Outgoing mayor, surprised by honor, says he wants to boost trade; but the framework is unclear.
As he prepares to step down after 12 years as New York's mayor, billionaire businessman Michael Bloomberg says he wants to play a role in the Mideast peace process by fostering economic ties between "the people in Palestine and the the people in Israel."
Speaking at a Chanukah celebration Monday night at the Museum of Jewish Heritage-Living Memorial to the Holocaust, Bloomberg said he'll donate the $1 million Genesis Prize he was awarded earlier this year for that purpose.
“We have to find some ways that everybody can get along in that space or it won’t end nicely for anybody,” the mayor said, according to a video posted by journalist Jacob Kornbluh. The mayor then added "Today, I think we have to remain steadfast, however, in our support of this great nation, especially in times like these," apparently referring to Israel.
The mayor's announcement was first reported online Tuesday by the Forward.
Bloomberg's spokesman told The Jewish Week Tuesday no information is yet available on organizations or causes that will benefit from the prize money.
The Genesis Philanthropy Group will bestow its inaugural award on Bloomberg in May. It is intended to be a "Jewish Nobel" to encourage Jewish identity, though the criteria are somewhat unclear.
The mayor, who founded a financial news empire before being elected in a 2001 upset victory as a Republican, expressed humility at the Genesis honor Monday night, saying he won "for some reason that nobody can figure out — at least I can’t."
The prize committee includes Jewish Agency chairman Natan Sharansky and Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel.
As a New York politician, Bloomberg has donated to charities such as Hadassah Hospital and Magen David Adom, but in fulfilling his goal will likely look to more progressive organizations that attempt to look at the Israeli-Palestinian dispute in an evenhanded manner.
Naomi Paiss, spokeswoman for the New Israel Fund, which supports social justice and equality in Israel and partners with many progressive organizations there, said she was not aware of any existing group that promotes trade between Israel and the Palestinian Authority. She said most progressive American Jewish organizations focus on human rights issues in Israel and the West Bank.
"[Bloomberg] may have to start his own organization, like he did with gun control," said Paiss, referring to Mayors Against Illegal Guns, the coalition of 1,000 executives started by Bloomberg and Boston's Thomas Menino in 2006. Bloomberg contributed $3 million for that effort.
If he were to found a group in Israel, he would likely need to supplement the $1 million prize money with funds from his own foundation, Bloomberg Philanthropies.
"A million dollars is a lot of money in the West Bank," said Paiss. "But you would need more funds to keep it going."
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