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Anthony Weiner Isn’t Sure the Occupation Exists

Mayoral hopeful shrugs about the Israeli presence in the West Bank

Adam Chandler
June 27, 2013

Over at Open Zion, Ali Gharib writes about New York City mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner, who has been surging in the polls as of late. Yesterday, during a Prop 8/DOMA celebration at the Stonewall Inn in Greenwich Village, Weiner was approached (oddly enough) by a journalist/unidentified-guy-with-a-camera who asked about the former congressman’s take on the Israeli presence in the West Bank.

“Do you still believe the West Bank is not occupied?”

Weiner quickly responded: “Yes, I do. The status of that area is left to be decided by the people who’re there.”

“So it’s not occupied by Israel?” the questioner persists.

“I gotta tell you: there are disagreements about what constitutes the West Bank,” Weiner said, before walking away to gladhand Stonewall revelers.

This is obviously a boneheaded remark because the Israeli occupation of the West Bank does exist and is nearly 50 years old. Short of calling it Judea and Samaria, Weiner’s essentially using the language of settlers and some on the right, who call the territories disputed and refuse to acknowledge the occupation. This is the default posture of many one-staters.

The one aspect of the comment that is true is that the status of the area is left to be decided–in large part–by the people who are there. Unfortunately, the residents of the West Bank exist either under a feckless and divided Palestinian leadership or are part of an obstinate settler movement, both of which keep progress from being made.

I was curious, I suppose, about what the implications of Weiner’s opinions on West Bank have to do with the New York City mayoral race. I asked Gharib for his opinion and here’s what he had to say.

Well, the cynical take would be that he’s 1) trying to lock up some money from those donors whose scales can be tipped on the basis of right-wing pro-Israel stances and 2) that he’s making a play for haredi and other hard-line voters who do care about those issues, for when it comes down to the general [election] (as I understand it, most of the ultra-Orthodox are unlikely to be registered Democrats). Could these voters be warmed up to Weiner? Dunno – his liberal positions (see: Stonewall) don’t bode well for that, but then again some of these voters do indeed prioritize issues of Israel. In that sense, it might not be a poor judgment at all.

Or maybe Weiner just really believes it. Beliefs have been known at times to run counter provable realities.

Either way, I think it speaks to the point I tried to make: that there’s no cost for saying dumb, stupid, wrong things about Palestinians, nor for pledging to deny them any rights forever. Because of its setting — both the national spotlight and the demographics — it’s only one more example of it.

It’s both a compelling and a cynical take. I’m not sure I agree with all of it, but it does beg the question: Is it smart for a mayoral candidate in a city that’s about one-quarter Jewish to leave nuance out of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the campaign trail? Does it matter? Should it matter? I’m sure you’ll school me accordingly. Have at it!

Adam Chandler was previously a staff writer at Tablet. His work has appeared in the New York Times, the Wall Street Journal, the Atlantic, Slate, Esquire, New York, and elsewhere. He tweets @allmychandler.