Last week Hamodia printed an opinion article by Dovid Margolin criticizing mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio for volunteering in Nicaragua during the Sandinista regime. Margolin accused de Blasio of being a Marxist and likened his affiliation with the Sandinistas to someone who is a Nazi sympathizer.
Candidates who run for public office obviously expect their views, both past and present, to be challenged and their personal and public history scrutinized. It is an essential part of democracy and helps ensure a fair election process.
Bill de Blasio, even though he’s been a friend to the Jewish community for the last 15 years, is no different. Although he will almost definitely be the next mayor of New York City, Hamodia still has an obligation to bring relevant facts, even negative, related to his candidacy to the public’s attention. But journalistic integrity requires intellectual honesty; we cannot jump to wild conclusions based on conjecture and speculation and ignore the historical context.
While there may be much to be learned from examining de Blasio’s views and conduct as a young adult, I think we can all agree that his conduct over the last 12 years, when he actually served as an elected leader — public advocate for the last four years and City Council member for eight years before that — and gained trust and respect from the Jewish community, is much more relevant.
Margolin began his article claiming that, in 1988, Bill de Blasio was in Nicaragua volunteering “in support of the brutal Marxist Sandinista junta” while “ostensibly there to hand out food and medical supplies.”
De Blasio was actually in Nicaragua for a total of 10 days to distribute medical supplies for a social justice group. He was not working for the “brutal” government, as Margolin implies, and there is no indication or evidence to suggest that de Blasio was there for anything other than a humanitarian purpose.
When considering young people who sympathized with the Sandinistas, it is important to view them in the context of history. It is undisputed that during the conflict between the Contras and the Sandinistas, the Contras also carried out human rights violations including beatings, mutilations, kidnappings and assassinations. Yet the Reagan administration, beginning in 1981, funded them and gave them weapons to fight the Sandinistas and gain power. Eventually — in 1985 — Congress cut off all funds to the Contras. Still, the Reagan administration covertly funded them.
The fact that de Blasio sympathized with the Sandinistas 25 years ago should be of little concern to voters. Winston Churchill famously said, “If you’re not a liberal at 20 you have no heart.” This is what many young people did back then. They got involved in liberal causes. The government at the time was supporting Contras and many of the young people sympathized with the Sandinistas.
Despite what Margolin wants you to believe, there is nothing to suggest that de Blasio is a covert Marxist. If it were true, wouldn’t it have come out while he was serving as public advocate under Bloomberg? De Blasio is not going to confiscate your homes and condominiums and give them to the poor.
Calling de Blasio a Marxist for volunteering in Nicaragua is like saying that anyone in America who opposed the war in Vietnam had to have been a communist.
De Blasio’s tax proposal, if passed (which is unlikely), will affect people whose income exceeds $500,000 a year, and even they will be affected only minimally. His proposal suggests that a person who makes $1,000,000 a year will pay a little over $2,000 more in taxes to fund pre-kindergarten and after-school programs. I’m not sure I agree with his proposal, but the majority of citizens living in New York City seem to. Are they all Marxists?
Margolin cites incidents of anti-Semitism from 1978, presumably to give the impression that de Blasio knew about the events, and by going and volunteering in Nicaragua somehow condoned these incidents.
The incidents happened when de Blasio was 16 years old and 10 years before he went to Nicaragua. Margolin does not bring any evidence that de Blasio knew about these attacks or condoned this type of behavior. In fact, all indications are that de Blasio has always been a good friend to the Jews.
Margolin’s references to a Nazi sympathizer, gulags and mass graves are inexcusable. The Sandinistas were not the Nazis, and de Blasio is not an anti-Semite. De Blasio obviously strongly disagrees and condemns the atrocities committed by the communists.
But I wouldn’t be too quick to judge Margolin now, for he is no older than de Blasio was when he volunteered in Nicaragua.
Rabbi Yaacov Behrman is a New York-based political activist and the former director of media relations for Chabad headquarters.