Many people troubled by the lack of Palestinian freedom grew up with stories of courage.
Throwing off the might of the British empire took courage.
Overcoming Jim Crow segregationists took courage.
Defeating white supremacists in apartheid South Africa took courage.
Shaking off the Israeli occupation has and will take courage.
But saying the occupation is wrong from the far shores of New York City and Washington, DC should take very little courage.
It does, however, require a moral compass.
Michael Bloomberg, the mayor of New York City between 2002 and 2013 and one of the newest potential Democratic contestants for US president, lacks that compass. Deval Patrick, a former governor of Massachusetts who has his own Palestine-related problems, announced his candidacy Thursday morning.
“We’re attacking Hamas”
Asked in 2014 about the Israeli military’s killing of Palestinian children in a school in Gaza, Bloomberg had not a word critical of Israel to say about their deaths. And then he appeared to speak of Israel as “we,” arguing, contrary to the facts, “Nobody’s attacking schools or hospitals, we’re attacking Hamas.”
He also displayed a profound lack of understanding of what Palestinians face with his 2014 solidarity rush to Israel when the Federal Aviation Administration ordered American airlines to suspend flights to and from Tel Aviv.
At the time, American and European airlines stopped flying to Tel Aviv during Israel’s onslaught against Gaza over fears of rocket fire from the coastal strip.
The former mayor strutted and tweeted on behalf of Israel, but ignored the Palestinian civilians being killed in Gaza and Israel’s overall responsibility for its occupation of Palestinian land and dispossession of millions.
Without evidence, Bloomberg claimed in an op-ed that “Hamas would like nothing more than to close down Ben Gurion [airport], isolating Israel from the international community and seriously damaging its economy.”
To indicate that what Hamas would most like is to shut down the airport suggests Bloomberg is either ignorant of the organization’s positions or simply out of touch.
Indeed, nowhere in his op-ed does Bloomberg mention ending the occupation or the siege of Gaza. He says not a word about Palestinian freedom, but speaks only in general terms about “bringing peace to the region” and a “peace settlement.”
Free speech and occupation
Bloomberg is clearly a flawed candidate for disregarding the Israeli occupation, but he does at least seem to believe in free speech rights for advocates of Palestinian freedom.
In one of the more unexpectedly memorable Palestine-related quotes of recent years, Bloomberg — speaking as the mayor — ripped politicians trying to censor a 2013 event planned by Students for Justice in Palestine at Brooklyn College regarding the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement.
“If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion,” Bloomberg said, “ I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.”
But this is as good as it gets. Bloomberg simultaneously noted that he “couldn’t disagree more violently” with the BDS movement — words that may well have caused outrage had he said he “couldn’t disagree more violently” with AIPAC’s support for the occupation.
Yes, he believes in free speech unlike fanatical censors in Congress and many states. But he uses his own speech and wealth to advance the occupation.
The project was clearly intended to be part of the infrastructure of occupation.
“Located at the western entrance to Jerusalem on the main road leading from Tel Aviv and adjacent to the city’s major roadways,” the project announced, “the Station also provides emergency services from Beit Shemesh to the Dead Sea, from the West Bank territories to the Jordan Valley.”
At the dedication event in Jerusalem, Bloomberg noted how his father had told him that “discrimination against anybody is discrimination against everybody.”
These would be laudable words if it were not for the fact that Bloomberg so clearly disregards Israeli discrimination against Palestinians — apparently nobodies for him.
The Democratic Party’s progressive grassroots activists are rapidly moving away from such discrimination and presidential candidates such as Senator Bernie Sanders are heeding the rising concerns. Bloomberg’s positions over the last five to 15 years are clearly out of step.
Bloomberg is a spoiler who stands between Americans and a more just foreign policy on Palestine, not to mention a more equitable country.
The harm Bloomberg will do to the country as a failed Democratic candidate is likely to be limited. Yet it should be noted that he might hurt Joe Biden in the primary and inadvertently help Sanders and Senator Elizabeth Warren.
If, however, he loses in the Democratic primary and then enters the race as an independent, undercutting a progressive candidate such as Sanders or even Warren, the harm would likely be enormous.
Bloomberg was noncommittal in an MSNBC interview last week with Stephanie Ruhle on whether he would support Sanders or Warren if one won the Democratic Party’s nomination. “I’ll have to see what happens down the road,” he said.
That spells trouble for efforts to defeat Trump in 2020.
Bloomberg probably won’t ever find a moral compass on Palestine. Democrats will have to hope he finds one at home so he doesn’t run as an independent.