Former New York governor Cuomo, said eyeing comeback, launches pro-Israel group

Democrat, who resigned from office over sexual harassment allegations, panned by existing progressive outfits after announcing ‘Progressives for Israel’ advocacy organization

Luke Tress is a JTA reporter and a former editor and reporter in New York for The Times of Israel.

Then New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at New York's Yankee Stadium, on July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)
Then New York Governor Andrew Cuomo speaks during a news conference at New York's Yankee Stadium, on July 26, 2021. (AP Photo/Richard Drew, File)

NEW YORK — Former New York State governor Andrew Cuomo on Monday announced a new advocacy group aimed at shoring up support for Israel on the American left.

Cuomo, a Democrat, resigned from office in 2021 following multiple sexual harassment allegations but is reportedly considering an attempted political comeback.

He announced his new group, “Progressives for Israel,” in a video address to an event marking the 80th anniversary of the Warsaw ghetto uprising hosted by the celebrity rabbi Shmuley Boteach, head of the pro-Israel group World Values Network.

Cuomo said rising antisemitism was partly masked under the guise of anti-Zionism, and that while political disagreements with Israel were normal, “that doesn’t mean we condemn the people for the politics.”

“It’s time for our officials to condemn antisemitism, not just with their words, but their actions. You can’t denounce antisemitism but waver on Israel’s right to exist and defend itself,” he said.

Referring to himself as a “Shabbos goy,” meaning a non-Jew asked to perform certain tasks forbidden to observant Jews during Shabbat, he said, “The Shabbos goy can do the work that benefits both the Jewish community and the non-Jewish community.”

Incredible tribute to my mother Eleanor Esther Elka Paul from Governor @andrewcuomo. “Tonight my father the late great Mario Cuomo is sitting with the great Eleanor Esther Elka Paul right now, I will tell you what he is saying. He is saying it is time for the shabbos goy.  The shabbos goy can do work that benefits both the Jewish community and the non-Jewish community. The shabbos goy can turn on the lights on the sabbath because it benefits everyone. I will stand and turn on the lights. I am starting an organization called Progressives for Israel and I am going to call the question for Democrats. Do you stand with Israel or do you stand against Israel because silence is not an option. Never again is not a prayer, but rather a call to arms.“

Posted by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach on Monday, March 13, 2023

“The Shabbos goy can turn on the lights on the Sabbath because it benefits everyone. It is time to turn on the lights,” Cuomo said. “I’m going to call the question for Democrats: Do you stand with Israel or do you stand against Israel? Because silence is not an option.”

A Cuomo spokesperson said more details about the new group will be released soon.

Several progressive Jewish groups panned Cuomo’s announcement, including New York Jewish Agenda, Partners for Progressive Israel, and Rabbi Jill Jacobs, the director of T’ruah. Critics chafed at his conflation on antisemitism and anti-Zionism and noted the harassment claims against him.

US House Representative Jerry Nadler of New York, who is Jewish, also took aim at the ex-governor.

“Perhaps Mr. Cuomo doesn’t understand that there are a number of progressive, pro-Israel organizations — like New York Jewish Agenda (NYJA) — right here in New York, doing just fine without his ‘help,'” he said.

Cuomo is believed to be considering another run for political office. New York State Senator Kristen Gillibrand has been warning donors that Cuomo is preparing to challenge her in next year’s election campaign, the Daily Beast reported this week.

FILE – Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., speaks at Onondaga Community College on Oct. 27, 2022, in Syracuse, N.Y. In 2024 Gillibrand will be up for reelection. (AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

Gillibrand, Senator Chuck Schumer and other members of the Democratic party leadership had called for Cuomo’s resignation after the harassment allegations surfaced. Cuomo has denied wrongdoing.

Cuomo had strong relationships with New York Jewish communities while in office, but raised the ire of religious groups for ordering bans on religious gatherings during the pandemic. Agudath Israel of America, an umbrella body for Orthodox Jews, sued Cuomo in federal court for the restrictions.

Lingering resentment over the restrictions, as well as pressure on yeshivas, pushed many Orthodox voters to Republican challenger Lee Zeldin in last year’s gubernatorial race. Zeldin lost to Cuomo’s successor Kathy Hochul. New York has the largest Jewish population in the US and most of the community are democrats.

Cuomo’s father, Mario Cuomo, also had a positive relationship with New York Jews while governor, and also referred to himself as a “Shabbos goy.”

Andrew Cuomo also forcefully condemned antisemitism while in office, was a vocal supporter of Israel and has visited the Jewish state at least four times.

A young girl holds a poster she made as she joined protesters outside the offices of New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, Thursday, Oct. 15, 2020, in New York. (AP Photo/Kathy Willens)

Support for Israel has become a divisive issue for some in the Democratic party, with many progressived supporting a harsher stance against the Jewish state due to its policies toward the Palestinians. New York’s leadership, including Hochul, remain firm supporters of the Jewish state.

Israel’s new hardline government has also made ties with Washington and the US political establishment more fraught. Finance Minister Bezalel Smotrich, in New York on Tuesday, was shunned by the White House as well as most Jewish groups during his visit to the US this week after he called to “wipe out” a Palestinian village several weeks ago.

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