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New York World Order: Giuliani's Foreign Policy

Mayor's trip to Middle East made headlines, but mostly at home

FROM the Big Apple, Rudolph Giuliani jets to the Middle East and offers the Israelis advice. He hosts parties for prime ministers but kicks out Yasser Arafat. And Fidel Castro can forget about enjoying a city freebie.

He's no United States envoy, but that apparently hasn't stopped the mayor of America's most international city from running his own version of foreign policy.

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New York City mayors traditionally have had no compunction about weighing in - with all the brashness of a New Yorker - about events overseas. Sometimes, as in the case of Mr. Giuliani's visit to Israel last week, mayors have adopted stances that put them at odds with official US positions.

The mayor traveled to Israel to express sympathy for victims of the recent bombings and to encourage New Yorkers to visit the Middle East nation. He also offered Israelis his views on Mr. Arafat.

"Don't go romanticizing," he warned. "Remember if you are asking something of him you need more proof that it is going to be carried out than if you asked that of someone else."

The mayor's advice contrasts with the official position of the US government.

"Arafat's actions have spoken quite loudly in the wake of the bombing, and on the whole the United States government has taken a very positive note of what he's done," says Glyn Davies, deputy spokesman for the State Department.

But the international community need not worry, according to one former Big Apple mayor. "Who listens to him or any other mayor who makes these statements overseas?" asks former mayor Edward Koch. "Nobody cares. They only care here in New York."

Indeed they do. Giuliani's remarks resonate in the borough of Brooklyn, home to many Orthodox Jews, whom the mayor counts on for support. "He is rising higher and higher in the eyes of the Jewish community," says Noach Dear, a city councilman from the borough.

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Not all of Brooklyn is so enraptured. "I think the mayor was grandstanding. He could have gone there very quietly instead of taking a crush of reporters with him," says Sal Albanese, a Brooklyn Democrat and City Council member.

The New York Times referred to the mayor's trip as "clumsy" and said he was interfering with internal Israeli politics. But the New York Post, owned by media mogul Rupert Murdoch, supported Giuliani.

A small group of Arab-Americans on Friday heaped additional criticism on top of Giuliani's shoulders. "The mayor should set the policy of the City of New York. To engage in foreign policy is really an abuse of his commitment of his duty to New York City," said Mohammad Mehdi, president of the Arab-American Relations Committee. Mr. Mehdi says he would rather see the mayor stick to education and health issues, for example.

The mayor shrugs off the criticism, maintaining that he has a right as a citizen to comment on foreign policy and that the right is protected by the First Amendment.

In addition, he says, "I am the mayor of the most international city in the world."

Previous mayors, too, have considered foreign policy to be as important as zoning laws. Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia castigated the Nazis (before the US entered World War II, causing the State Department to apologize for his comments); Mayor Robert Wagner took on King Saud of Saudi Arabia; and, Mr. Koch tweaked the United Nations, saying it was under the control of communists.

"I threatened to name First Avenue, where they worked, Zion Square to torture them," Koch recalls.

Such "torture" is effective in New York, the former mayor explains, because of the city's huge ethnic mix. There are more African-Americans than in most African capitals; there are more Jews than in Israel; there are more Irish than in Dublin; and more Puerto Ricans than in San Juan. As a result, Koch says, mayors make statements to be "supportive."

It seems to be working for Giuliani, who is already gearing up for his reelection campaign in 1997.

"There are not enough words of praise for Giuliani," says Councilman Dear, who met Friday with some of his constituents. "They just think he is a super hero."

But Mehdi says there are votes to be had from Arab-Americans, as well. "We just want him to kiss our hand too," he says.

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