While the state budget is due in less than two weeks, some Albany lawmakers are also focusing on the deadly war thousands of miles away in Gaza.

What You Need To Know

  • How the U.S. deals with the Israel-Hamas war have deeply divided New Yorkers — and by extension, their representatives in Albany

  • GOP assemblymembers introduced a resolution supporting Israel several days after the October attacks but Speaker Carl Heastie's office said it won't go anywhere because the chamber doesn't have jurisdiction over international affairs

  • The state’s pension fund’s overall investments total $1.5 billion across all assets. Included in that total is the holdings in Israeli bonds are valued at over $340 million

They explained in interviews with NY1 that the issue is personal, with their constituents wanting them to speak out about the battle between Israel and Hamas.

“It doesn’t matter what your political stance is on what is going on in the region, releasing the hostages should be something everyone agrees on,” said Orna Neutra, mother of Omer Neutra, who was captured by Hamas on Oct.7 and has been missing ever since.

Omer Neutra, 22, a native Long Islander, was serving in the Israeli military when he was taken hostage by Hamas.

His parents, Ronen and Orna Nuetr, visited the state Capitol in Albany on Monday, March 18 to educate lawmakers about how to advocate for their son’s return.

“At the end of the day, what the Neutra family expressed is that this is not a political issue. It’s a humanitarian issue. And 164 days later, it is an even greater cause to fight for,” said Democrat Assemblywoman Nily Rozic of Queens.

She orchestrated the Neutra family’s Albany visit. But the politics tied to how the U.S. deals with the Israel-Hamas war have deeply divided New Yorkers, and by extension, their representatives in Albany.

“Well, there is some tension, there’s no question,” Democrat Assemblyman David Weprin of Queens told NY1.

“There is no question that there’s a small handful of people in our conference, who are very virulently anti-Israel, and I haven’t heard them talk about the release of the hostages,” added Democrat Assemblyman Jeffery Dinowitz of the Bronx.

Many Democratic lawmakers have made their stance known, joining pro-Israel or pro-Palestinian rallies in their own districts.

“My heart and the hearts of so many legislators break over the fates that the hostages have suffered through and continue to suffer through at this point,” Democrat Assemblyman Zohran Mamdani of Queens said. “And that’s why when we have called for a ceasefire as part of that call, it is around the fact that is when we have seen the most amount of hostages be released at any point over the last few months.”

“I’ve been to rallies and demonstrations for the release of the hostages as have some of my colleagues but I believe the overwhelming majority of the people in our conference will prioritize the release of the hostages before a unilateral ceasefire,” explained Democrat Assemblyman Jeffery Dinowitz of the Bronx.

But legislative leaders made it clear on day one: they want to stay out of the conflict in the Middle East.

“Part of why we don’t deal with international things in this conference is because we could spend a lot of time talking about the ills of the international community. Personally, and I think collectively, we are better off spending our time presenting an example right here in this great state,” Senate Majority Leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins declared in her Jan. 3 opening remarks on the state Senate chamber floor.

On the Assembly side, Republicans introduced a resolution supporting Israel several days after the October attacks.

A spokesman for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie told NY1 it won’t be accepted because, quote, “resolutions are limited to issues within our legislative purview.”

“I’m outraged that there’s people out there protesting and closing down the streets. My thinking is they’re supporting Hamas, which in my mind is a terrorist organization,” said Democrat Assembly Minority Leader Will Barclay of Syracuse.

Lawmakers like Mamdani argue the conflict should be an open conversation in the Capitol.

“Should this be discussed? I think absolutely this should be discussed, because it is both impacting our constituents and also we have a relationship as New York state lawmakers to what is going on right now in Palestine in Israel,” Mamdani said.

New York also has financial ties to Israel. The state’s pension fund’s overall investments total $1.5 billion across all assets. Included in that total, is the holdings in Israeli bonds are valued at over $340 million, according to state Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli’s office.

Also, the multi-billion dollar state budget proposal is on track to include new investments for anti-hate security protections at schools and religious institutions, spurred by the conflict overseas.

“I would also say that this topic is not one that is foreign to the work of this body. It’s not foreign to our body because of the fact that we have many laws in place here in New York state that are related to what is actually happening with regards to Israel and Palestine,” said Mamdani.

The Queens Democrat introduced a bill last year that would block New York charities from “engaging in unauthorized support of Israeli settlement activity.”

But since 2016, the state has had a standing executive order that bars agencies from conducting business with companies supporting economic sanctions on Israel.

“The Israel-Palestine issue, a lot of people have a lot of opinions. We know that. It’s been that way for years, for decades,” said Rozic. “That is not changing anytime soon. What we are saying is that we have to prioritize bringing the hostages home and people can say whatever they want to say. As long as at the heart of it, we are remembering to bring Omer home, remembering to bring the hostages.”

Lawmakers explained to NY1 that, so far, the conflict has not affected their ability to negotiate the state budget or other unrelated topics.