Touting Jewish bona fides, Bloomberg vows he won’t touch US aid for Israel
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Touting Jewish bona fides, Bloomberg vows he won’t touch US aid for Israel

Florida speech from presidential hopeful touches on anti-Semitism, criticism of Trump for withdrawing from Iran nuclear deal, and a strong defense of Israel

Democratic presidential candidate former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg during a United for Mike, event held at the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center and Tauber Academy Social Hall on January 26, 2020 in Aventura, Florida (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP)
Democratic presidential candidate former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg during a United for Mike, event held at the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center and Tauber Academy Social Hall on January 26, 2020 in Aventura, Florida (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP)

Michael Bloomberg on Sunday made his case for the presidency to fellow Jewish Americans, vowing not to cut or freeze US aid to Israel — an approach that contrasts Bloomberg with several of his Democratic rivals, including his only fellow Jewish candidate in the race, Bernie Sanders.

Bloomberg, at a speech announcing a coalition of Jewish American supporters in Florida, vowed he would “never impose conditions” on US military aid to Israel if elected. Sanders and rivals Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg have all left open the option of leveraging that aid to dissuade the Israeli government from annexation and settlement expansions in the West Bank.

“As president, I will always have Israel’s back,” said Bloomberg, who served three terms as mayor of New York.

It wasn’t the only distinction Bloomberg drew with Sanders, a US senator from Vermont. In a line that drew laughs from the audience, he said he was the only Jewish candidate in the race not looking to “turn America into a kibbutz,” referring to communal Jewish farming cooperatives. Sanders volunteered on a leftist kibbutz in the 1960s, and has championed a democratic socialism that Bloomberg opposes.

Democratic presidential candidate former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg campaign buttons are seen during a United for Mike, event held at the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center and Tauber Academy Social Hall on January 26, 2020 in Aventura, Florida  Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP

Bloomberg’s wide-ranging speech touched on rising acts of violence against American Jews, criticism of US President Donald Trump for withdrawing from the Iranian nuclear deal, a strong defense of Israel and the importance of protecting all marginalized groups from hatred and threats.

“I was against the original Iranian deal. I spoke out against it because I think our commitment to Israel’s security must never waver, or ‘sunset,’ and because the deal should have done more to address Iran’s ballistic missile program and financing of terrorism,” Bloomberg said. “But my commitment to Israel is also the reason I opposed President Trump’s decision to unilaterally walk away from the deal and our partners in Europe. Because I thought doing so was tantamount to giving Iran permission to relaunch its nuclear program.”

Bloomberg was also sure to remind the audience of his Jewish credentials.

“I’ve spent a lot of time in synagogues in my life, but my parents taught me that Judaism is more than going to shul,” he said, according to the Washington Post. “It is about living our values — including our obligation to help and repair the world.”

Democratic presidential candidate former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg arrives to speak during a United for Mike, event held at the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center and Tauber Academy Social Hall on January 26, 2020 in Aventura, Florida (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP)

“This time is a time of great anxiety in the Jewish community, both around the world, and here at home — as ancient hatreds are given fresh currency with new technologies,” he said. “We are confronted by signs that we thought we would never see outside of old black-and-white newsreels: synagogues attacked, Jews murdered, Nazis marching brazenly and openly by torchlight.”

The prospective candidate noted that the Tree of Life synagogue, where 11 people were shot dead during a Shabbat service in October 2018, was the house of worship “that my sister Marjorie attended when she lived in Pittsburgh many years ago.”

But Bloomberg made only passing reference to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, saying he “will not wait three years” to release a peace plan for the region. Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, embattled amid an indictment on corruption charges, and his political rival Benny Gantz were set to meet with Trump in Washington this week as the US administration prepares to release its long-in-the-works Middle East peace plan.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, like Bloomberg, has already ruled out the idea of leveraging US military aid to Israel, which has expanded settlements in the West Bank that the Trump administration recently decided to no longer consider a violation of international law. Every Democrat vying to challenge Trump supports an eventual two-state solution that allows Israelis and Palestinians to coexist peacefully in the region.

However, Bloomberg was sure to remind the audience of his past support for Israel, retelling of the time he took an El Al flight “when the FAA banned American carriers from flying to Israel during the Gaza conflict of 2014. It was in my own little way of wanting to show the world that Jews will never let fear of terrorism keep us out of Israel.”

He also reminded the audience of the Magen David Adom center “we named after my father, and the Hadassah Hospital wing we named after my mother.”

Democratic presidential candidate former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg arrives to speak during a United for Mike, event held at the Aventura Turnberry Jewish Center and Tauber Academy Social Hall on January 26, 2020 in Aventura, Florida (Joe Raedle/Getty Images/AFP)

However, Bloomberg was sure to stress that the relationship between Israel and the US should never be used for political purposes.

“We must never let Israel be a football that American politicians kick around in an effort to score points. The relationship between our two countries has been so strong because it transcends partisan politics here and in Israel, and it is built on our shared values: freedom and democracy, law and justice, integrity and compassion,” he said.

Bloomberg’s approach to rising anti-Semitism put him more squarely in line with the rest of the Democratic primary field. Like his rivals, the former mayor laid blame at Trump’s feet for rising discriminatory episodes targeting Jews as well as other minority groups.

“Anti-Semitism is the original conspiracy theory,” Bloomberg said. “And a world in which a president traffics in conspiracy theories is a world in which Jews are not safe.”

“When the president calls his supporters ‘real Americans’ — an echo of the language that nativists, anti-Semites and the KKK used for many decades, he undermines our fundamental national values,” Bloomberg said.

Trump has faced criticism for invoking anti-Semitic tropes, such as his remark last year that Jewish Americans who voted Democratic were “disloyal” to their religion. Bloomberg accused Trump of “trying to use Israel as a wedge issue for his own electoral purposes.”

But in pairing his sharp criticism of Trump with an acknowledgment that “there is no single answer” for a recent rise in anti-Semitism, Bloomberg outlined what he described as discrimination against Jews “on both the right and the left.”

Trump signed an executive order last month that empowers the Education Department to pursue a broader swath of potential anti-Semitism complaints on college campuses. That order responds to concern about the discriminatory aftereffects of liberal pro-Palestinian organizing on campuses, but left-leaning Jewish American groups said it risks chilling legitimate criticism of the Israeli government’s policies.

US President Donald Trump speaks to a bipartisan group of mayors in the East Room of the White House, Jan. 24, 2020, in Washington. (AP/Alex Brandon)

Bloomberg did not address Trump’s order in his speech but his campaign indicated that, despite his commitment to fighting on-campus anti-Semitism, he shares the free speech concerns of the order’s critics. The former mayor said Sunday that he would expand the Education Department’s anti-bullying campaign “so we can put an end to harassment in schools – including on college campuses.”

While Bloomberg’s speech focused on threats to American Jews, he also criticized “a rising tide of hated writ large,” against black, Muslim and LGBTQ Americans as well as immigrants.

“Leadership sets a tone. It is either inclusive or exclusive, divisive or uniting, incendiary or calming,” he said. “I choose inclusion. I choose tolerance. I choose America.”

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