Bloomberg’s Choice to Speak at AIPAC Shows How Out of Touch He Is

The billionaire has defended Islamophobia and Israel’s wars. He’ll fit right in at the AIPAC conference.

Alex KaneFebruary 28, 2020

Michael Bloomberg attends the 2019 American Songbook Gala at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center on June 19, 2019 in New York City. (Photo by Roy Rochlin/Getty Images)

Bernie Sanders is boy­cotting the annu­al Amer­i­can Israel Pub­lic Affairs Com­mit­tee (AIPAC) con­fer­ence. So is Eliz­a­beth War­ren. Pete Buttigieg and Amy Klobuchar aren’t show­ing up either.

But there’s one Demo­c­rat who is attend­ing the March 1 to 3 con­fer­ence: bil­lion­aire and for­mer New York City May­or Michael Bloomberg. (Update: fol­low­ing pub­li­ca­tion, AIPAC announced that Joe Biden will deliv­er a video mes­sage to the conference.)

Bloomberg may be alone among his Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial cohort in going to the Israel lobby’s annu­al con­fab, but he’ll fit right in: The event will fea­ture speech­es by oth­er right-wing Islam­o­phobes and defend­ers of Israeli apartheid. He’ll feel at home at AIPAC because Bloomberg him­self has a long record of reflex­ive sup­port for the Israeli state and Islam­o­pho­bia — qual­i­ties that the AIPAC audi­ence eats up.

There is one big prob­lem for Bloomberg, how­ev­er, with his AIPAC appear­ance. It’s only the lat­est exam­ple of how thor­ough­ly out of touch the may­or is with the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty base, which is increas­ing­ly crit­i­cal of U.S. sup­port for Israel as it descends deep­er into per­ma­nent mil­i­tary occu­pa­tion of the Pales­tini­ans and per­ma­nent apartheid rule over them. A Data for Progress poll pub­lished last year found that 67% of respon­dents who vot­ed for Democ­rats in the 2018 midterms sup­port­ed reduc­ing mil­i­tary aid to Israel because of Israel’s poor human rights record. A 2018 poll con­duct­ed by the Economist/​YouGov found that 37% of Amer­i­cans con­sid­er Israel an ally, a fig­ure down from the 47% that saw Israel as a friend in 2015. What’s more, peo­ple of col­or, a core part of the Demo­c­ra­t­ic base, are sig­nif­i­cant­ly more like­ly to view Israel in a neg­a­tive light. Accord­ing to the poll, 43% of white peo­ple see Israel as an ally, while 22% of Lat­inx and 19% of Black peo­ple do.

To under­stand why the for­mer New York mayor’s nat­ur­al vot­ing base is more AIPAC than pro­gres­sive, it helps to start with Bloomberg’s his­to­ry of sup­port for Israel no mat­ter what the coun­try does. 

The most telling exam­ple of this came in 2014, when Israel launched a pun­ish­ing air and ground assault on the Gaza Strip, the Mediter­ranean coastal enclave already reel­ing from an Israeli block­ade that dec­i­mat­ed its econ­o­my. As Israeli war­planes wiped out entire Pales­tin­ian fam­i­lies and, even­tu­al­ly, killed over 500 chil­dren, Pales­tin­ian mil­i­tants launched rock­ets at Tel Aviv, forc­ing the U.S. Fed­er­al Avi­a­tion Admin­is­tra­tion to sus­pend Amer­i­can flights to Israel.

Bloomberg, how­ev­er, want­ed to sup­port Israel so bad as it immis­er­at­ed the Pales­tini­ans of Gaza that he flew on an Israeli airline’s flight to Israel. As he tweet­ed at the time, he want­ed to show sup­port for Israel’s right to defend itself.”

Israel’s right to defend itself” appar­ent­ly includ­ed fir­ing artillery shells at chil­dren tak­ing refuge in a UN school in Gaza one week lat­er, an attack that killed 20 civil­ians and prompt­ed UN Sec­re­tary Gen­er­al Ban Ki-Moon to say, Noth­ing is more shame­ful than attack­ing sleep­ing children.”

