News & Politics

Hochul apologizes for joke about Israel-Hamas war

The governor had suggested that if Canada ever attacked Buffalo, the U.S. would naturally respond by destroying the entire nation of Canada.

Gov. Kathy Hochul apologized for a joke about the war in Gaza that some interpreted as justifying war crimes.

Gov. Kathy Hochul apologized for a joke about the war in Gaza that some interpreted as justifying war crimes. Mike Groll/Office of Governor Kathy Hochul

Gov. Kathy Hochul apologized on Friday night after making a tasteless joke about Israel’s ongoing war in Gaza while speaking to the UJA-Federation of New York.

“If Canada someday ever attacked Buffalo, I'm sorry my friends, there would be no Canada the next day,” Hochul said during an address to the UJA on Thursday. “That’s a natural reaction. You have a right to defend yourself and to make sure it never happens again.” The governor’s comments were first reported Friday evening by The Forward.

Hochul’s joke about Buffalo drew a few laughs, but it had troubling implications about the governor’s position on collective punishment, which is a war crime. In a post on X, the journalist Mehdi Hasan, who has frequently reported on Palestine, described Hochul’s comments as “insane and yes, by definition, *genocidal* language from the governor of New York.”

The joke also drew criticism from progressives and pro-Palestine activists. “Governor Hochul is justifying genocide, while laughing. This is disgusting,” Assembly Member Zohran Mamdani told City & State. The Buffalo chapter of the anti-war group Jewish Voice for Peace similarly called Hochul's words “disgusting” in a tweet, adding that her “Jewish constituents in Buffalo are appalled.”

In a statement provided to City & State, Hochul apologized for her “poor choice of words,” adding that she never intended to cause harm. “I regret using an inappropriate analogy that I now realize could be hurtful to members of our community,” Hochul said. She reiterated her belief in Israel’s right to self-defense, but said she has “also repeatedly said and continues to believe that Palestinian civilian casualties should be avoided and that more humanitarian aid must go to the people of Gaza.”

At least one Muslim elected official was not ready to accept Hochul’s apology. “I need to see changed behavior,” New York City Council Member Shahana Hanif, one of only a handful of Muslim lawmakers in state or city government, wrote on X. “I will not be forgiving you at this time.” 

Since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas on Israel that left roughly 1,200 dead with over 100 people still in captivity, Israel has killed close to 30,000 Palestinians during their military campaign in Gaza, according to Palestinian government estimates. The Israeli military most recently launched an assault on Rafah, in the southernmost part of the Gaza Strip, which is currently home to about 1.4 million Palestinians displaced by the war.

This isn't the first time that Hochul has drawn criticism for statements about Palestinians since Oct. 7. In the days after the attack, and the start of Israel’s retaliatory invasion of the Gaza strip, the governor released multiple statements promising to stand with Israel and support Jewish New Yorkers. But when asked whether she had any message to Palestinian New Yorkers worried about their family members in Gaza, Hochul said only that “law-abiding Palestinians” should “reject Hamas.”