The Celebrate Israel Parade along Fifth Avenue in Manhattan on June 03, 2018 by the Forward

Leading NYC mayoral candidates oppose BDS, would visit Israel

A majority of the leading Democratic candidates running for mayor of New York City are opposed to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, an issue that is of great importance to the Jewish and pro-Israel communities.

But none of the eight candidates who responded to a Forward survey answered the question about whether they support a 2016 executive order by Gov. Andrew Cuomo that required state agencies to divest themselves of companies and organizations that support BDS. And two of them said that while they do not consider themselves supporters of BDS, they believe the right to boycott is essential to American democracy.

Seven of the eight said they would consider visiting Israel during their terms if elected.

“I absolutely condemn BDS and any other movement that seeks to exclude, delegitimize or isolate Israel,” said Ray McGuire, a former Citigroup executive who has raised more than $5 million since announcing his candidacy.

Andrew Yang, who a recent Politico poll found is the current frontrunner in the crowded race, stressed that BDS is “rooted in antisemitic thought and history, hearkening back to boycotts of Jewish businesses.” He also called it “a direct shot at New York City’s economy,” since economic ties with Israel is “essential” to the city, and pledged that “a Yang administration will push back against the BDS movement, which singles out Israel for unfair economic punishment.”

But Maya Wiley, who served as counsel to Mayor Bill de Blasio during his first term, said that while she doesn’t support “the tactic” to boycott or sanction Israel, “I do support all people’s First Amendment right to protest and boycott” — including BDS.

The Forward gave a nine-question survey focused on Jewish and Israel-related issues to nine leading contenders in the June 23 primaries, which have drawn more than 30 candidates overall. Dianne Morales, a former non-profit executive, has not yet responded to the questionnaire. The Forward previously published articles about the candidates’ views on how City Hall should engage with yeshiva curriculums and about their favorite bagels.

On the BDS question, the candidates mostly pledged full support for Israel, while trying to stay clear of alienating other voting blocs.

Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams said in a recent interview that, “without a doubt,” he would be a leading voice in support of Israel and against BDS if elected.

City Comptroller Scott Stringer said he is opposed to the BDS movement “principally because I believe it is a barrier to direct negotiations that are the best way to achieve a just and peaceful resolution of the conflict.” But, echoing Wiley, Stringer added that he “would not attempt to limit any individual’s right to peaceful expression, regardless of whether I agree.”

Shaun Donovan, who served as Secretary of Housing and Urban Development under President Barack Obama, also said he opposes BDS and supports a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. And Kathryn Garcia, a former sanitation commissioner, said she’s “unequivocally opposed” to BDS and, as mayor, would seek to expand an economic partnership between the city and Israel on water management.

New York City is home to 1.2 million Jews, the largest concentration in the world outside of Israel. Mayor de Blasio has been an outspoken opponent of BDS, and in 2016, the City Council passed a resolution condemning it.

Four of the council’s 51 members — including Carlos Menchaca, of Brooklyn, who is one of the leading mayoral candidates — voted against the measure and six abstained.

“I would never want to say no to a boycott.” Councilman Menchaca said in a recent interview, explaining that his own history as an immigrant from Mexico informed his understanding of the importance of boycotts for people seeking to escape danger. But Menchaca said that while he believes BDS supporters “have the right to speak out the way they want to,” he is “not necessarily a supporter of the BDS movement.”

Three of the eight candidates who responded to the questionnaire said they had visited Israel before, sharing memories from personal and professional trips including a visit to the Sea of Galilee. While most of the candidates said they’d like to travel to the Jewish state as mayor, Menchaca said he wouldn’t leave the city for international travel at all.

“I would accept the opportunity to learn about the innovation happening in Israel,” said Donovan, the former Obama administration official who has not been to the Jewish state before, but noted in the questionnaire that he has visited Dachau and Auschwitz. “They have been leading the world in vaccinations and I believe we could learn a great deal from them about how our efforts should be improved,” Donovan added. “Israel is also a leader in climate and technology innovation, so I would be interested in exploring those areas as well.”

Yang, who has not visited Israel before, said he would “happily” travel there “during my term in office, if invited.”

Wiley, who has also never been to the holy land, said she would consider such a trip “if that will allow me to understand my constituents better.”

McGuire recalled highlights of his first visit to Israel, in 1980, where he said he “took a shared taxi, a Sherut,” from the North Sinai to Jerusalem. “While I would love to return as mayor, my priority will be to expand and enhance the many partnerships between Israel and NYC,” he noted.

Menchaca, though, said being mayor would require him to stay home. “I don’t think I need to be traveling anywhere else, except for the neighborhoods and boroughs that are in the city of New York,” he said. “If anyone believes that they should be traveling outside the city to support the city of New York, I think we have got to question that.”

Here are the two Israel-related questions the Forward asked, followed by each candidate’s full answer by alphabetical order:

What is your stance on the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement? Do you support or oppose Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s executive order that orders state agencies to divest themselves of companies and organizations who support BDS?

Would you travel to Israel during your term of office? If you’ve visited Israel before, please tell us when and with who, and share a memory from the trip.

Eric Adams

On BDS: I do not support the BDS movement.