In ear­ly August 2014, Bloomberg was asked about the inci­dent by CBS reporter Norah O’Donnell. His response was a mas­ter-class in Israeli talk­ing points: He blamed Pales­tin­ian mil­i­tant groups for the deaths of Pales­tin­ian chil­dren because the mil­i­tants hide among the inno­cent,” even though there was no evi­dence Pales­tin­ian mil­i­tants were fir­ing at Israel at the time from the school, accord­ing to a Human Rights Watch inves­ti­ga­tion. Bloomberg also said Israel can­not have a pro­por­tion­al response if peo­ple are fir­ing rock­ets at their cit­i­zens,” a talk­ing point evinc­ing bla­tant dis­re­gard for inter­na­tion­al law, which pro­hibits dis­pro­por­tion­ate mil­i­tary attacks dur­ing conflict.

In addi­tion to his defense of Israel’s bloody assault on Gaza, Bloomberg will fit right in with the AIPAC crowd for anoth­er rea­son. This year’s AIPAC con­fer­ence, as in past years, will fea­ture vir­u­lent anti-Mus­lim big­ots, among them Myles Holmes, a Chris­t­ian pas­tor who once wrote on Twit­ter that Amer­i­cans should wake up the dan­ger of becom­ing a sharia-com­pli­ant” coun­try — a dog whis­tle to the Islam­o­pho­bic move­ment that spreads the false claim that Mus­lims want to impose reli­gious law in the Unit­ed States. Anoth­er fea­tured AIPAC speak­er will be Ser­bian Pres­i­dent Alek­san­dar Vučić, who once said, after the 1995Sre­breni­ca geno­cide of 8,000 Bosn­ian Mus­lims, You kill one Serb and we will kill 100 Muslims.” 

Bloomberg doesn’t express his own anti-Mus­lim big­otry in such crude terms, but as may­or of New York, he did over­see a New York Police Depart­ment pro­gram of sur­veil­lance based on the big­ot­ed assump­tion that places where Mus­lims con­gre­gate are places where ter­ror­ist attacks will be planned out. That pro­gram of map­ping the New York Mus­lim pop­u­la­tion was mod­eled on Israel’s own occu­pa­tion of the West Bank.

The com­pa­ny Bloomberg keeps at the AIPAC con­fer­ence and his own defens­es of immoral Israeli con­duct may be good for the AIPAC crowd, but it’s dis­gust­ing to a Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty base that is com­mit­ted to social jus­tice. And this base dis­agrees with Bloomberg on Israel, espe­cial­ly his insis­tence that he will nev­er con­di­tion the mas­sive mil­i­tary aid pack­age the U.S. gives to Israel on changes in behav­ior like stop­ping the block­ade of Gaza or halt­ing ille­gal set­tle­ment build­ing on Pales­tin­ian land.

When the bil­lion­aire Demo­c­ra­t­ic pres­i­den­tial can­di­date steps up to the stage at the AIPAC con­fab and deliv­ers the usu­al bro­mides prais­ing Israel, he will almost cer­tain­ly get applause from an audi­ence used to can­di­dates falling over them­selves to voice sup­port for Israel.

But he shouldn’t be sur­prised by the reac­tion of pro­gres­sives out­side of the AIPAC con­fer­ence. Israel’s far-right gov­ern­ment and the lob­by that sup­ports it are fast los­ing sup­port among the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty base. Bloomberg’s love for Israel as it con­tin­ues its bru­tal record of bomb­ing Gaza and impris­on­ing an entire pop­u­la­tion there is not going to win him many votes from the base of the par­ty he’s run­ning to lead.

Alex Kane is a New York-based free­lance jour­nal­ist who writes on U.S. for­eign pol­i­cy in the Mid­dle East.
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