Ten years ago this week, the UN was marking its fiftieth anniversary with a series of events around New York City, including an Oct. 23 invitation-only Lincoln Center concert performed by the New York Philharmonic for a glittering list of dignitaries and diplomats. When Rudy Giuliani spotted Yasir Arafat and his entourage making their way to a private box seat near the stage that evening, the mayor immediately ordered the Palestinian leader off the premises.
The man in the street cheered the mayor’s gutsy move, but the city’s liberal elite was appalled. “The proper role of New York, as the UN’s home city,” sniffed The New York Times, “is to play gracious host to all of the 140 or so world leaders present for the organization’s gala 50th birthday celebrations.”
A spokesman for the Clinton administration, which had done so much to build up Arafat’s reputation as a statesman, termed Giuliani’s action “an embarrassment to everyone associated with diplomacy.”
Former mayors David Dinkins and Ed Koch held a joint press conference to denounce Giuliani. “Mayor Giuliani has behavioral problems dealing with other people,” Koch told reporters.
Two days after the concert an unrepentant Giuliani said, “I would not invite Yasir Arafat to anything, anywhere, anytime, anyplace. I don’t forget.”
While a good percentage of the city’s Jewish population applauded Giuliani’s stance, there was a noticeable divide between Orthodox Jews – a rally outside City Hall in support of the mayor drew “dozens of mostly Orthodox Jewish leaders and elected officials,” the Times reported on Oct. 26 – and their secular counterparts.
Just what Giuliani was up against is clear from some of the remarks made that week by Jewish bigwigs such as Dr. Lawrence Rubin, executive vice chairman of the National Jewish Community Relations Council, who sought to portray Giuliani’s action as one motivated purely by politics.
“We think it’s important to demonstrate that the normalization of relations between Israel and the Palestinians can go forward,” said Rubin. “But clearly Mayor Giuliani has domestic political considerations.”
Let’s recall where things stood in October 1995. In the two years since the signing of the Oslo Accords, Arafat had time and again spoken to Arab audiences about his dreams of jihad for Jerusalem and about how Oslo was simply the implementation of the PLO’s long stated goal of destroying Israel in stages. The year 1995 brought with it the advent of the suicide bomber, and buses were exploding in Jerusalem. Support among Israelis for Oslo had fallen precipitously, and polls showed Prime Minister Rabin losing to Benjamin Netanyahu, an outspoken critic of Oslo, in hypothetical matchups.
But Jewish leaders just couldn’t help themselves. Hours before getting the heave-ho from the Lincoln Center event, Arafat had met in Manhattan with about 100 prominent American Jews. A jolly time was had by all, and Arafat apparently made a very nice impression.
“He’s got a very good sense of humor, by the way,” said Israel Levine – described by the Times as “a spokesman for many Jewish organizations” – of the man responsible for the murder of more Jews than anyone since Hitler and Stalin.
Speaking at a UJA-Federation fundraising breakfast shortly after the Lincoln Center controversy, Giuliani said he was “proud of that decision [booting Arafat]. I’d make it again, and the day I’d stop making it is the day I’d resign as mayor….When I write my memoirs, this is one of the things that I probably will be proudest of.”
According to news reports, Giuliani’s comments were applauded by roughly a quarter of his audience. This at an ostensibly Jewish event! Such was the mesmerized state of organized Jewry during that remarkable time, just ten years ago, when a mass killer of Jews was feted and honored around the world, and invited countless times to the White House by an admiring Bill Clinton.
The aforementioned Israel Levine may have loved Arafat’s sense of humor, but Rudy Giuliani found nothing amusing about the Palestinian terror chief. And that’s the difference between real leadership and Jewish leadership.