The notion that the mayor of New York — home to the largest Jewish population in the Diaspora — is criticized for making a pro-Israel speech is an indication that there is something rotten in the Big Apple. At the same time, Mayor Bill de Blasio deserves credit not only for making the speech in the first place, but for responding to critics — including some among his strongest supporters — by stressing that he is “unabashedly pro-Israel.”
The surprising turn of events began when the mayor spoke at a closed press gathering of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) at the Hilton in Manhattan.
“There is a philosophical grounding to my belief in Israel and it is my belief, it is our obligation, to defend Israel, but it is also something that is elemental to being an American because there is no greater ally on earth, and that’s something we can say proudly,” de Blasio told the group.
De Blasio was only the latest in a long list of elected officials, including President Obama, who have addressed AIPAC gatherings, and neither the speech nor the venue was controversial or surprising.
Some media outlets were miffed that they hadn’t been informed of the private address by the mayor, and an uninvited reporter who tried to crash the gathering was escorted out by security. But some of the most strident criticism came from some of de Blasiofellow progressives.
In a sharply written editorial, The Nation, a self-described “flagship of the left,” called the speech, including a promise that City Hall will always be open to AIPAC, “deplorable.”
That is a sad turnaround for a periodical whose then-parent company was one of the most active supporters of the establishment of the modern state of Israel in the mid-1940s, and helped expose the wartime collaboration between Palestinian leaders and Nazi Germany.
In his first interview with the mayor, Brian Lehrer, a longtime host at WNYC Radio, a public-owned media entity, also questioned de Blasio on the issue.
“Given your general politics, I might not have figured you for such an ambiguous supporter of Israel…” he said to the mayor.
“You said ‘ambiguous,’” de Blasio cut him off. “I assume you meant ‘unambiguous.’”
After Lehrer corrected himself, de Blasio went on to declare that “Of course it’s a very complicated dynamic in the Middle East … I think that the core of this is I’m unabashedly pro-Israel — meaning: the state of Israel, the survival of Israel, the sense of alliance that this country needs to have with Israel. I think Israel is in constant danger. I think, bluntly, there have been some real indications of sustained anti-Semitism all over the world.”
There is, of course, nothing new about de Blasio’s resolute support of Israel. He was consistently pro-Israel as a Council member and later as Public Advocate.
During a 2009 interview with Hamodia, when asked about Senator Hillary Clinton’s becoming Secretary of State, de Blasio pointed out that “To me it’s a blessing that on top of the commitment [to Israel] she already had, she had the opportunity to spend the years in New York, and to get to know the community here. Anyone who does so, by definition, has an unending support and obligation to Israel.”
In an age when so many, especially in the progressive camp, choose to close their eyes and hearts to facts and logic and cast their lots with those who seek to attack Israel, de Blasio’s unstinting support of America’s closest and staunchest ally in the Middle East is welcome and greatly appreciated.