JERUSALEM (AP) — New York City Mayor Bill De Blasio kicked off a brief visit to Israel on Saturday, which he has described as a solidarity mission at a “painful moment” after weeks of violence.
De Blasio met with his Tel Aviv counterpart Ron Huldai before attending an event in the central town of Beit Shemesh sponsored by the Israeli-Arab school, Hand in Hand. The Jerusalem school, which was targeted by Jewish arsonists last year, is a rare symbol of coexistence.
Later in the day, he was to meet Jerusalem’s mayor, Nir Barkat, and visit Israeli stabbing victims in a hospital.
The start of de Blasio’s visit coincided Saturday with three separate stabbing attacks on Israelis in Jerusalem and the West Bank by Palestinian terrorists who were killed during the assaults.
Ahead of his trip, de Blasio said the visit has “taken on extra meaning now because of the crisis in Israel” and said it was “very important to stand in solidarity with Israel.”
“I don’t want to pretend to understand the nuances of the situation,” he said. “I think it is 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.”
A trip to Israel is a staple for New York mayors, who represent a large Jewish constituency. This is de Blasio’s first visit as mayor and his fourth overall.
Aides said de Blasio considered a trip to the West Bank, but that has been scuttled because of security concerns. He is not scheduled to meet with any Palestinian leaders.
The three-day trip is being paid for by Baruch Eliezer Gross, a Brooklyn resident and founder of the Besadno Group, an investment firm with offices in Jerusalem and New York.
The city’s Conflict of Interest Board approved the donation. De Blasio said it was “absolutely appropriate” and noted that the gift prevented taxpayers from being burdened with the cost of the trip.
This the first of de Blasio’s international trips to paid for by an individual.
The latest wave of Israeli-Palestinian unrest began last month with clashes at the Temple Mount, the flashpoint Jerusalem site holy to Jews and Muslims that houses the Al-Aqsa Mosque. Palestinians claim that Israel intends to the change the status quo at the site, where Jews are allowed to visit but not pray, a claim that Israel strenuously denies.
Eight Israelis have been killed and many others wounded in Palestinian terror attacks, most of them stabbings. Some 38 Palestinians have been killed, including 18 who had attacked Israelis, and the rest in clashes with IDF troops.
Copyright 2015 The Associated Press.