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Liberal Jews Criticize Mayor's Comments To AIPAC

Supporting 'hard-line' lobby not part of job description, say boldfaced names in arts, philanthropy, academia, rabbinate.

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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.

Last Update:

08/03/2014 - 07:22
AIPAC, Alan Alda, Arlene Alda, Bill de Blasio, City Hall, Emanuel Ax, Eve Ensler, Gloria Steinem, J Street, New York Politics Peter Beiart, Open Zion, Peter Beinart, Rabbi Rolando Matalon, Rabbi Sharon Kleinbaum
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In light of current events in Israel and Gaza, I reluctantly must also voice my disdain for Israeli policy concerning the Palestinians. I'm not certain where I would have stood on this DeBlasio matter a few months ago, but Israel's behavior towards Palestinian civilians has pushed me, and the majority of the world community, to reconsider our sympathies towards the Israelis. I am an American Jew who firmly believes in the essential existence of Israel. But their military policies and smothering occupation of Gaza and the West Bank must change, or Israel will eventually and sadly become a failed experiment.

Hi - i'll use my real name instead of being a coward: American Jews who reject AIPAC and Israel should be ashamed of themselves for their disdain for Israel and AIPAC. GOD BLESS AIPAC. If it wasn't for America, and the small minority of Jews who support Israel, thank god, most of my fellow American tribesmen would have sank Israel long ago. F the left. Stand with Israel and AIPAC. Your kids go to colleges that spoon-feed them leftist lies, and you do not need to be a "right-winger" to support Israel.

Addressing AIPAC is not the point. The Mayor of New York told AIPAC in a private conversation that he would always be open to AIPAC, and would gladly stand by them whenever they needed him (his words, not mine) in Washington, DC.

AIPAC is not "Israel," and it is not "all American Jews." How would you feel if DeBlasio, in a non-publicized private meeting with Citigroup (also registered in NY as a PAC), told them that he would "gladly stand by Citibank whenever they needed him" and would be happy to represent them in Washington, DC?

If only those arrogant, land-crazed Israeli occupiers relinquished the West Bank. Then, of course, there would be a comprehensive peace agreement between the Palestinians and Israel. To be followed by an enduring end to Muslim enmity towards the Zionists.

Dream on you quixotic quacks.

Most Israel-Firsters, like DeBoziee-oh, today are Christian, which is hardly surprising since the very project of actually gathering the Jews in the Holy Land had emerged in Anglo-American Protestant circles well before Jews embraced it in late 19th century.

I applaud Mayor Bill de Blasio for his strong support of Israel. Thank you for taking time to speak to the largest pro Israel lobbying organization. While I am progressive liberal and friend to many of the signers...I am shocked by the tone and character assassination of the fine organization.

Self-loathing Jews: this is what they do. Since when is addressing AIPAC sinful? There are thousands of lobbies in Washington. Why is the one lobby that supports the State of Israel frowned upon? These are the words of the self-haters. "AIPAC speaks for Israel’s hard-line government and its right-wing supporters, and for them alone; it does not speak for us." Cliches, they think in cliches. Fact: Israel's government represents the views of the majority of people in Israel. They are not 'hard-line'. They are ordinary people. Apparently the liberal Jews in New York think they are smarter and better informed than the Jews voting in Israel. Fact: a recent poll by the ADL showed that 76% of Americans said that Israel can be counted on as a strong ally. 48% to 16% of Americans were sympathetic to Israel compared to the Palestinians. So, a coterie of liberal Jews living in New York peddle the flimflam that 'right-wingers' support Israel when it is really 76%. That, my friends, is self-loathing. They know not what they do or who they are.

Ah....the company they keep....hand in hand with the BDS supporters. Why can't the Mayor say he is pro-Israel. I know this is hard to understand from their upper West side perch, but Israel is in a bad neighborhood. AIPAC has been successful in helping Israel get the Iron Dome ( you know, to defend against actual MISSILES -- something you also don't get to experience on the Upper West Side) -- this knee jerk condemnation seems to also come from a variety of people -- a number of whom have NEVER done anything for Israel and never intend to.

I am a proud progressive Jewish activist. Mayor Bill de Blasio has a long and proud record of advocacy for Israel & Jewish community causes. We should commend our mayor for taking a stand for Israel. New York is a global city with a strong bond to Israel & the Middle East. Folks may disagree with Israeli politics…However I am always amazed that Jewish communal leaders & celebrities will publicly sign letters and stand shoulder to shoulder with BDS and anti-Israel political leaders…while remaining silent to the rise of anti-Semitism within the United States & larger global community.

"The pro-israel, but left-leaning J Street..." Yes, wolves in sheeps' clothing.
"During his campaign last summer, he said New York mayors should stand with the Jewish state, sentiments he repeated at the AIPAC dinner." How dare he tread on the gilded liberals' undermining of Israel!

Jews in name but not in deed?

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