Eric Adams Epitomizes the Democratic Party’s Sordid Love Affair With Israel

This week, NYC mayor Eric Adams is touring Israel, celebrating its use of military force to effectively repress Palestinians and Israeli protesters alike. It’s a sad yet characteristic example of Democrats’ sycophantic relationship to the apartheid state.

Mayor Eric Adams on August 12, 2023, in New York. (Lev Radin / VIEWpress via Getty Images)

Perhaps no image better captures Eric Adams’s tenure as mayor of New York than the photo taken of Adams praying solemnly at Jerusalem’s Western Wall, arm outstretched toward the wall, his wrist adorned by a beaded bracelet that reads “HUSTLE.” The hustling mayor landed in Israel this past Monday as part of a four-day trip to tour the country and meet with various political and business leaders. In an opinion piece published in the Jerusalem Post, titled “Israel Is My Second Home,” Adams says his trip’s goal is to strengthen the partnership between New York and Israel.

Adams’s trip to Israel comes despite increasing international condemnation of the Israeli government’s rolling back judicial limits on its ability to expel and exterminate Palestinians. In his opinion piece, Adams whitewashes the government’s moves to unleash a torrent of violence on Palestinians in the West Bank as “working through contentious issues and having difficult discussions,” while describing Israel’s apartheid state as a vibrant multiethnic democracy.

The trip should come as no surprise, given Adams’s long history of sycophantic support for Israel. During his mayoral campaign, Adams similarly described Israel as his second home, going as far as saying he plans to retire in the Golan Heights, Syrian land occupied by Israel since 1967 and effectively annexed in the decades since.

Eric Adams is known for his eccentricities. Hoping to retire in the Golan Heights, wearing a HUSTLE candy bracelet to the Western Wall, or his recent likening of himself to Ghandi just scratches the surface. But Adams’s fealty to Israel is not one of his eccentricities. In fact, it just makes him a run-of-the-mill New York Democratic Party politician.

A Sordid Love Affair

In recent reporting, the New York Times described Adams’s trip as “a rite of passage for New York mayors,” and for good reason. Everyone from the virulently antisemitic Republican Rudy Giuliani, to independent Michael Bloomberg and Democrat Bill de Blasio have traveled to Israel during their tenures as mayor. Given New York’s large Jewish population, the incessant work of the Israel lobby to tie together Jewish identity and the Zionist project, and the massive investments of the Zionist lobby in election campaigns and lobbying, taking any position other than salivating support for Israel could be a career-ending move.

In 2022 alone, the Israel lobby spent nearly $44 million nationally in political contributions, the majority of which went to Democratic Party candidates. In fact, according to OpenSecrets, a majority of national pro-Israel money has gone to Democratic Party candidates in every single presidential election or midterm since 1990, the year the site’s tracking begins. Recently, the Israel lobby has invested millions in Democratic congressional primaries to defeat progressives critical of the status quo in Israel, from successfully defeating Ohio’s Nina Turner to nearly defeating Summer Lee in Pennsylvania.

Just this March, Joe Biden’s State Department withdrew its nomination of James Cavallaro to the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights when it became known that Cavallaro had made comments calling Israel an apartheid state and criticizing the Israel lobby’s political spending. And last month, comments by Pramila Jayapal labeling Israel as racist — an understatement if anything — received near-universal condemnation from the House of Representatives.

The Israel lobby’s influence on New York politics and politicians is like its national influence but on steroids. Brooklyn-based representative Hakeem Jeffries, the Democratic House minority leader and likely future speaker of the House, once described Jerusalem as “the sixth borough,” which makes sense when you consider that the number-one donor to his 2022 reelection campaign was the PAC Pro-Israel America.

According to the Guardian, “Pro-Israel groups gave him $460,000 in total, second only to donations from the financial industry.” As a congressional poster child for the pro-Israel lobby, Jeffries staunchly opposes conditioning aid to Israel on respecting the human rights of Palestinians or restricting US aid to Israel from being “used to illegally annex Palestinian land, to demolish Arab homes and forcibly remove Palestinians, or to detain children in Israel’s labyrinthian military judicial system.”

New York similarly helped lead the way in legislation against the Palestinian-led Boycott, Divestment, and Sanction (BDS) movement, which was itself modeled after international solidarity efforts against South African apartheid. In 2015, the New York State Assembly near-unanimously condemned the BDS movement as antisemitic. And in 2016, then governor Andrew Cuomo passed an executive order banning the spending of public funds on companies or institutions participating in the BDS movement. In response to recently proposed “Not on Our Dime” legislation from members of the democratic socialist bloc in the New York State legislature to end the nonprofit status of New York–based charities that fund illegal settlements in the West Bank, the majority of the Democratic conference in the assembly signed onto a letter declaring the bill antisemitic.

