Oct. 9, 2023 By Bill Parry
At least nine Americans were killed in Israel since Hamas terrorists launched a sneak attack from the Gaza Strip on Oct. 7 and U.S. Rep. Grace Meng and Gov. Kathy Hochul are working to assist New Yorkers trying to escape the gathering storm.
The congresswoman, who is New York’s senior member of the powerful House Appropriations Committee — which has oversight of funds to the U.S. State Department — has called on Secretary of State Antony Blinken to help get her constituents out of Israel and back home to Queens. With most flights canceled or sold out due to the horrific attacks, Meng fired off a letter to Blinken early Monday urging him to do all he can to ensure their safe arrival home.
“Since Hamas’ indiscriminate attack on Israel Saturday morning, my office has received harrowing reports from constituents who remain in Israel and are seeking to return to the United States as soon as possible,” Meng wrote. “I write to express my sincere concern for their well-being and safety. While I appreciate the steps the Biden administration is taking to provide additional security assistance to Israel, I urge the State Department to use all resources at its disposal to help those Americans that remain in Israel return to the United States.”
Meng also asked the secretary for updates on ensuring that commercial flights remain accessible to all Americans who remain in Israel, and to consider other options for evacuation including chartered flights or military aircraft.
“As you are aware, airlines have canceled most flights out of Ben Gurion Airport and some have suspended operations in the region,” she wrote. “As the number of casualties continues to rise, my constituents who remain in Israel fear for their lives. At this harrowing moment in Israel’s history, it is more important than ever that every American who is looking to return home have the opportunity to do so.”
As the conflict escalated Monday with Israel vowing to lay siege to the Gaza Strip and Hamas threatening to kill one of the 150 hostages they are holding each time a Palestinian family is hit by an Israeli airstrike without warning, Meng joined her colleagues in government and told a large crowd of Israel supporters at a Kew Gardens Hills vigil of an ominous development.
“We have been hearing reports that Americans are among those taken hostage in Gaza. Some of them may be New Yorkers, some of them may be our very own constituents here in Queens,” Meng said. “We are trying to find out the details as soon as possible because time is of the essence. We don’t know what the Hamas terrorists will do to them.”
Meng worked with the State Department in January to reunite a Rego Park family after Garegin Akopyan reached out to her office for emergency assistance when his wife, Lusine, and their 3-year-old son, Andranik, became trapped in Nagorno-Karabakh while visiting relatives and laying flowers at her father’s gravesite. After working with the State Department and the American National Committee of America, Meng helped to facilitate Lusine and her boy’s evacuation from the troubled region and the family was reunited at JFK International Airport on Jan. 29.
The governor is hoping for similar outcomes by working the phones all weekend.
“Earlier today I spoke on the phone with Israeli President Isaac Herzog to reiterate New York’s unwavering support for Israel, to offer our condolences for the hundreds of lives lost in these horrific attacks and to discuss the safety of New Yorkers who are currently in Israel,” Hochul said Sunday. “We stand united — today and every day.”
She told congregants of Temple Israel Albany that she had spoken to a number of her constituents who are trying to get home from Israel.
“They gave me, in real-time, a description of what they are going through — the sounds and the smell and the sights and how just devastating it was for them as human beings,” Hochul said. “I know there are people in this room tonight who have connections, and those who are not here, because they’re trying to find their loved ones. We’re working actively with the U.S. Embassy to help identify people, bring them home, get them here safely.”
The governor also told the congregants that state police were activated here on the homefront to protect synagogues and yeshivas in New York City and other locations including cultural institutions and museums.
“They’re working hard, but it’s also the safety of our citizens that we must protect everywhere — and I’m not just talking about the physical attacks and massacres that the Jewish community experienced in the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, which is still so fresh in our minds,” Hochul said. “And now we have rockets coming in from the Gaza Strip, but also there’s this sinister form of hatred and evil known as antisemitism, which has been the source of persecution for Jews throughout its history, and in New York, we’ve seen an increase. And I want you to know, I will continue to deploy all of our resources, all of our capabilities to ferret it out and bring those who commit these crimes against humanity, bring them to justice and stop them.”