New York City Mayor Eric Adams met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu on Tuesday in Jerusalem, on the second day of his three-day Israel visit.
In an online briefing with reporters after the meeting, Adams said that he and the prime minister discussed the Netanyahu government’s controversial judicial shakeup, currently the most public Israeli political fault line, carrying tangible social, economic and diplomatic consequences.
Adams also met with representatives leading 33 straight weeks of protest against the government’s ambition to weaken judicial checks on political power. In the absence of a constitution and other structural checks and balances, Israel’s Supreme Court is considered the most significant bulwark against improperly used political power. Critics of the overhaul plan say it threatens judicial independence and erodes Israeli democracy, while supporters call it a necessary corrective against an activist and elitist judiciary.
“I listened, I didn’t weigh in, I think the people of Israel will determine their destiny. It was important to me to meet with people from both sides and hear,” Adams said, “but I did not give my opinion one way or another.”
The mayor, a Democrat, is striking a different tack than his party leader, US President Joe Biden. Biden publicly called on Netanyahu to slow the pace of judicial changes in order to allow for broad consensus, but Netanyahu rebuffed the rare, and multiple times repeated, suggestions.
“I have many challenges in my city and I wouldn’t want someone to come in and interfere with how they work them out,” Adams told reporters on Tuesday.
“These are historic moments,” the mayor added, “and I just wanted to be here not to interfere, but just to learn. I’m aware that my trip comes at a pivotal moment for Israel and I believe the people of Israel will decide on how they want to move forward.”
A photo released by the mayor’s office showed him speaking with protest leaders Karine Nahon and Gigi Levy-Weiss during the Tuesday meeting.
The mayor also held a meeting with Foreign Minister Eli Cohen on Tuesday, which included a sit-down with a senior settler leader, Binyamin Regional Council chair Yisrael Gantz.
Asked by The Times of Israel about his discussion with Gantz and if the meeting reflected his position on the West Bank, Adams said settlements were not a part of his trip agenda.
“I did not go into conversations [about] settlements, it was not mentioned at all in the meeting, at no time did we talk about settlements, that is not why I’m here,” the mayor said. “I’m here to talk about the issues that we stated with public safety and technology and to show my support for the people of Israel.”
Adams and Gantz discussed cooperation in the fields of tourism and education, and Adams agreed to tour the settlements with Gantz the next time they meet, Gantz’s office said shortly after the meeting.
A spokesperson for Cohen said that Adams was given notice of Gantz’s participation ahead of the meeting, in response to a query by The Times of Israel.
“The New York City Mayor’s Office was updated by the consulate and the Foreign Ministry representative on the full list of participants, which included Yisrael Gantz, among others, ahead of the meeting,” the spokesperson said.
Progressive Jewish lobbying organization J Street slammed the Gantz meeting, tweeting that “Mayor Adams said his trip would strengthen ties with Israel,” but “pledging to boost settlements threatens Israel’s democratic future and undermines its security – not to mention the impact on Palestinian rights and freedoms.”
In a statement released later in the day, the group said that “it is completely tone-deaf and extremely irresponsible for the Mayor to pledge to boost settlements – which are illegal under international law – through economic cooperation with NYC.”
Mayor Adams said his trip would strengthen ties with Israel.
Settlements on occupied territory are not Israel. Indeed, pledging to boost settlements threatens Israel's democratic future and undermines its security – not to mention the impact on Palestinian rights and freedoms. https://t.co/4SthFHdD7R
— J Street (@jstreetdotorg) August 22, 2023
While Adams dedicated a portion of his trip to engage with controversial subjects, he said the short visit’s goal remains increasing public safety, in part by combating antisemitism, and discussing technology.
The mayor, who was a police captain and Brooklyn borough president before ascending to lead City Hall in 2022, is considered to have good relations with the city’s Jewish communities. New York City is home to the largest municipal Jewish population in the world.
With more than 130 antisemitic hate crimes logged in New York City so far this year, Adams said he has given instructions to his top brass to crack down.
“I have given clear directions to the commissioner and our hate crime unit that we will vigorously investigate and arrest those that commit antisemitic acts. And that’s what we will continue to do,” the mayor said.
On Wednesday, he said that he plans to visit Israel’s police academy, where he expects to discuss technological tools “to make our city safe.”
With regard to civil technology, Adams said he met with Israeli technology leaders on Tuesday, including a Bank of Israel-hosted gathering of tech company representatives, who shared thoughts on how Adams can remove barriers to help Israeli startups grow in New York City.
“We’re going to immediately implement a dialogue and come up with a blueprint for how to expand our tech startups,” the mayor said.
He also met with Israeli food tech companies, and discussed technology, as well as pandemic and crisis response, with Netanyahu.
Earlier in the day, he visited the Western Wall and Yad Vashem, saying elements of his second visit to the Holocaust memorial were “very powerful.”
Following his meeting with Jerusalem Mayor Moshe Lion on Monday, Adams and Lion toured nightlife spots, including the bustling Machne Yehuda, which converts from an open-air food market to a bar scene during the evenings.
While this is Adams’ first visit to Israel since becoming mayor, he has visited the country in the past, and said on Tuesday that “it’s no secret how much I love this nation and what it represents.”
“We have an unbreakable bond, New York and Israel, and we’ll continue to build on that,” Adams added.