New York Mayor Bill de Blasio gave the “simple, clear, progressive case for the state of Israel” at the Israel lobby group AIPAC this morning, and his speech was a monument in the Democratic Party’s racism against Palestinians.
The progressive mayor never mentioned Palestinian conditions under occupation, he never mentioned Palestinians’ second-class rights in Israel, and while touching again and again on the Jewish history of persecution and “exclusion” and “expulsion”, de Blasio never acknowledged that 750,000 Palestinians had been expelled from their lands at the birth of Israel in 1947-49. As such, his speech was also a monument of Democratic denial of the Palestinian Nakba, or catastrophe.
De Blasio mentioned Palestinians only once. His ten-minute-long speech to the American Israel Public Affairs Committee conference focused on rising dangers to Jews around the world from “nativism, fascism, and white supremacy” and therefore the need for a Jewish state.
“I know that antisemitism is dangerous,” he said. “That reinforces my commitment to the survival and the security of the State of Israel. Because the Jewish people cannot be safe without the state of Israel…. Israel at its core is there to shelter an oppressed people.”
Progressives fight oppression everywhere and support inclusion, de Blasio said. “The Jewish people have faced 1000s of years of exclusion and expulsion,” and he emphasized that that history did not end in 1948 with the establishment of the state of Israel.
That statement was a pointed denial of the expulsion of Palestinians.
De Blasio also said that as a progressive what he sees in Israel is not its technological and material achievements but “I see a multi-racial democracy,” one that guarantees health care. The mayor thereby denied Palestinian outrage at Israel’s 2018 nation-state law. That law states that only Jews have the right of self-determination in Israel, grants “national value” to “Jewish settlement” as opposed to Palestinian towns, and downgrades Arabic’s official status.
De Blasio’s appearance was especially fraught because many Democratic candidates for president have refused to attend the policy conference at the Washington, D.C., convention center because of AIPAC’s support for Netanyahu, even as Netanyahu makes anti-Palestinian statements in his reelection campaign. Many progressive groups called on politicians to boycott the conference, while the liberal Zionist group J Street called on those pols who did go to the conference to call out the “bigotry” of Trump and Netanyahu.
De Blasio ignored all these injunctions, offering only the mildest criticism of the Israeli government. “I have some real disagreements with the current Israeli government,” he said. But he quickly added that those criticisms do not detract from the “requirement” that Israel must be defended. Even “if I criticize some policies of the today’s Israeli government,” he said, it is because “I want the idea of the Israeli nation to thrive forever.”
Then the 57-year-old mayor launched into a full-throated attack on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement (BDS), which he said is “contrary to the progressive imperative to protect all oppressed people everywhere and always” and “affronts the idea of Israel as a guaranteed refuge for the Jewish people.”
Throughout these remarks, de Blasio never mentioned the denial of Palestinian rights that caused Palestinian civil society to launch the BDS campaign. It was in speaking of BDS that he made his sole reference to Palestinians, stating that “I fear that [BDS] could undermine the Israeli economy” and demolish the two-state solution, which is the best hope for Palestinians.
“We must confront the threat to progress that is BDS,” he said.
De Blasio bragged of leading the most diverse city in the world, which includes a large population of Jews. His speech concluded with a memory of a Brooklyn sabbath dinner 15 years ago at which his host showed his daughter her tattoo from Auschwitz.
That memory, he said, means that we “must never ask the Jewish people to defend their lives alone… we must always stand beside you.”
Thanks to Donald Johnson.