The relationship between the New York Police Department (NYPD) and the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) is perhaps the most egregious display of the pervasive legal corruption tying New York politicians to the foreign apartheid state. Over two decades the United States has led exchange programs between US law enforcement and the IDF so that US police can learn from Israel’s counterterrorism, crowd control, and surveillance techniques. Every year police officers from around the country travel to Israel to be trained by the IDF, and the NYPD has even maintained a Tel Aviv branch since 2012.

Inspired by the IDF’s efforts to infiltrate Muslim communities, the NYPD developed a network of informants known as “mosque crawlers,” a tactic they’re alleged to have further developed and deployed against the 2020 Black Lives Matter protests. One of Eric Adams’s primary goals on his trip is to deepen these relationships and bring the most cutting-edge tools of military occupation back home to New York.

Lessons in Policing From the Apartheid State

In his Jerusalem Post op-ed, Adams makes clear his hope to learn more from his trip “about security, precision screening, ground protection, and technology for the safety and benefit of all New Yorkers.” In an Orwellian master class, the same piece compares Jerusalem and New York as two shining examples of multiethnic democracies, while expressing Adams’s desire to learn from the strategies deployed by Israel to subjugate its occupied Palestinian population.

His article tacitly acknowledges the domestic strife in Israel, and Adams chose to meet with more moderate leaders of the Jewish pro-democracy movement. But following his meeting with Israeli police officials, Adams praised Israel’s effective crowd-control tactics, celebrating their ability to “strategically and successfully deal with a large crowd.” If he’s referring to IDF crowd control against Palestinian protesters, that routinely includes tear gas and extrajudicial murder; if he’s referring to the crowd control deployed against the months-long Israeli-led protests against Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s judicial reforms, then he’s praising the Israeli police’s use of water cannons and other aggressive tactics.

Adams similarly praised the Israeli police’s more advanced use of drone technology and expressed interest in deploying their technology and strategies in New York, with a particular focus on the Israeli police’s tactical use of drones and officers on motorcycle in concert. It’s quite telling, but not surprising, that Adams would come away from his trip to a hypermilitarized ethnostate with exciting new ways to enact a real-life version of RoboCop. This aligns with his record as mayor: imposing immense austerity on working-class New York while criminalizing the predictable outcomes of that austerity — like with his increased use of the police to crack down on homelessness.

Given his authoritarian bent and uncritical support for Israel as it descends from apartheid into fascism, it’s no surprise that Adams also opted to meet with leaders of the illegal settler movement, who are at the forefront of Israel’s ongoing ethnic cleansing efforts. In response to questions about the ongoing protests, Adams responded, “The people of Israel will make the determination on how they want to move forward.” But the Palestinians living under Israel’s rule have no real ability to intervene in that determination. And given his intention to collaborate with and support self-identified fascists in the West Bank, it’s clear what side Adams is on.

International Solidarity Against Collective Oppressors

Eric Adams’s love of Israel is just a morbid symptom of a marriage consecrated in blood between the United States and Israel. In a bit of tragic irony, international opposition to Israeli apartheid around the world is at an all-time high and rapidly increasing at the same time that the the hard-right wing of the Zionist movement has achieved state power and is preparing to complete their historic mission of securing all of historic Palestine for the Jewish people.

But the Israeli government’s ability to continue this project is incredibly tenuous, partially contingent on the continued support from their patron and protector, the United States. The Israel lobby acts as the patron and protector of the same politicians that maintain US support for Israel. This symbiotic relationship between American elites and the Israeli state is not supported by the American people, and increasingly not supported by American Jews in particular.

But the fact that our countries’ elites are in bed with each other also provides a potential opportunity for real solidarity between different peoples fighting our collective oppressors. Just as the NYPD and IDF share tips and tricks, during the 2020 Black Lives Matter uprising, Palestinians shared with American protesters best practices for protecting oneself from police violence. Similarly, in the 1970s, inspired by the Black Panthers in the United States, left-wing Mizrahi (Arab) Jews in Israel founded the Israeli Black Panthers to fight for the rights of Mizrahi Jews within an internationalist anti-Zionist framework.

Today, New York socialists and working-class Jewish and Arab communities are fighting back against our state’s subsidization of illegal settlements by organizing for the Not on Our Dime legislation. Efforts like this represent a promising stirring of the kind of movement of everyday people that we need to defeat both Israeli apartheid and Eric Adams’s austerity-happy police state.