The Fourth Estate
Bill de Blasio isn’t backing down from his staunch support of AIPAC.
Bill de Blasio’s off-schedule, closed-press speech last month to the pro-Israel lobbying organization drew criticism from the the Democratic mayor’s most passionate supporters, including The Nation‘s editorial board, which reacted especially harshly.
Mayor Bill de Blasio vowed today to be more transparent after drawing criticism for delivering a fiery pro-Israel speech at an AIPAC event last night that was not disclosed on his public schedule and closed to press.
“We certainly will improve our information system to let you know about something like the AIPAC speech. We’re very comfortable doing that. We will do that,” Mr. de Blasio told reporters today at an unrelated press conference, where he was peppered with questions about the speech, first reported by Capital New York.
Ever since Brooklyn College’s political science department made the controversial decision to co-sponsor a forum promoting BDS–boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel–New York City’s elected officials have thoroughly condemned them and even hinted that the publicly-funded institution could suffer financial consequences as a result. At a press conference today on Hurricane Sandy relief, however, Mayor Michael Bloomberg passionately defended the university’s right to sponsor the event.
“I couldn’t disagree more violently with BDS,” Mr. Bloomberg explained. “As you know, I’m a big supporter of Israel–as big of a one as I think you can find in the city. But I could also not agree more strongly with an academic department’s right to sponsor a forum on any topic that they choose. If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea.”
Former New York City Mayor Ed Koch died earlier this morning at the age of 88 after being hospitalized for congestive heart disease. Mr. Koch served as the 105th Mayor of New York City for three terms from 1978 until 1989. With a larger-than-life personality, Mr. Koch relished a position that allowed him to become something of a national ambassador for New York City.
Though critics accused Mr. Koch of worsening racial tensions in the city and not doing enough to fight the AIDS crisis that was particularly devastating to the gay community, Mr. Koch was fiercely proud of his legacy, specifically, what he saw as his efforts to save New York from the financial crisis of the late 1970′s, his vast expansion of public housing and programs and efforts he saw as bringing a more meritocratic approach to local government. Politicker conducted one of the final interviews with Mr. Koch on January 17, just two weeks before his death, and he characterized his administration as paving the way for his successors.
“I’m proud of what I did,” he said. “I also believe that both Giuliani and, particularly, Mike Bloomberg have made tremendous contributions to this city. … And I look upon what I did as laying the groundwork and the foundation on which they could build, and without what I did, they couldn’t have done what they did. So, I’m proud of my contributions.”
The Israel-Palestine conflict once again reached New York’s political scene today as elected officials and other activists gathered to denounce Brooklyn College’s political science department for their controversial decision to sponsor a February forum calling for boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel. To say the press conference was heated would be an understatement as it was chocked full of charged rhetoric including multiple references to anti-Semitism, the Holocaust and al-Qaeda.
“Let me tell you, it brings back a lot of memories,” Assemblyman Dov Hikind, the emcee of today’s denunciation, began. “I studied here towards my B.A. and got my Master’s at Brooklyn College, a lot of very fond memories. I stand here very, very disappointed, … students and the organization [are] holding a lecture next week with two viciously, viciously, anti-Israel [speakers]. And when I say ‘viciously,’ I mean they call for the destruction of the state of Israel. They think Hamas and Hezbollah are good organizations. I would assume they feel the same way about al-Qaeda. These are individuals who are extreme radicals.”
Like other pro-Israel groups, the National Jewish Democratic Council has long been critical of former Nebraska Senator Chuck Hagel’s record on Mideast policy. However, with the news that President Barack Obama will nominate Mr. Hagel to be secretary of defense, the group is towing the party line and is now firmly in the pro-Hagel camp.
“President Barack Obama’s unprecedented pro-Israel credentials are unquestionable, and setting policy starts and stops with the President,” the NJDC said in a statement this morning. “While we have expressed concerns in the past, we trust that when confirmed, former Senator Chuck Hagel will follow the President’s lead of providing unrivaled support for Israel — on strategic cooperation, missile defense programs, and leading the world against Iran’s nuclear program.”
That statement is a sharp 180-degree turn from the NJDC’s past comments on Mr. Hagel.
Call Me Bibi
This morning, a small army of elected officials and Jewish advocates amassed on Second Avenue, not far from the United Nations, to press their case that Israel is completely justified in its forceful reaction to the rocket attacks against it. In New York City, of course, support for Israel is an almost universally acknowledged political principle with very few deviations. Indeed, so many elected officials crowded together that they had trouble squeezing into the allotted area.
Naturally, all four of the likely Democratic candidates for mayor were present and more than eager to burnish their foreign policy credentials in light of the burgeoning international controversy. In order to profess their unyielding belief in the righteousness of Israel’s military response in Gaza, each pol described personally visiting the Jewish State, three of them to the exact same small town. We decided to simply transcribe their remarks in the order that they spoke.
President Barack Obama took some heat for not scheduling a meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu while the latter leader was in the United States for the U.N. General Assembly this week. The president (sort of) addressed that criticism today by making time to meet Mr. Netanyahu (via telephone). According to a “readout” of the conversation distributed by the White House Press Office, “the two leaders discussed a range of security issues, and the President reaffirmed his and our country’s unshakeable commitment to Israel’s security.”
“The two leaders underscored that they are in full agreement on the shared goal of preventing Iran from obtaining a nuclear weapon. The Prime Minister welcomed President Obama’s commitment before the United Nations General Assembly to do what we must to achieve that goal,” the readout said.
Bibi In The City
Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu joined forces this afternoon on the steps of Gracie Mansion where they discussed something Israel and New York have in common–a high risk of terrorism.
“Like Israel, New York City has remained a target for terrorists who seek to destroy them,” Mr. Bloomberg said. “In the wake of the 9/11 attacks, the people of Israel stood with us in solidarity knowing that terrorists are only victorious if they frighten people to give up their beliefs, their values, their way of life. That will never happen with Israel and and it will never happen in the United States.”
Although President Barack Obama has been taking heat over the past few weeks for his apparent lack of interest in meeting with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu during this week’s U.N. General Assembly in New York, Mayor Michael Bloomberg clearly isn’t in the same boat.
Mr. Bloomberg is hosting a meeting with the Israeli leader at the mayoral residence, Gracie Mansion, at 3 p.m. tomorrow afternoon, according to his schedule that was released earlier this evening. Their meeting, which will be open to the press and broadcast on the city government’s website, tops off a busy day for Mr. Bloomberg where he’s set to make multiple speeches and meet with the Prime Minister of Thailand as well.