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‘plo out of Nyc’ Campaign Gains Steam, but Bloomberg is Opposed

February 21, 2002
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Jewish groups that wondered if the new mayor of New York would follow Rudy Giuliani’s hard-line stance on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict may now have their answer.

In one of his first Mideast-related actions since taking office Jan. 1, Michael Bloomberg on Tuesday opposed a City Council resolution to close the New York offices of the PLO.

However, backers say they will continue trying to push legislation through at the local, state and national levels.

Differing slightly from each other, all forms of the legislation call for the U.S. government to label the Palestinian Authority and the Palestine Liberation Organization as terrorist groups and close the PLO’s only office in New York, its mission to the United Nations.

Bloomberg’s opposition, though important, won’t kill the local legislation, sponsored by council member Oliver Koppell. A majority vote of the city council would override Bloomberg’s veto.

“I fully intend to hold a hearing on Mr. Koppell’s resolution,” said council member Jose Serrano, chairman of the cultural affairs committee, which will decide whether the resolution comes up for a vote.

“I believe in the security and sanctity of the State of Israel, and I can fully understand the emotions surrounding this resolution,” he said. “I feel that the hearing will provide the vehicle in which we can learn more about this issue.”

Bloomberg was quoted in Tuesday’s New York Times as saying, “As the host city for the U.N., we have to — even when it is painful and disgraceful and disgusting, any term you want to use — we have to be willing to let anybody that the U.N. wants to credit, or visit, come here.”

But, he added, “This country does not have to let them go outside of New York. I don’t have to go give them the keys to the city, or a proclamation or shake their hand or anything else.”

Koppell said he respects the fact that New York hosts the United Nations, but added, “Sometimes you have to take a strong position.”

“I think these acts of terrorism really threaten the peace of the world and threaten everybody’s lives,” he said. “If we saw the PLO harboring this kind of terrorism here, we wouldn’t leave their office open for a day. The fact that they’re doing it in Israel should not make a difference. Maybe this is the time to stand up for principle.”

These offices don’t think Bloomberg can stop them.

“I don’t think the mayor’s opposition, in and of itself, is going to determine the fate of this resolution in the state assembly,” Dinowitz said.

Engel’s resolution, called the “No More Terror in New York Act of 2002,” calls on the United Nations to revoke the PLO’s permanent observer status. It also demands other restrictions, such as limiting the travel of PLO representatives to a 25-mile radius around New York. Further travel would require approval by the State Department 48 hours beforehand.

Because Engel’s bill requests that the United Nations — rather than the United States — evict the PLO, its methodology is different from the resolution Bloomberg rejected.

Indeed, if the United Nations itself wanted to close the Palestinian mission, Bloomberg would hardly stand in its way, a spokeswoman implied.

Bloomberg “has said that Yasir Arafat is a terrorist,” the spokeswoman said. “I’m sure he’s consistent in his thoughts.”

However, one U.N. source dismissed the entire effort is quixotic.

“Until there’s a decision by the government of the United States to ask the PLO to leave,” there’s no chance of closing its offices, the source said.

Even then, he said, the most the United States could do would be to evict the PLO from its Washington office. Only the United Nations can close the mission of an accredited organization — and the United States makes no bones that countries like Iran and Libya, with which it has no diplomatic relations, keep U.N. offices here.

Still, activist groups pledge to keep the issue on the front burner. Lobbying on behalf of the resolutions is the Coalition for Jewish Concerns-AMCHA, which has coordinated two U.S.-Israel solidarity rallies since the Palestinian intifada began in September 2000.

“There is something terrible that’s unfolding here. Virtually every day there are attacks upon Jews in Israel because they are Jews,” said the group’s’s president, Rabbi Avi Weiss. “We have forgotten how to cry. We don’t even know the names of the people being killed. It’s life as usual, and that’s what we cannot allow.”

A new student coalition, “PLO out of NYC,” meets each week at Columbia University to plan new grassroots strategies and demonstrations. The coalition, which has 11 members, has organized regular rallies in front of the PLO mission since Sept. 11.

Now, in addition to chalking the words “PLO out of NYC” on their campuses and organizing phone-a-thons to the PLO mission, they are beginning a new program — Yeshivat Shalhevet — to establish a place of continuous Jewish learning in front of the PLO mission.

That would let the PLO know that “Jewish life and Jewish learning will continue,” the group’s press liaison said. The program is named for Shalhevet Pass, a 10-month-old Israeli girl murdered last year by a Palestinian sniper.

But Bloomberg’s opposition does raise concern for some in the Jewish community, who regarded former Giuliani as a virtual messiah on Israel issues.

Giuliani shocked many when he kicked Arafat out of a 1995 concert for world leaders at Lincoln Center in Manhattan.

One Jewish official called U.N.-bashing a perennial “political homerun,” and said Bloomberg would have had ample cover to criticize the Palestinian Authority.

After all, the official noted, even White House press secretary Ari Fleischer referred to the Palestinian Authority last week as an entity that “fosters terrorism.”

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