(May 16, 2019 / JNS) New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio became the 24th Democrat to run for president in 2020 when he announced his candidacy on Thursday.
De Blasio, 58, who has been in his current role since 2014, is no stranger to the Jewish and pro-Israel community.
“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 kipah,” he said at the annual AIPAC Policy Conference in March. “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.”
De Blasio, who is married with two children, was born in Manhattan, and earned a bachelor’s degree at New York University and a master’s of international affairs at Columbia University.
On the BDS movement and anti-Semitism
As mayor of a city where almost 57 percent of hate crimes reported between January and April 2019 were anti-Semitic, de Blasio has been outspoken about bigotry against Jews and the anti-Israel BDS movement.
“There are plenty of people who support BDS who have advanced degrees and who call themselves progressives,” he said in front of the Hampton Synagogue in Westhampton Beach, N.Y., in August 2016. “I look forward to challenging them because it’s ahistorical.”
“Defending Israel is a matter—from my point of view as a progressive—is a matter of being consistent with progressive values,” he added, labeling BDS as a movement that “seeks to undermine the economy of the State of Israel and makes it harder for Israel to exist, therefore renouncing the very notion that the Jewish people need a homeland in a still dangerous and unsettled world.”
He also stated, “We, in the United States, or in any nation, you can disagree with a particular government’s policy at that moment in time, but that doesn’t mean that you don’t believe in that nation or its right to exist or its founding ideals.”
At an event celebrating Jewish heritage the following June, de Blasio said, “We know there has been a rise in anti-Semitism in this country, and we will not tolerate it here in New York City.”
“There is a lot of history that teaches us why the Jewish people have needed a homeland, and finally having a homeland, they deserve to know that that homeland will be protected for the long haul,” he added. “This is why I oppose the BDS movement so strongly.”
At the 2019 AIPAC Policy Conference, de Blasio reiterated his commitment to combating BDS and anti-Semitism.
“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,” he said. “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,” he continued. “So we must confront the threat to progress that is BDS … 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.”
Earlier that month, de Blasio split from his fellow progressives and condemned Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) for decrying the so-called “political influence in this country that says it is OK to push for allegiance to a foreign country,” a classic anti-Semitic trope.
“Let me be really clear, suggesting that support for Israel is beholden to a foreign power is absolutely unacceptable—and it’s illogical, too,” he said. “I believe strongly in the State of Israel. I don’t feel beholden one bit to a foreign power. I’m a proud American who believes in the State of Israel and believes it must exist.”
“I happen to be Italian American,” he added. “I never heard anyone suggest that because of my pride in my ancestral homeland, I’m beholden to a foreign government. It’s a really inappropriate comment.”
Supporting the Iran nuclear deal
Like the other Democratic candidates, de Blasio supported the 2015 Iran nuclear deal.
“I am encouraged by this morning’s announcement of a nuclear agreement between the P5+1 and Iran, and look forward to seeing additional details in the coming days,” said de Blasio in a July 2015 statement.
“I applaud President [Barack] Obama’s commitment to working toward a comprehensive diplomatic agreement, which provides the best means of preventing Iran from developing a nuclear weapon,” he said. “The president’s leadership has been crucial—and it should send a clear signal that the United States stands by its allies and will not accept Iran building a nuclear weapon.”
On Palestinian violence
In a 48-hour trip to Israel in October 2015, de Blasio, in response to a wave of Palestinian violence against Israeli Jews, said he stood “in solidarity with the Israeli people,” though he did not name any perpetrators.
“I don’t want to pretend to understand the nuances of the situation,” said de Blasio, who also visited Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu. “I think it’s important as an outsider to not claim to know more than I do. I think this is a larger human reality, that peace is necessary, attacks on civilians are unacceptable, and no civilian leaders should ever condone attacks on civilians.”
Despite his pro-Israel and pro-Iran deal stances, de Blasio is considered a longshot, as he is unpopular among his constituency and is one of the most unfavorable candidates in early-primary states Iowa and New Hampshire, according to a Monmouth University poll released earlier this month.
Former U.S. Vice President and Democratic Party presidential candidate Joe Biden has had a very wide lead in virtually every poll.