On Israel trip: Yes, and I look forward to doing so. I have visited Israel multiple times, most recently in 2016 when I led a five-day mission focused on developing transatlantic partnerships in public safety and economic development, traveling with an 11-person delegation of current and former NYPD officials as well as local community leaders. Personal highlights of my most recent trip included my visit to the Sea of Galilee, a special place in my spiritual tradition, as well as my tour of Jerusalem.

Shaun Donovan

On BDS: I oppose the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and support a two state solution.

On Israel trip: If there is an opportunity to learn from the many cities, I would accept the opportunity to learn about the innovation happening in Israel. They have been leading the world in vaccinations and I believe we could learn a great deal from them about how our efforts should be improved. Israel is also a leader in climate and technology innovation so I would be interested in exploring those areas as well. I have not visited Israel but I have visited both Dachau and Auschwitz.

Kathryn Garcia

On BDS: Not only am I unequivocally opposed to the BDS movement, but as Mayor I look forward to expanding opportunities for economic partnerships and knowledge sharing between New York City and the State of Israel. One specific area my administration would immediately look to partner with our counterparts in Israel is on water management. Despite its extremely limited water resources, Israel has managed to maintain a water surplus. Almost 80% of the country’s drinking water is derived from just five water desalination plants, and almost 90% of the treated wastewater in Israel is used for agriculture. This is just one example of why strengthening ties with the people of Israel is just smart for the future of our city.

On Israel trip: If I leave the country during my term in office, a visit to Israel would definitely be on my short list

Ray McGuire

On BDS: I absolutely condemn BDS and any other movement that seeks to exclude, delegitimize or isolate Israel.

On Israel trip: I fondly remember my first encounter with the majesty of Jerusalem. It was 1980 and I took a shared taxi, a Sherut, from El Arish to Jerusalem. While I would love to return as mayor, my priority will be to expand and enhance the many partnerships between Israel and NYC. Israel is a valued and important business partner, and its advancements in technology have spurred job creation and business growth. Many Israeli startups have a big presence here in New York, which helps drive new connectivity between New York and Israeli entrepreneurs. Our partnership with Technion is also helping us develop STEM talent here in NYC. We must continue to take advantage and build on the links we have developed with the “startup nation.”

Carlos Menchaca

On BDS: Understanding my own history, what boycotts mean for people who were in massive trouble inside a country where the border crossed in so many ways in the west part of this country, I would never want to say no to a boycott. That’s why I voted against [the anti-BDS] resolution in the Council in 2016. It was something that I think was art for us, and it became about something else, about a litmus test for my love for the immigrant community. I don’t support the government prohibiting the freedom of being able to be vocal and boycott. Supporters of the BDS movement have the right to speak out the way they want to. If you’re asking me if I’m a supporter of the BDS movement? I’m not necessarily a supporter of the BDS movement. But I do support the right for them to do what they are doing.

On Israel trip: The power, the work and the heaviness of New York City right now should keep me in the city during my term. I don’t think I need to be traveling anywhere else, except for the neighborhoods and boroughs that are in the city of New York. That needs to be my focus. If anyone believes that they should be traveling outside the city to support the city of New York, I think we have got to question that. The de Blasio and Bloomberg administrations were so focused on external forces that we lost the relationship with our community. In order for me to rebuild that relationship, I have to be here in the city. End of story. And that economic development [with other countries] will come on our terms. And our terms will be developed foreign relations that will come on its own in New York is that special people will come but they will come on our trip. It was developed on our terms. New York is that special that people will come but they will come on our terms.

Scott Stringer

On BDS: I am opposed to the BDS movement, principally because I believe it is a barrier to direct negotiations that are the best way to achieve a just and peaceful resolution of the conflict. But the right to the peaceful expression of political views is the cornerstone of our democracy, and I would not attempt to limit any individual’s right to peaceful expression, regardless of whether I agree.

On Israel trip: Yes, I traveled to Israel in 2016 and look forward to my next trip.

Maya Wiley

On BDS: I do not support the tactic to Boycott, Divestment and Sanction Israel. As a Civil Rights attorney, I do support all people’s first amendment right to protest and boycott. This includes BDS.

On Israel trip: I have not been to Israel in the past but am not opposed to visiting. As Mayor, my first duty is to represent the 8.5 million people who live within the 5 boroughs of the City of New York no matter their nationality, religion, race or creed. While I do not intend to travel abroad frequently, I will certainly consider a trip to any country, including Israel if that will allow me to understand my constituents better.

Andrew Yang

On BDS: A Yang administration will push back against the BDS movement, which singles out Israel for unfair economic punishment. Not only is BDS rooted in antisemitic thought and history, hearkening back to boycotts of Jewish businesses, it’s also a direct shot at New York City’s economy. Strong ties with Israel are essential for a global city such as ours, which boasts the highest Jewish population in the world outside of Israel. Our economy is struggling, and we should be looking for ways to bring back small businesses, not stop commerce.

On Israel trip: I would happily travel to Israel during my term in office, if invited. I have not yet had the opportunity to visit Israel, but look forward to doing so to learn more about Israeli history and culture, and strengthen the ties between New York City and Israel.

NYC mayoral candidates oppose BDS, would visit Israel

Author

Jacob Kornbluh

Jacob Kornbluh

Jacob Kornbluh is the Forward’s senior political reporter. Follow him on Twitter @jacobkornbluh or email kornbluh@forward.com.

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