Jefferson Morley | July 31, 2019
Bill de Blasio: Light on Foreign Policy, AIPAC Speaker
NYC Mayor de Blasio hasn’t discussed much of international affairs and security while on the 2020 campaign trail, although his record in public service has some telling incidents.
De Blasio has mostly framed his response to foreign policy in terms of immigration and climate change.
Back in 2012, as the public advocate for New York City, de Blasio instituted a watch list for Iran and encouraged city residents to boycott Iranian-manufactured cars and those who did business with Iran.
In March 2019, de Blasio spoke at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference in Washington DC, where he spoke out against the BDS movement and declared his progressive support for Israel.
“Good morning, everyone. I want to say something straightforward. No honest person can deny the dangers that the Jewish people face all over this world. We woke this morning to news of this horrifying rocket attack on civilians in Israel, and my heart goes out, our hearts go out to the families.
Our prayers are with them, but we have an obligation to tell our fellow Americans, to help them understand what it must be like out of nowhere to hear that siren go off, know your family is in danger, to innocent civilians. We have to help people to understand that. So there are threats all over this world.
Now, I want to talk to you about how we address this because the threats are on the rise. The threats to the Jewish people are on the rise in Europe, here in the United States, and in the Middle East. And for me this is deeply personal. This is a community I represent, a community I love.
As Mayor of the largest urban Jewish community on earth 1.2 million strong, I’ve been called to neighborhoods whose menorahs were smashed. I’ve spoken at shuls defaced with swastikas. I’ve sat with a mother whose son was attacked just for wearing a kippah. I know that anti-Semitism is dangerous, and I know it leads to violence, and 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.
As a progressive, here’s what I see when I’m in Israel. I see a multi-racial democracy. I see universal healthcare, free college, a strong labor movement. You’ve often heard it said that Israel’s America’s closest ally in the Middle East and a great center of innovation, and although that is true, I’m moved by something more than that. Israel at its core is there to shelter an oppressed people. That is why I am here to make a simple, clear, progressive case for the state of Israel. So here’s a straightforward definition for you. Progressives fight oppression. Progressives shelter those in danger. We embrace inclusion. We fight against exclusion.
And now, here are the facts. The Jewish people have faced thousands of years of exclusion and expulsion and violence, and that history didn’t end in 1945. It didn’t end in 1948. Those anti-Semitic forces never went away, and in fact, they are growing. And just like racism and sexism and Islamophobia are antithetical to everything I believe as a progressive, so too are fascism and nativism and white supremacy and the anti-Semitism that goes with them. Every day we in New York City fight those dangers with everything we’ve got, and that fight has just begun.
Now, as a progressive I have some real disagreements with the current Israeli government. I imagine many of you do too, but that does not detract, it cannot detract from the requirement that Israel must be defended. If I or anyone criticizes some policies of today’s Israeli government, it’s because I want the powerful and necessary idea of the Israeli nation to thrive forever.
As a progressive Democrat and mayor of the most diverse city in the world, let me also say this. I deeply oppose the boycott, divestment, and sanctions movement. I believe BDS is contrary to the progressive imperative to protect all oppressed people everywhere and always. BDS doesn’t just seek to change a specific policy.
It affronts the very notion of Israel as a guaranteed refuge for the Jewish people, and I fear that BDS could undermine the Israeli economy and thus undermine a two-state solution, a solution I believe is key to ending the suffering of Palestinians and Israelis alike, key to bringing peace to the region. So we must confront the threat to progress that is BDS, and Arthur Brooks is right. The way we confront it is every community, every college, every neighborhood, every city, let’s have this debate. Let’s prove that BDS is wrong.
As I conclude, let me tell you about a moment I will never, ever forget. Once my family was invited to a Shabbat dinner in a Brooklyn home, and a wonderful older woman named Frieda was seated next to my daughter Chiara who was just then ten years old. And at one point the conversation turned to Frieda’s life, and it became profoundly serious.
And she talked about the loved ones she had lost, and my daughter asked her how it was possible that she had lost so many of her family. And Frieda then rolled up her sleeve, and there were the numbers they tattooed on her arm in Auschwitz. Watching my little girl confront the worst consequences of anti-Semitism was chilling, and I could tell she would never see the world the same again. That moment brought home a powerful truth to me. I think William Faulkner said it best. “The past is never dead. It’s not even past.”
My friends, never again means we must never forget the horrifying cost humanity has paid for anti-Semitism. We must never tolerate indifference and complacency with their lethal consequences. We must never listen to those who tell us we no longer need to worry. As a progressive, as a Democrat, as an American, I am here to say we must never, ever ask the Jewish people to defend their lives alone.
We must all stand beside you, and America, our good and progressive America must always protect the state of Israel. Thank you.”