Rivals Suozzi, Pilip rally together for release of Israeli hostages
January 30, 2024
By: Scott Eidler
Democrat Tom Suozzi and Republican candidate Mazi Melesa Pilip took a break Sunday from the rancor that has marked the special election for New York’s 3rd Congressional District, standing side by side to call for release of the Israeli hostages.
After days of attacking each other on the trail, both candidates attended a rally in Plainview for Omer Neutra, raised in the hamlet and a soldier in the Israel Defense Forces who was taken hostage by Hamas on Oct. 7 when the militants launched an attack on Israel.
Suozzi and Pilip stood next to each other at the Mid-Island Y Jewish Community Center alongside Neutra’s parents, Ronen and Orna Neutra. Omer Neutra is one of six living American hostages, among 136 in total still alive and held by Hamas.
Suozzi, 61, the former 3rd District congressman from Glen Cove, and Pilip, 44, a Nassau County legislator from Great Neck, are competing in the Feb. 13 special election to fill the vacancy created by expelled Rep. George Santos. They also are vying for votes from one of the most heavily concentrated Jewish populations in the United States.
Both conveyed their shared heartbreak for the Neutra family. Pilip spoke first.
“Since Oct. 7 I am not the same Mazi, I changed a lot. Oct. 7 changed me forever,” she said. “We cannot be silent, we have to send a clear message, a strong message. Omer’s supposed to be home with ‘imma’ and ‘abba,’ ” she said, speaking the Hebrew words for mother and father.
When it came time for Suozzi to speak, he asked Pilip to stand beside him. He then said: “It’s very appropriate that this is one of the few times that we’ve been together, to stand together.”
He added: “It means so much that Legislator Pilip and I are here together today to show that we are united in our feeling for the families.”
The October attack on Israel by Hamas militants killed roughly 1,200 people with about 250 hostages taken to Gaza. In response, Israel declared war on Hamas, killing more than 26,000 Palestinians, according to the Hamas-run Ministry of Health in Gaza.
Pilip, an Orthodox Jew, escaped her native Ethiopia as part of a covert rescue mission in 1991, when more than 14,000 persecuted Ethiopian Jews were airlifted to Israel. She later served as a gunsmith in the IDF’s paratrooper brigade before immigrating to the United States.
Suozzi, who is Roman Catholic, flew to Israel in December to meet with the families of kidnapped Israelis. He has campaigned on a pro-Israel platform.
Afterward Sunday, Pilip told Newsday it was “very important” that she and Suozzi stood together at the podium.
“It’s a bipartisan mission here,” she said. “It is not Suozzi or Mazi, it is about Omer. It is about Orna and Ronen.”
She and Suozzi wore Israeli military tags, chanted “bring them home,” and applauded each other in front of a large “Bring them Home Now!” sign showing the faces of the 136 hostages.
After the remarks, a group walked from the JCC to the Country Pointe parking lot, as part of a “Walk/Run For Their Lives” to keep the focus on the hostages’ return.
The 3rd District includes parts of Queens and Nassau’s North Shore, and dips south into Massapequa and Levittown.
The crowd included some undecided voters.
Robin Kaufman, of Plainview, said that while she was impressed by Pilip’s back story, she remained inclined to support Suozzi.
“I know where he stands, I know what he’s done,” said Kaufman, a Democrat who has lived in Plainview for more than 40 years. “I would like to vote for Mazi,” she said, noting she is a woman and is Israeli. “But I think she has skirted the issues.”
Holocaust survivor Eric Lipetz, 88, attended the event along with his wife, son and grandson. He and other family members escaped the Nazis in Belgium.
“Everybody was together on this,” he said of the Sunday rally. “It shows how great our democracy really is.”
His son, Ilan Lipetz, 54, of Old Bethpage, a registered Republican, said he planned to vote for Pilip.
“Mazi is most likely better for Israel, and that’s where my allegiance stands,” Ilan Lipetz said.