Activism

A month later, de Blasio’s AIPAC declaration continues to roil New York

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Photo by Chiu Ng
New Yorkers protested Bill de Blasio’s AIPAC speech outside City Hall in February. Photo by Chiu Ng

New Yorkers organized by Jews Say No! slammed Mayor Bill de Blasio’s speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) in a letter delivered to City Hall yesterday. 700 people signed on to a missive calling the main U.S. Israel lobby group a “right-wing organization that strong-arms elected and other government officials to support brutal Israeli government policies.”

The letter was sent a month after New York City Mayor de Blasio delivered a speech to AIPAC where he said part of his “job description is to be a defender of Israel” and that “City Hall will always be open to AIPAC.” The secret speech, revealed first by Capital New York‘s Azi Paybarah and Sally Goldenberg, has riled up the left-wing Jewish activist community.

The Jews Say No! letter needles de Blasio over how a progressive politician is supporting a right-wing lobby group. “The story of Israel and Palestine is, without question, a tale of two different realities—with its inequalities fully supported by the power of the Israeli government, the disproportionate political influence of AIPAC, and the U.S. government,” the letter states.  “We believe these fundamental inequalities should resonate with you, who campaigned against the idea that NYC should no longer be ‘a tale of two cities.'”

De Blasio’s AIPAC speech was supposed to be run-of-the-mill–just another routine stop where the mayor can proclaim his love for the Jewish state.  Instead, it’s turned into a bit of a headache for the new mayor.

On Wednesday, MSNBC host Chris Hayes questioned the mayor on whether defending Israel was his job.  “I got to say as a New Yorker, I thought ‘I don’t know if that’s true. I voted for this guy, and I don’t know if it’s part of the job description for him to be a defender of Israel,'” Hayes told de Blasio, according to a transcript posted by reporter Jacob Kornbluh.  In response, the mayor said:

“Look, I said something that was personal. I said something that was about my belief that we have to defend the state of Israel. And I think that has everything to do with the alliance that we have with Israel, the history have and particularly as New Yorkers, the deep, deep connection with have personally with Israel. I think it’s also a matter of protecting democracy.”

Here’s video of the exchange:

In the immediate aftermath of de Blasio’s AIPAC speech, a group of 58 prominent Jews–including Peter Beinart, the Jewish Communal Fund’s Karen Adler and feminist icon Gloria Steinem–penned an open letter telling the mayor, “no, your job is not to do AIPAC’s bidding when they call you to do so.”

That letter, in turn, sparked right-wing pushback in the form of printed advertisements. It also caused a contretemps within an important Upper West Side Jewish institution: B’nai Jeshrun.  Two rabbis from the synagogue signed the letter. But some of the members of B’nai Jeshrun were angry at the rabbis for doing so, as Beinart noted in a recent Haaretz column. In response, a group of B’nai Jeshrun congregants issued their own open letter, criticizing the rabbis for signing a missive that included “a leader of the boycott divestment and sanctions movement” (presumably Jewish Voice for Peace’s Rebecca Vilkomerson).

“Instead of signing the letter to the Mayor,” the upset congregants told the rabbis, “you should have stood by Israel and urged its authors not to send it because it ran counter to the truth and to the tenets of tolerance that you have often preached.”