“I just wanted to be here, not to interfere but to learn,” Mayor Eric Adams said on Tuesday during a media briefing on his trip.
Those are the cautious words of Mayor Adams, who waded into the political waters of Israel. Currently, the country is facing a significant political dispute over the power of its judiciary.
Prime Minister Netanyahu supports limiting the power of the courts there, while a pro-democracy group staunchly opposes him. Many critics of Netanyahu say democracy is at stake. Adams met with both sides on Tuesday.
“I didn’t weigh in. As I’ve stated, I think the people of Israel will determine their destiny. But it was important for me to meet with both sides,” Adams said in talking about the conflict.
The mayor said the meetings were educational and that he wanted to learn more about the controversy to be able to talk to voters. Adams has very close connections to the ultra-orthodox community in New York which is an important part of his base.
“I am here because I know that when I return to the city, some of my Jewish constituents will ask me questions and I want to be able to share what my conversations were. But I didn’t give my opinion one way or another,” he said.
Adams also met with a leading figure in the settlement movement, Yisrael Gantz, chair of the Binyamin Regional Council. Adams denied talking about the topic.
“I did not go into any conversations with the settlements. It was not mentioned at all. When we met with other leaders at no time did we talk about settlements. That is not why I’m here,” he said.
Adams is on his second day of a three-day trip to Israel that he is not paying for but being sponsored by UJA Federation of New York and the Jewish Community Relations Council.
Trips to Israel are not new for a mayor; the country has been a destination for decades, as the city is home to the largest population of Jews outside of Israel.
“What you see Mayor Adams doing is not all that different from any of his predecessors going back to David Dinkins and probably before then,” Jonathan Greenspun, former aide to Mayor Bloomberg and Gov. Pataki.
Greenspun served as commissioner of the mayor’s community affairs unit under Bloomberg and took five trips to Israel with the then mayor. Greenspun said he thinks Adams probably won’t face backlash at home for his trip.
“One can argue that among the mayor’s core base there is no real damage,” he added. “The real question is what happens to the Jewish community you typically see in Manhattan or the Upper West Side or those who typically identify with [the] conservative reform movement, and what potentially happens there? But I think most pro-Israel Jews appreciate the fact that the Mayor took time out of his schedule to show solidarity for Israel.”