When newly elected mayor of New York City, Bill de Blasio, championed as a new model of populist progressivism, gave an unannounced talk to AIPAC (the American Israel Public Affairs Committee) he said, “Part of my job description is to be a defender of Israel.”
“We went to the children’s center in Sderot,” Mr. de Blasio said, “and we saw what it meant for everyday families. If they wanted to have time for their kids to play, they have to be in a missile-proof, bomb-proof play area, because you could not know otherwise if your children would be safe.”
“You can’t have an experience like that and not feel solidarity with the people of Israel and know that they’re on the front line of fighting against so many challenges.”
Fair enough. Feel solidarity with the children of Israel, Mr. de Blasio. I wonder if the mayor also went to Gaza, to sit with children of Gaza who are under siege, under-employed, under-fed, and living in what’s described as the world’s “largest open air concentration camp”? Did mayor de Blasio visit the Palestinian children in occupied West Bank? Did he visit the Arab children barred from Jews-only settlements, connected by Jews only roads?
In short, one wishes for the Mayor to have pondered about the fate of Palestinian children upon whom American-paid bombs and missiles fall, and who have no bomb-proof shelters to hide in. Who visits those children? Who speaks on behalf of these children?
I am not questioning the Mayor’s solidarity with children of Israel. We as human beings are called to identify with the pain and suffering of fellow human beings. In particular, that has been a hallmark of the ethical dimension of the progressive movement. What I wonder is the selectivity: why visit only children of Israel, and not the children of Palestine? Why give a speech in front of AIPAC—and do so secretly—and not give a talk in front of human rights organizations that uplift the dignity of both Palestinians and Israelis?
The answer is that popular progressivism, even the beautiful tradition that gives rise to Bill de Blasio, still has moral spots. There are human beings who remain the “non-persons” of history, since they are not connected to political lobby groups that champion them.
If de Blasio wanted to be consistent about the tradition of popular progressivism that many of us are looking to, he would have needed to champion the children of Israel, but to not stop there. He should have made a point of connecting the dignity of the lives of Israeli children to the dignity of lives of Palestinian children. He could have questioned why American tax dollars go towards arming one of the most heavily militarized societies on earth, rather than investing in a peaceful resolution of a 66-year conflict. Then, and only then, could we have a type of progressivism that actually honors and acknowledges the innate sanctity of all human life, regardless of the political lobby attached to some but not all of us.
The mayor mentioned to the members of AIPAC that “that City Hall will always be open to Aipac,” adding, “When you need me to stand by you in Washington or anywhere, I will answer the call, and I will answer it happily, because that’s my job.”
Here’s hoping that someday we as a people will demand, and deserve, leaders who will conceive of their job as not answering to special interest lobby groups, but the dignity of all of us.