A metro reporter starting out in New York City could be forgiven for wondering if the city had made Israel the sixth borough at some point without much fanfare. Whenever there is conflict in that country, 5,600 miles east of New York as the crow flies, press releases pour out of the offices of city and state elected officials, each proclaiming their unwavering support of the Israeli government and condemning terrorism. Last year, 19 local politicians gathered on the steps of City Hall to make clear that they back the U.S. government's closest ally during its last battle with Hamas in Gaza. This weekend, Mayor de Blasio spent 48 hours in the Middle Eastern nation, sightseeing, meeting dignitaries, and speaking before the annual Israel International Mayors Conference.
In his keynote speech, de Blasio praised police Commissioner Bill Bratton's Broken Windows policing approach for turning around New York's crime rate starting in the mid-1990s, and urged mayors to adopt a Broken Windows approach to "fighting bias and intolerance."
"We respond to acts of bias," he said, according to a transcript provided by his office. "We respond not only when there is an act of bias and hatred against the Jewish people in our city, but even when there is an act elsewhere in the world. We immediately provide additional police protection at key Jewish community locations to send a message that we will protect the community—to send a message of embrace and support, because we recognize that a community that has suffered again over centuries, and in fact millennia, has every reason to worry that an act of hatred elsewhere in the world could spread."
The trip's planning predates the recent series of knife attacks by Palestinians on Israeli civilians and soldiers, many of which have been followed by fatal shootings by Israeli security forces. The mayor and staffers' travel and lodging was financed by Brooklyn financier Baruch Eliezer Gross of the firm Besadno, with the stated purpose of "combating anti-Semitism and hate," but city taxpayers picked up the tab for the accompanying NYPD security detail (the department did not respond to a request for information on the cost and logistics).
Mayor's Office spokeswoman Amy Spitalnick sent a statement saying that the private funding of the trip was appropriate, and that city funding would have been, too: "Because the mayor has spoken on anti-Semitism and security cooperation as a matter of interest to the residents of the city," she wrote, "the trip has a governmental purpose and could be paid for by the city." She noted that Gross's payment, thought to be at least $25,000, was cleared by the city Conflict of Interest Board.
The mayor told the New York Post the trip was "absolutely appropriate, absolutely legal."
A gaggle of reporters accompanied de Blasio in his travels, trying to get him to cast particular blame for the ongoing violence, and eagerly seeking reaction quotes regarding the mayor's supposedly bold visit to a school that educates both Jews and Arabs.
Meanwhile, in New York, the issue of how exactly the city is going to pay for its ballyhooed $2.5 billion contribution to the MTA's capital plan remains unaddressed, the city Department of Transportation is dragging on ambitious road-safety redesigns, the city's police commissioner is fighting proposed reforms, and the unglamorous everyday business of managing the largest city in the United States still needs doing.
On the Israel thing: the New York Times notes that Jerusalem visits are a "tradition for New York mayors" because of the city's large Jewish population, and sure, this isn't three-day weekends in Bermuda we're talking about (let's not even get into de Blasio's love of mid-morning visits to the Park Slope YMCA). However, this also isn't de Blasio's first overseas jaunt. As the Times mentions, the mayor has traveled to Europe four times since taking office last year, and has road-tripped across the U.S. with his family.
De Blasio has also logged some frequent flyer miles trying to become a player in national politics. He visited Nebraska and Iowa in April to talk about wealth inequality, spoke on it further in Washington, DC and Silicon Valley the following month, and is now planning a presidential candidate forum in Iowa on the topic this December.