The number of people who attended last month’s Israel Day Concert, the annual right-wing rally in support of Israel’s settlement movement, and a joint event, two weeks later, between Jews and Muslims, would almost certainly be zero if it weren’t for one person — state Assemblyman David Weprin.
Weprin, a Democrat representing parts of Northeastern Queens, spoke at the May 23 concert, always held in Central Park on the same day as the annual Salute to Israel Parade. And, on June 6, he addressed members of the Bukharian-Jewish community and the Jamaica Muslim Center at a Jewish-Muslim health fair sponsored by both groups. That event took place at the mosque.
While some may see those two appearances as inconsistent, Weprin is not among them.
In an interview with The Jewish Week, the 53-year-old assemblyman said he appeared at the Israel Day Concert to show his support for a “united Jerusalem” and his opposition to White House actions that he believes “came down too hard” on Israel. Moreover, he said, he backs the right of Jews to settle throughout “Judea and Shomron,” the biblical name for the West Bank, including the heart of Hebron, an Arab city of 160,000, and the tiny, spontaneous outposts created by the so-called “hilltop youth.”
“Why should Jews be excluded from living anywhere on that land?” he asked.
But Weprin, part of a political legacy in Queens established by his father, Saul, nearly 40 years ago, said he’d be just as quick to criticize fellow Jews for calling all Muslims terrorists, as he’s heard some of them do. And the assemblyman, who calls himself FFBM, or frum [observant] from bar mitzvah, has already disagreed with others in the Orthodox community over the right of local Muslims to build mosques, which Weprin supports. He blames many of those comments on ignorance, saying that Judaism and Islam share a great deal.
The view that Weprin’s stands aren’t at all inconsistent received backing from an unexpected source — Ori Nir, the former Israeli journalist who is currently a spokesman for Americans for Peace Now.
“One can have hard-line, nationalist-religious views and still feel that dialogue and understanding are important,” Nir said, adding that some settlers do, in fact, engage their Palestinian neighbors. “These are values everyone holds.”
Where it gets a little trickier, Nir said, is “when you talk about the Hebron Fund,” which supports “the most extreme settlers on the West Bank” and “is trying to push Palestinians from the center of Hebron.”
Meanwhile, Hank Sheinkopf, a locally based Democratic political consultant, couldn’t praise Weprin enough, calling him “all Jew all the time. … He seeks out the better in people and understands what Judaism is all about.”
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