New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio has voiced his intention to “stand in solidarity” with Israel as it ramps up its violence against Palestinians.
Given de Blasio’s energetic backing of Israel’s military assault against the Gaza Strip during the summer of 2014, which killed 551 Palestinian children, his support for Israel’s latest bloodbath should come as no surprise.
As de Blasio said at the time, he believes supporting Israel unconditionally is part of his job description as mayor of New York City.
“I am the mayor of the city … with the largest Jewish population anywhere on this earth. By definition, I’ve said it many times, it’s not only normal and natural [to support Israel], I consider it my responsibility to stand up for the state of Israel,” declared de Blasio in July 2014, wrongly equating all Jews in his city with a settler colonial regime nearly 6,000 miles away
De Blasio was selected to deliver the keynote address on “combatting anti-Semitism” at last week’s annual International Conference of Mayors in Jerusalem.
It was de Blasio’s first trip to Israel since his sweeping election victory in 2013, which was driven in large part by a progressive coalition that continues to celebrate him despite his support for reactionary policies.
For someone dubbed “New York’s most powerful progressive,” de Blasio chose some peculiar bedfellows during his visit.
There is no American equivalent to Barkat, though if there were, he would be a cross between Rahm Emanuel, the yuppie neoliberal school-shutting mayor of Chicago, and Joe Arpaio the racist anti-immigrant sheriff of Maricopa County, Arizona — hardly the kind of people a proud progressive like de Blasio would want to be seen cozying up to stateside.
Barkat has been fanning the flames in recent weeks. As ”death to Arabs” mobs rampaged through the streets of Jerusalem, Barkat implored Israelis to carry their guns at all times to open fire at potential Palestinian “terrorists.”
Leading by example, he then paraded around the Palestinian neighborhood of Beit Hanina in occupied East Jerusalem, waving a rifle of his own.
With Barkat by his side, de Blasio joked during a speech that Israel is New York City’s sixth borough, saying, “When you are attacked, we also feel attacked.”
“We in New York are very familiar with the effects of terrorism,” added de Blasio, implicitly comparing anti-colonial Palestinian violence against Israelis to the 11 September 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center.
De Blasio did not spare any words of sympathy for the far higher number of Palestinians attacked and killed by Israeli soldiers, police and settlers in recent weeks, though he did visit a bilingual school in Jerusalem attended by both Jewish and Palestinian children that has been the target of Israel’s burgeoning anti-miscegenation movement.
Earlier that day, de Blasio spent time with his Tel Aviv counterpart Ron Huldai. Huldai enthusiastically advocates rounding up and deporting non-Jewish African refugees, who the Israeli government has labeled a demographic threat to Israel’s Jewish majority.
De Blasio’s trip was bankrolled by Israeli businessman Baruch Eliezer Gross to the tune of $25,000, though taxpayers will still be footing the bill of his mayor’s police detail, provided by the New York City Police Department (NYPD).
Gross heads the Jerusalem-based investment firm Besadno, which has several holding companies that invest in start-ups, some of which develop Israeli military technology.
Influential campaign donors were also invited to attend de Blasio’s events during his visit.
In an open letter to de Blasio, the Center for Constitutional Rights, Jewish Voice for Peace and Jews Say No! warned de Blasio that going on a trip financed by Gross “underscores the potential for one-sidedness.”
The letter also raised concerns that “the intent and effect of the visit by the mayor of the largest city in America during this time might be read as legitimating the actions” of Israel’s military.
“We urge you to consider the risk that your office is being exploited,” they wrote.
“While combating anti-Semitism, along with all forms of racism and discrimination, is a valid goal, we write to register our concern that you, as mayor of New York City, are choosing to follow the ritual of New York politicians who travel to Israel — and do so with political blinders on,” the groups added. “For us, as New York City residents and voters engaged in critiquing Israeli policies and supporting those who are charged with ‘anti-Semitism’ for doing so, this news raises some troubling issues.”
“The false charges of ‘anti-Semitism’ have been repeatedly used by Israel advocacy groups to smear and silence peaceful, lawful organizations, scholars, and students in the US for speaking out against Israel’s policies — policies that many Israeli Jews also oppose,” they wrote. “We expect you would be sensitive to this reactionary tactic — and resist it. Ultimately, the tactic is used to justify or evade Israel’s widely condemned violations of international human rights and to vilify groups that support Palestinian demands for justice.”
“We must ask whether you have considered questions that would be natural for a mayor who asserts a commitment to voices of marginalized communities: Will your audience in Jerusalem include any Palestinian mayors from the West Bank? Will your talk address Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian attacks as well as anti-Semitism? Would you consider modifying the itinerary of your three days in Israel to include a visit to Palestinian areas in the West Bank and East Jerusalem, to Hebron, to border checkpoints, so you might witness the brutal conditions that Palestinians in Israel and the occupied Palestinian territory are subjected to on a daily basis?” they asked.
By his actions, de Blasio answered all of their questions with a resounding no.
During a speech at Yad Vashem, Israel’s Holocaust museum, de Blasio credited “broken windows” policing and its main architect, New York City police chief Bill Bratton, for reducing violent crime in the city in the 1990s.
“Broken windows” is a zero-tolerance approach to policing that focuses on stamping out minor infractions, like graffiti and littering, lest they evolve into violent crimes. In practice, it has destroyed lives, particularly in poor Black communities, while increasing the incarceration rate and clearing prime real estate for gentrification.
Despite there being no empirical proof that “broken windows” policing was responsible for New York City’s historic decline in crime in the 1990s, that myth has prevailed in elite decision-making circles. Meanwhile, the tactics continue to devastate poor communities of color and has contributed to the scourge of police violence plaguing the country.
Nevertheless, de Blasio encouraged countries around the world to adopt a “broken windows” approach to tackling anti-Semitism by condemning acts of hate and bigotry, however small.
“No act of hate is acceptable,” said de Blasio, adding, “acts that appear small must be addressed.” He continued, “There is a broken windows strategy necessary in fighting bias and intolerance, to fighting anti-Semitism and all forms of hate. … If we don’t attend to one broken window, we implicitly extend an invitation to break another.”
The irony is that de Blasio said this in Israel, a place that is quickly spiraling into a nation of unhinged lynch mobs fueled by incitement from elected officials and encouraged by an international community that remains dangerously silent.
In fact, the same day de Blasio gave his grand speech, a lynch mob beat an innocent Eritrean man as he bled to death following an attack at a bus station that killed an Israeli soldier.
De Blasio’s silence on such matters speaks volumes.
Perhaps he is fulfilling the promise he made to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the leading pro-Israel lobby group, at the beginning of his administration, in which he declared his unbending loyalty to defending Israel.
Or maybe he has national political aspirations and recognizes that the road to the governor’s mansion and ultimately the White House is paved with pro-Israel campaign donations.
Whatever de Blasio’s reasons, supporting Israel’s atrocities against Palestinians is in no way related to effectively governing the city of New York.
- Bill de Blasio
- New York City
- Nir Barkat
- Ron Huldai
- Bill Bratton
- broken windows
- Rahm Emanuel
- Joe Arpaio
- Maricopa County
- Glenn Beck
- Beit Hanina
- Tel Aviv
- Baruch Eliezer Gross
- Center for Constitutional Rights
- Jewish Voice for Peace
- Jews Say No!
- Yad Vashem
- American Israel Public Affairs Committee
- Avigdor Lieberman
- Yisrael Beitenu