koch was a vocal supporter of Republican Bob Turner.
The reason, he tells weekends on All Things Considered host Guy Raz, is his unhappiness with the Obama administration's approach to Israel.
Turner, the Republican, won that race, in a heavily Jewish district dominated by Democrats. It's the first time the New York 9th has elected a Republican since 1922.
"I'm hopeful that the President and the Democratic Party will look at the election which took place in the 9th CD [Congressional District] in Brooklyn and Queens and decide that they were on the wrong track," Koch says. "They ought to revisit their position on how to deal with Israel in a way that would be comparable to what every president since 1948, Harry Truman, did — a special ally relationship."
Koch stumped for Obama throughout Florida and other heavily populated Jewish areas in 2008. He says he hopes to do so again in 2012, but says he needs more assurances from Obama.
"What the president can do is what Jack Kennedy did in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962," Koch says, referring to a letter that Kennedy sent to Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev. That letter basically said that any attack on a country in the Western Hemisphere by the Soviet Union would be considered an attack on the United States. Koch says Obama should stand up for Israel in the same manner. "That would be the optimum," he says.
Koch says a White House official has already called him to talk about his concerns.
"Jews are only 2 percent of the American population but God put them in Florida and Pennsylvania ... where their votes are extremely important," he says.
And while he he doesn't see a GOP candidate that he could support in 2012, the ex-mayor says that if Obama doesn't change his stance, he might just stay home on Election Day 2012.
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RAZ: We're back with ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
The former New York Mayor Ed Koch may have proved that he can actually part the political Red Sea. Call it the Ed Koch effect. This past week in a congressional race in New York, he backed the Republican candidate running for the seat once held by Anthony Weiner.
Koch, of course, is a Democrat, but he urged Jewish voters in that district to vote for Turner as a way to send a message to President Obama. He says change your tune when it comes to Israel. Turner, of course, won and in a district that hasn't elected a Republican since 1922.
Now, in 2008, more than 80 percent of Jewish voters backed Barack Obama, but Ed Koch says the White House shouldn't assume that will be the case in 2012.
ED KOCH: When the president said that Israel must go back to the pre-'67 lines with swaps, that was a statement that has never been made by any prior president. That's number one. And secondly, it would not have offended me if at the same time, he had said to the Palestinian authority, you must, before negotiations start, renounce violence and recognize the state of Israel, which it has not done.
And you must say that if negotiations end with a settlement that you will recognize Israel as a Jewish state, and you must give up immediately your covenant, which says that all Jews who entered Palestine after 1917 must be expelled. He didn't say any of those things.
RAZ: I wonder - I mean, it sounds to me like your issue isn't with what he has said but with what he hasn't said because as far as
KOCH: They're both the same. It doesn't make any difference whether you say it or you should be saying it and don't say it.
RAZ: I understand the White House has reached out to you. They are concerned you will try to mobilize Jewish voters against President Obama in 2012. Is that the case? Did they call you?
KOCH: Well, I'm not going to discuss anything that was said to me, but I have spoken with someone who asked me about my concerns. And I advised them of them, and I'm hopeful that the president and the Democratic Party will look at the election, which took place in the 9th CD in Brooklyn-Queens, the congressional district, and decide that they were on the wrong track and that they would revisit their position on how to deal with Israel in a way that would be comparable to what every president since 1948, Harry Truman, did, a special ally relationship.
RAZ: Jewish voters, as you know, overwhelmingly backed candidate Obama, 80 percent of them did in 2008. Could you imagine endorsing a Republican candidate?
KOCH: Well, I doubt that I'll vote for a Republican. My option is to stay home. I don't have to vote.
RAZ: So you would not vote if, in fact, the president did not
KOCH: If there isn't a change, I will stay home.
RAZ: So tell me what you want to hear President Obama do between now and Election Day.
KOCH: What the president could do is what Jack Kennedy did in the Cuban Missile Crisis of 1962. Kennedy sent a letter to Khrushchev saying any attack on a country in the Western Hemisphere by you will be considered an attack upon the United States. That would be the optimum.
RAZ: All right. Mayor Koch, how significantly, really, will the Jewish vote be in 2012? Is it significant enough to change the result of that election?
KOCH: I have no idea. But the Jews are only 2 percent of the American population, but God put them in Florida and Pennsylvania, which apparently are called battle states and where their votes are extremely important.
RAZ: So you think that the president has got to pay attention to what you're saying?
KOCH: I don't know if he's got to. I would think in the sense of morality, he should. If in addition to that there is political fallout that is positive, that's all to the good.
RAZ: Well, Ed Koch, 2012, the Jewish vote is not something that should be taken for granted, you're saying.
KOCH: Well, that was the point of the battle in the 9th CD. Mr. President, don't take the Jewish vote for granted.
RAZ: That's Ed Koch. He's the former three-term mayor of New York City. Mr. Mayor, thank you.
KOCH: You're very welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.