newsU.S.-Israel Relations

Israeli envoy in New York: West at risk of ‘radical Muslim occupation’

“This is the right place to be these days,” Ofir Akunis, longtime Knesset member and minister, tells JNS.

Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 1, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and then-Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis at the Knesset in Jerusalem, May 1, 2023. Photo by Yonatan Sindel/Flash90.

Ofir Akunis was solidly entrenched in the Knesset, serving in his 15th year as a lawmaker. The popular Likud figure—formerly a party spokesman and adviser to Benjamin Netanyahu—had held a number of ministerial roles over the last nine years, and was minister of science and technology in the current government.

So, why exactly would the 50-year-old (now 51), not exactly known for an active role in the Diaspora, accept Netanyahu’s offer to become the consul general to New York in a post-Oct. 7 world?

“It’s a very good question. I think that we are living in challenging times. I think that it’s not less important to be here these days and represent the State of Israel and the Jewish people from New York,” Akunis told JNS in his office on Manhattan’s Second Avenue.

“I think that a political leader should do more things in his career. And I think that this is the right place to be these days. Especially these days,” he said.

While Akunis generally hues close to Netanyahu in principle, he has carved out his own path, and while he rarely contradicts Netanyahu, he has avoided being sycophantic.

Netanyahu has been known to shuffle off political rivals and annoyances to diplomatic posts, but that doesn’t appear to be the case with Akunis. The position of consul general had been open since Asaf Zamir, appointed by the previous government, resigned in March 2023 to protest the advancement of judicial reform by Netanyahu.

Netanyahu floated firebrand Social Equality Minister May Golan for the post in April 2023, but backlash from the more left-wing American Jewish community quickly put that idea to bed. The consulate had been served by a series of acting consuls general until Akunis’s arrival.

While Akunis may lack diplomatic bona fides, his appointment was largely viewed as one of a professional, technocratic hand coming on to steady a ship that’s been rocking since Hamas’s massacre.

“I think that the very main issue here is the attacks on the Israeli and Jewish students in the universities and among the campuses. This is unacceptable,” Akunis said of his top priority since taking over in May.

His very first meeting, he told JNS, concerned the attacks on Jews and Israelis at Columbia and New York University.

“This is urgent, because we are a few weeks before the new year on the campuses, and I’m calling from here to the American people and to the American leaders to do whatever they can to stop” the violent antisemitic protests that took place in the spring.

“If someone wants to protest against the State of Israel or against the Jewish communities, he can do it,” Akunis said, but not by waving Hamas, Hezbollah and ISIS flags, as was seen at a number of campus protests.

“To scream and shout, ‘Oct. 7 was only the beginning,’ this is unacceptable,” he said. “This is not freedom of speech. It’s freedom of hate.”

‘The Axis of Evil versus the Western world’

Akunis went so far as to say last week that New York City was in danger of falling under “radical Muslim occupation,” similar to European cities that have succumbed to violent Islamist riots and so-called no-go zones that are essentially off-limits to non-Muslims.

“I think that radical Islam, influenced by Tehran and the Axis of Evil, is a huge problem, not only to the State of Israel, not only to the Jewish communities. It’s the Axis of Evil versus the Western world,” Akunis told JNS.

“How do I know it? I can hear from here, from this office—the screaming of ‘Death to America, to Israel, glory to Palestine.’ So it’s not about us anymore,” said Akunis, describing protests that have taken place outside the consulate.

He warned again of “a lot of neighborhoods” around Europe under “radical Muslim occupation,” citing London, Paris, Brussels and Malmö as examples.

“I didn’t know that such a thing would happen here in the United States,” Akunis said. “We can see it in the streets. It’s not my imagination.”

It is critical that Americans understand that the issue has gone far beyond the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, morphing into a broader anti-American bent, he said.

“I think that I need to send this match message to my American friends. I think that this is the right message,” asking people to open their eyes to the support for terrorism taking place on New York’s streets.

And it’s happening during a broader time of political uncertainty and upheaval in the United States. Akunis arrived in the midst of a critical election season. Asked who on the political battlefield he has found to partner with and who he is still trying to bring on board, Akunis said, “I’m trying to bring everybody to support Israel. I think that the American administration, American people, American leaders, must stand with Israel.”

He was quick to note, though, that “the Israelis are not part of the election campaign. The American people will choose the president and their administration. And we, of course, respect any result we’ll see here on Nov. 5. This is the main idea of democracy—the will of the people.

Perhaps getting in a delicate shot at those who have opined on Israel’s domestic political affairs, including New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, who called for Netanyahu to stand down as premier, Akunis said he was “sure that you, the Americans, will respect the will of the people in Israel.”

Regarding his early dealings with American Jews, Akunis stressed the unity he’s seen in the community members that he’s been dealing with on the street level. “This unity reflects strength and not the opposite. We will not be victims anymore,” he said, adding that “in the darkest days, you can see the light.”

In turn, the Jewish community looked for unity from its supposed partners and allies in other American minority and religious communities in the aftermath of Oct. 7, but largely encountered “radio silence.”

While American Jewish leaders have been quick to note their deep disappointment, worry and anger on that front, Akunis inferred to JNS that those concerns are overblown by the media, which he said tends to amplify the negative.

“I’m talking with them all the time,” he said of those erstwhile partners. “Beyond the big headlines, I think that most Americans, including the communities that you just mentioned, support Israel. There’s a lot of voices for Israel.”

While Akunis said he has not received a straight answer on why those communities went silent during Israel’s darkest hour, he is “asking them to reflect on their solidarity with Israel,” and he expects attitudes will change soon.

You have read 3 articles this month.
Register to receive full access to JNS.

Just before you scroll on...

Israel is at war. JNS is combating the stream of misinformation on Israel with real, honest and factual reporting. In order to deliver this in-depth, unbiased coverage of Israel and the Jewish world, we rely on readers like you. The support you provide allows our journalists to deliver the truth, free from bias and hidden agendas. Can we count on your support? Every contribution, big or small, helps JNS.org remain a trusted source of news you can rely on.

Become a part of our mission by donating today
Topics
Comments
Thank you. You are a loyal JNS Reader.
You have read more than 10 articles this month.
Please register for full access to continue reading and post comments.
Never miss a thing
Get the best stories faster with JNS breaking news updates