Is Michael Bloomberg, Jewish Dem. candidate, good for Israel?

Jews, both here and abroad, are not satisfied if the US president likes Israel the way he likes a country such as South Korea. They want him to have a special feeling.

Former New York City Mayor and possible 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg speaks at the Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., January 29, 2019. (photo credit: BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS)
Former New York City Mayor and possible 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg speaks at the Institute of Politics at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire, U.S., January 29, 2019.
(photo credit: BRIAN SNYDER/REUTERS)
Well, one thing is for sure, newly declared Democratic presidential candidate Michael Bloomberg passes the “kishke test.”
You know the “kishke test,” the question many Israelis and Jews around the world ask when weighing the pros and cons of a US president or presidential candidate: “Does he have a warm spot in his heart for Israel? Does she get us in her kishkes?”
Jews, both here and abroad, are not satisfied if the US president likes Israel the way he likes a country such as South Korea or Jamaica. They want him to have a special feeling.
Bloomberg, at least according to his own words, does.
The multi-billionaire businessman, who was New York City’s mayor from 2002-2013, was awarded the first Genesis Prize in 2014. During his acceptance speech in Jerusalem that May, he noted that his parents instilled in him the importance of Israel.
“My parents saw in our lives just why Israel had to exist – and why it must always exist – and those lessons were passed on to us,” he said. “We are as one with this city [Jerusalem] and this country and this people as you can be.”
Bloomberg said that his parents taught him that Jewish history “gives us a special obligation to build a brighter future for everyone, and to always believe that tomorrow can be better than today. For them and for so many Jews who witnessed the horrors of World War II, the creation of Israel embodied that obligation and validated that belief. It was a dream fulfilled.”
In a short video shown at the Genesis Prize ceremony, Bloomberg’s sister – Marjorie Bloomberg Tiven – said that growing up in Medford, Massachusetts, her parents had a “strong Jewish identity” and took their son’s “Jewish education very seriously.”
Aryeh Mekel, who was Israel’s consul-general in New York for part of the time that Bloomberg was the city’s mayor, described him to The Jerusalem Post as a “liberal New York Jew” who is “very supportive of Israel.”
Mekel said he would speak to Bloomberg frequently, and that he brought a parade of Israeli visitors to the mayor’s office and residence on a regular basis.
“There is no doubt that he has a soft part in his heart for Israel,” said Mekel, though he added that this may be for a nostalgic Israel that has long since passed.
Saying that candidates such as Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren would be “problematic” for Israel, Mekel said that from an Israeli point of view, Bloomberg would be the best candidate.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden is a friend of Israel who has an “excellent” record of support for the Jewish state, both as vice president and as a senator, Mekel maintained, but he is an “American politician” and, as a result, there are questions as to what motivated that support.
Bloomberg’s support for Israel is of a different nature altogether, Mekel said.
“He is a Jew who grew up in a Jewish home, and donated to Israel because that is what his parents would have wanted. It is a completely different approach,” he explained.
Some, however, are not convinced that Bloomberg’s Jewish identity is something that would be good for Israel. One Israeli official, who did not want to be identified, said that there always exists the concern that Jewish officials in senior positions will have to “bend over backwards” to show their impartiality towards the Jewish state.
But former ambassador to the US Michael Oren, who knows Bloomberg from his days in Washington from 2009 to 2013, characterized Bloomberg as a “friend” who would be “very good” for Israel.
“I had a lot of contact with him, and he was very upset about the [Obama] administration’s treatment of us,” said Oren. “He is a Jewish guy who grew up in Boston suburbs. He is not a progressive. He has a deep tribal connection to Israel.”
That connection helps explain why in July 2014, during the middle of Operation Protective Edge when the US Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) prohibited US domestic airlines from flying to Ben-Gurion Airport after a Hamas rocket landed nearby, Bloomberg hopped on an El Al plane and flew from New York to Tel Aviv.
This was after his third term as mayor ended, and he explained the move in an opinion piece he penned for his eponymous news service. He made the flight, he wrote, “to express solidarity with the Israeli people and show the world that Israel’s airports remain open and safe.”
Bloomberg wrote that the FAA’s decision was wrongheaded, and called for the ban to be lifted.
“Hamas would like nothing more than to close down Ben-Gurion, isolating Israel from the international community and seriously damaging its economy,” he wrote. “By prohibiting US carriers from flying into Ben-Gurion, the FAA handed Hamas a significant victory – one that the group will undoubtedly attempt to repeat. The FAA has, regrettably, succeeded only in emboldening Hamas.”
At a time when Israel was coming under a great deal of criticism for its actions in Gaza, Bloomberg wrote: “Every country has a right to defend its borders from enemies, and Israel was entirely justified in crossing into Gaza to destroy the tunnels and rockets that threaten its sovereignty. I know what I would want my government to do if the US was attacked by a rocket from above or via a tunnel from below; I think most Americans do, too.”
That was not the only time that Bloomberg made a lightening trip to Israel. In November 2003, he flew with his sister and 95-year-old mother Charlotte to Jerusalem for a brief visit to dedicate a new mother and child health center in her name at the Hadassah-University Medical Center in Jerusalem’s Ein Kerem.
According to a communiqué at the time on “NYC,” the “Official Website of the City of New York,” this fulfilled one of his mother’s dreams: “to be together as a family in Israel.”
The communiqué quoted Bloomberg as saying that he and his sisters were “overjoyed to be here as a family” to dedicate the center.
“For more than half a century, our mother has been involved in community activities, especially her synagogue and her local Hadassah chapter,” he said. “Her enduring commitment to Hadassah as a Life Member and her devotion to Israel are profound, and she has served as an inspiration to us on the importance of giving back and community.”
According to the communique, this was the second time Bloomberg and his sister honored their mother with a donation to Hadassah in honor of her birthday: “For her 90th birthday, they created an endowment for a scholarship fund for deserving teenagers to attend the Tel Yehudah Camp, the Hadassah youth movement, Young Judaea, leadership training camp for 15-17 year olds.”
According to a 2010 story in The Wall Street Journal, while religion “has long played an important role in the life of Michael Bloomberg’s mother, Charlotte, now 101 years old,” Judaism “never took a stronghold in the New York mayor’s own life, his advisers and other observers say. He believes in God, but is more likely to be found at church for a political event than temple for worship. He grew up among very few Jews in Medford, Massachusetts, but his family maintained some traditions, such as a kosher kitchen and Hebrew school.”
According to this report, “The mayor had a bar mitzvah, a Jewish rite of passage, but neither of his two daughters had bat mitzvahs. The mayor’s ex-wife, Susan Bloomberg, whose mother was Jewish, ‘kind of raised us to be Church of England,’ though the family celebrated the major Jewish holidays, the mayor’s youngest daughter, Georgina, said in a 2009 biography of Mr. Bloomberg. The mayor’s longtime companion, Diana Taylor, is not Jewish.”