The latest surprise in a presidential race full of surprises is the news that Michael Bloomberg is considering a third-party run if it appears that non-establishment candidates Donald Trump, Ted Cruz or Bernie Sanders might actually capture his respective party’s nomination. Bloomberg could become America’s first Jewish president, Haaretz says; and the news has got people wondering, what is Michael Bloomberg’s record on Israel?
The 73-year-old former mayor has been extremely supportive of Israel with what seems like a generational Jewish attachment. He has funded buildings in his parents’ names there and he flew to Israel a year and a half ago to declare that it was within its rights to bomb Gaza to smithereens (a judgement against international law). He has adopted neoconservative positions on foreign policy and aided Islamophobic efforts in New York city. Yet in a couple of instances, Bloomberg has disappointed the Israel lobby.
Here are highlights of his record on Israel and related questions:
Bloomberg was an early and vocal supporter of the Iraq War, though apparently he cooled off on it later.
On Bloomberg’s watch, the NY Police Department instituted a surveillance program targeting Muslims in New York that was modeled on Israeli policies in the West Bank. Bloomberg also undermined Debbie Almontaser when her Arabic-language academy in Brooklyn came under attack by Israel supporters. In the end he helped force her resignation.
Last August, Bloomberg bridled at White House efforts to pressure Democrats to support the Iran deal, saying that the deal was very flawed. I don’t see where Bloomberg came down in the end on the deal, though he expressed support for Senator Chuck Schumer’s opposition to the deal.
As mayor, Bloomberg led the effort to create a technology campus on Roosevelt Island in New York as a joint endeavor of Cornell and the Technion, an Israeli university. When ground was broken, he had left office, and contributed $100 million to the project.
In 2009 Bloomberg flew to Israel to express solidarity in its attack on Gaza and he did so again in July 2014. At that time he expressed opposition to the FAA’s decision to suspend flights to Israel by domestic carriers because Israel’s main airport was in reach of rockets from Gaza. He wrote then:
During my brief time in Israel, I met with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, President Shimon Peres and Jerusalem Mayor Nir Barkat. I thanked them for standing with us after the Sept. 11 attacks and offered my strong support for their actions in response to the attacks by Hamas. Every country has a right to defend its borders from enemies, and Israel was entirely justified in crossing into Gaza to destroy the tunnels and rockets that threaten its sovereignty. I know what I would want my government to do if the U.S. was attacked by a rocket from above or via a tunnel from below; I think most Americans do, too.
Israel has no stronger ally than the U.S.
The next month he said that Israel did not have to limit itself to a “proportional” response to Gaza attacks.
On the plus side, in June 2006, Bloomberg delivered a speech at the University of Chicago’s convocation ceremony that gave credit to John Mearsheimer for the paper on the Israel lobby that he and Stephen Walt had lately published in the London Review of Books, causing a storm of criticism:
At Chicago, you have all been fortunate to be part of an institution that’s long practiced independent thinking and discovery. And I’m not just talking about t-shirts.
From the University’s defense against accusations of communist teaching 70 years ago to its support of Professor Mearsheimer’s right to criticize the Israel lobby’s influence on U.S. foreign policy, this has been a place where open debate is encouraged and cherished.
In 2013 Bloomberg did a good thing by helping to end the furor over the fact that Brooklyn College was about to hold a panel on Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) featuring two supporters of the campaign, Judith Butler and Omar Barghouti. While stating that he “couldn’t disagree more violently” with the aims of BDS, Bloomberg came out against several politicians, including supposedly liberal Democrats, who had opposed the school’s holding of the panel, and said those who objected ought to go to school in North Korea.
Back to the neoconnish Bloomberg. In 2013, Bloomberg marched in the Israel Day Parade in New York, alongside Danny Danon, the Likudnik who has become the Israeli ambassador to the U.N., and who has described Palestinian villages as “settlements” on Jewish land. At that time, Scott Roth observed, “Bloomberg marched with a fascist.”
In May 2014, after leaving office, Bloomberg received a $1 million prize in Israel for embodying Jewish values. He returned the money. The Times’ Jodi Rudoren reported:
Mr. Bloomberg, 72, visited Israel frequently while in office, and he has donated millions of dollars to Jerusalem institutions, financing a hospital wing named for his mother and an ambulance center named for his father. On Thursday, he called the growing international movement for a boycott against Israel “an outrage” that is “totally misplaced,” but ducked a question about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict…
Mr. Bloomberg said his religiously observant parents had inculcated Jewish values around the dinner table, and he identified those qualities Thursday night as “freedom, justice, service, ambition, innovation.”
On the social/personal level, Bloomberg would seem to be a somewhat assimilated Jew. A Bloomberg family legend surrounds the fact that when he was a child, his father had to buy a house in Medford, Massachusetts, using a dummy Irish buyer because Jews were discriminated against in housing purchases. Joyce Purnick of the New York Times reported that the Jews at Medford High stuck together, but not Bloomberg: “‘The Jewish kids tended to hang together, mostly,’ [a Jewish former student recalled]. Not, however, Mike Bloomberg…. ‘[He was] not in our crowd. I don’t know who he was friendly with, who he hung out with, but it wasn’t us.'” The former mayor’s longtime partner is Diana Taylor, 60, the former NY State Superintendent of Banks, who the Times reported is from a “genteel” Greenwich, CT, background, meaning that she is a WASP. He was married to a woman from England said to be non-Jewish; their daughters were raised as Jews but one of them also married a non-Jew.
Thanks to Scott McConnell and Alex Kane.