Andrew Cuomo is a pro-Israel alternative for the Democratic nomination

As Governor of New York, Cuomo has shown plenty of solidarity with the Jewish state.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo [L] and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [R]. (photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
New York Governor Andrew Cuomo [L] and Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu [R].
(photo credit: KOBI GIDEON/GPO)
This segment of CNN Chris Cuomo’s interview on Monday with his brother, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo, is an exchange for the ages: “Are you thinking about running for president,” Cuomo the interviewer asked.
“No, no,” Cuomo the interviewee replied.
“No, you won’t answer?,” Chris Cuomo persisted.
“ No. I answered. The answer is no.”
“ No, you’re not thinking about it?” the governor’s younger brother persisted.
“ Sometimes it’s one word. I said no.”
“Have you thought about it?”
“Are you open to thinking about it?”
“Might you think about it at some point?”
“How can you know what you might think about at some point right now?”
“Because I know what I might think about and what I won’t think about. But you’re a great interviewer, by the way.”
And so ended that line of questioning.
It did not, however, end speculation that the 62-year-old, third-term New York governor may somehow make a play – even this late in the game – for the Democratic nomination. Or, perhaps, he might be nominee Joe Biden’s running mate (even though Biden has said he will select a woman). Or, perhaps, he will now contemplate a presidential run in 2024.
If crises give birth to new national heroes, the coronavirus in the United States is serving as a midwife of sorts for Cuomo.
As the coronavirus crisis unfolds, the brash-talking governor is becoming what former New York City mayor Rudy Guiliani became in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks on his city: a calm, steady voice. Some have now dubbed him “America’s Governor.”
His nationally broadcast press briefings regarding the plague that has hit his state worse than any other is casting him in the national limelight. And whereas US President Donald Trump has at times looked during his press conferences as partisan and petty, and whose message to a confused nation has been muddled and mixed, Cuomo has come across as firmly in charge, empathetic, and likable.
He intersperses his daily conferences on the pandemic with personal anecdotes of eating spaghetti and meatballs at Sunday night dinners with his parents and grandparents, along with advice delivered in a straightforward, no-nonsense style: “Stay at home – I know the isolation can be boring and oppressive. It is better than the alternative. Life has options, right. Stay at home -- that is the best option.”
As a result of all the exposure, and as much as Cuomo might deny any presidential ambitions – insisting that he is solely focused now on fighting the virus – the chattering classes are chattering, and among the chatter is the possibility of the governor being drafted by the Democrats as their nominee at the convention in the summer.
One reason there is even this type of talk is that the likely nominee, Biden, has been overshadowed by the crisis, unable to campaign and relegated to addresses from his home  – some of which include fumbling moments that are then spread widely on social media. While Trump and Cuomo are in the news every day, Biden is firmly on the sidelines.
Which is why even with many of the US primaries already decided, even with two candidates still vying for the title, a draft Cuomo movement has started.
And even if this movement does not pick up a great deal of traction, it is clear that Cuomo will emerge from the crisis as a new power inside the Democratic Party. And this is good news for Israel, since Cuomo – as Regional Cooperation Minister Tzachi Hanegbi said during a visit the governor made to Israel last June – is an “unflinching” friend of Israel.
Cuomo, said Ido Aharoni, Israel’s former consul-general to New York, belongs to the “moderate wing of the Democratic Party, like his late father” Mario Cuomo. The Cuomo family, Aharoni said, has a “longstanding commitment” to Israel and “an excellent relationship with the Jewish community.”
According to Aharoni, Cuomo “is instinctively pro-Israel.”
For instance, Aharoni said, in 2016 Cuomo was the first US governor to issue an executive decree preventing his state from doing business with companies boycotting Israel.
“I am signing an Executive Order that says very clearly we are against the BDS movement,” Cuomo tweeted at the time. “If you boycott Israel, New York will boycott you.”
“Everytime I needed the governor, he was there," said Aharoni, who served as consul-general from 2010 to 2016. Aharoni said he met the governor on many occasions, and contrasted that with his relationship with New York’s junior senator, Kirsten Gillibrand, whom Aharoni never met.
Cuomo, Aharoni said, “understands that in New York, especially in New York City, Israel is a domestic story. It is part of internal politics in New York. That means he must be knowledgeable, sensitive, and must pay attention to what is happening in Israel.”
Although this would seem like a no-brainer in a state with as big a Jewish population as New York, Aharoni said this is something not shared by all state-wide politicians, such as Gillibrand.
“She was exactly the opposite,” Aharoni said. “She was never there when we needed her.
“I met with [New York’s senior senator] Chuck Schumer countless times, I met with state-wide officials many times – but Gillebrand, never. What does that mean? That she is not attentive to the needs of the community, that she is not there. Cuomo was exactly the opposite.”
That attentiveness was behind a “solidarity and trade mission” he made to Israel last June, in what he said was a response to the rise of antisemitism in the US.
“I’m very close and New Yorkers are very close to Israel. There has been a rash of antisemitism all across this country – the synagogue shootings, etc. We’ve had it in this state, all across this state, and it’s repugnant to what New Yorkers believe and feel,” Cuomo said before that visit.
“I hope there is a message of solidarity and partnership in my trip to Israel and I hope the Jewish community here is confident in this state’s position vis-a-vis Israel.”
During that visit, Cuomo proclaimed his “love” for Israel and the Jewish community “because the Jewish community is part of my family, both literally and figuratively.”
Two of Cuomo’s sisters are married to Jews, including one – Maria – married to the fashion designer Kenneth Cole, whose uncle – Jack Stein – was a former president of the Conference of Presidents of Major American Jewish Organizations and a figure who played a key role in convincing former US president Richard Nixon to send immediate military aid to Israel after the outbreak of the Yom Kippur War in 1973.
Cuomo’s 2019 whirlwind trip, of just over 24 hours, was not his first solidarity trip to Israel. He made a similar trip in 2014, during Operation Protective Edge in the Gaza Strip.
Aharoni, who accompanied Cuomo on that visit, said the governor was the only sitting elected official who made an official trip to Israel at that time. New York’s Mayor Michael Bloomberg also came during that period, but that was a personal – rather than official – visit.
“He insisted on going to Gaza in the middle of the fighting. We took him to the [Hamas terror] tunnels, he went underground to see the tunnels first hand,” Aharoni said.
During that 36-hour visit, Cuomo met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanayhau and said after that meeting that the purpose of the delegation he bought was “to stand shoulder-to-shoulder with Israel, we want to stand in solidarity with you… we understand what you are facing and we support your right to defend your people against terror.”
Cuomo, who was at the time on his fourth visit to Israel and was in the midst of a reelection campaign, said: “As New Yorkers, we have many connections, family connections, cultural connections, historic connections, so our relations go very deep. And I speak for all New Yorkers when I say: We stand in solidarity with Israel. The fight that you fight is the fight against terror. Unfortunately in New York, we’ve had a rude awakening to the pain and suffering that terror can cause in 9/11. So we have a special sensitivity in our hearts for what you’re going through now.”
The chances of the Democratic Party turning to Cuomo now, after a long and bruising campaign that looks as if it has winnowed the candidates down to Biden, are slim. Nevertheless, asked how a possible Cuomo presidency – now or perhaps in the future – would be for Israel, Aharoni replied with one word: “phenomenal.”