Mayor Bill de Blasio’s recent address to AIPAC has riled up a group of prominent Jewish liberals who feel it was wrong for him to roll out a proverbial red carpet at City Hall for the pro-Israel lobby group.
In an open letter to the mayor, which was emailed to The Jewish Week on Wednesday, the group took exception to de Blasio’s remarks at the Jan. 24 Manhattan gala, which were meant to be limited to the dinner audience.
The event was not on the mayor’s public schedule, but a reporter for Capital New York got inside the Hilton ballroom and recorded part of his address, including the promise: “City Hall will always be open to AIPAC. When you need me to stand by you in Washington or anywhere, I will answer the call and I’ll answer it happily ’cause that’s my job.”
The group, which includes artists, professors, rabbis and communal leaders, said they understood that the job of New York’s mayor has an international component.
“[W]e would not presume to define your job for you,” the letter reads.
“But we do know that the needs and concerns of many of your constituents — U.S. Jews like us among them — are not aligned with those of AIPAC, and that no, your job is not to do AIPAC’s bidding when they call you to do so.
“AIPAC speaks for Israel’s hard-line government and its right-wing supporters, and for them alone; it does not speak for us.”
De Blasio has been staunchly pro-Israel in his political career. He visited Israel while in the City Councl and expressed solidarity with the people of Sderot who live under rocket attacks from Gaza. As public advocate, he pressed for tough sanctions against Iran until it abandons its effort to attain a nuclear bomb.
His comments have generally been free of nuance and supportive of Israel’s current Likud government, without regard to the differences of opinion among Jews and others about the Israel-Palestinian peace process and what being pro-Israel means. The pro-Israel, but left-leaning J Street was founded by activists who wanted a lobby group with a dfferent tone and worldview than AIPAC.
Also signing on was Rebecca Wilkomerson, the founder and executive director of Jewish Voice For Peace, an organizaton that supports boycotts, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
During his campaign last summer, he said New York mayors should stand with the Jewish state, sentiments he repeated at the AIPAC dinner.
Among those signing the letter were Karen R. Adler, president of the Jewish Communal Fund, who worked with de Blasio on Hillary Clinton’s 2000 Senate campaign; Arlene Alda, a children’s book author and wife of actor Alan Alda; pianist Emanuel Ax and author, journalism professor and The Atlantic contributing editor Peter Beinart.
Other signatories include feminist philanthropist Barbara Dobkin; “Vagina Monologues” playwright Eve Ensler; author Erica Jong; feminist icons Letty Cottin Pogrebin and Gloria Steinem; novelist Anne Roiphe, and Rabbis Rolando Matalon of Congregation Bnai Jeshurun, Rachel Cowan of the Institute for Jewish Spirituality, Sharon Kleinbaum of Congregation Beth Simchat Torah and Burton Visotzky of the Jewish Theological Seminary.
In a response emailed to The Jewish Week, the mayor’s press office said “Mayor de Blasio is committed to preserving and strengthening New York City’s relationship with Israel because of our shared values and the threat of terrorism that we both face.
“His commitment to this goal transcends any particular organization and is rooted in the people of New York City and their values.”
After reporters pressed de Blasio on why the event was not on the mayor’s public schedule, de Blasio last week said he had deferred to AIPAC’s request that his appearance be private.
De Blasio said he would be more transparent about his schedule in the future.