By: Zahra Hankir,The Independent – 8 Jan 2009
Some 300 New Yorkers gathered in front of City Hall in Manhattan Wednesday evening, slamming New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg for a recent visit to Israel, during which he endorsed the Jewish state’s ongoing bombardment of Gaza and failed to acknowledge the suffering of the Palestinians.
“I’m really quite outraged. Here he goes out to a bomb shelter, and shows sympathy for people who suffer there, and he cannot be bothered to go a few miles away and visit Gaza to see how civilians are suffering there?” said New York resident David Letwin. “Why is only one group getting the sympathy of the Mayor?”
As a sign of symbolic protest, dozens of the spectators left shoes in a pile in front of City Hall before marching to the Federal Building under the rain. Shoe-protests have recently become popular after Iraqi journalist Muntadar al-Zaidi pelted his shoes at outgoing President George W. Bush during a press conference in Baghdad last month.
The rally was the fifth in a series of pro-Palestinian demonstrations in New York that have loudly condemned Israel for its disproportionate attacks on Gaza. The war has thus far taken the lives of over 700 Palestinians, hundreds of them civilian, and wounded more than 3,000. The protesters also condemned the U.S for providing the largest amount of direct economic and military aid to Israel. The latest rally, though smaller than previous ones, was the first to slam Mayor Bloomberg’s pro-Israel positions in particular.
“It was inappropriate for the Mayor, who is supposed to represent all the people, to go to Israel and to lend his support to just one side, and to actually congratulate the Israeli government,” said Tom Syracuse, Chairman of the West Side Green Party chapter.
“This is just one of many instances where this Mayor has shown his arrogance and his unconcern for the people of New York,” he said, referring to Bloomberg’s successful campaign to amend New York City’s term limits law, thus allowing him to run for a third term.
Bloomberg visited Ashkelon and Sderot on January 4 to pledge his support to the Jewish state, stating that Israel and New York City have a “special bond” and accusing Hamas of terrorism. The day before the Mayor’s visit, thousands of New Yorkers had gathered at Times Square in support of Palestine.
The Mayor had previously scoffed at the criticism that Israel’s force is disproportionate, saying that if the U.S. were in a similar situation, it would do the same. “If you’re attacked in this city, my instructions to Ray Kelly and NYPD are to use everything we have at our command to protect you and your family. There’s no such a thing as a measured response to terrorism. Period,” he said.
The rally brought together numerous speakers from various movements, including the Green Party, the Labor Party, Muslim organizations and African-American organizations. Speakers also asked protestors to recognize the war in Gaza as part of the ongoing struggle of the oppressed. “We must constantly build a massive resistance movement in every country that we are in so that we can all be free,” said Brenda Stokely of the Labor Party in New York. Speakers charged Bloomberg with being an elitist billionaire who is out of touch with the people of NYC, and with imposing his personal political views on the entire state.
“Mayor Bloomberg, where’s your heart? At least express concern for the destruction of human beings who may not be of Jewish descent but who are Palestinian and who have the right to live as well,” said Councilperson Charles Barron of the Mayor’s visit.
Speaking to The Indypendent, Barron explained that local politicians fear expressing criticism because of the strong pro-Israel Jewish lobby. “The City Council is pro-Israel, and they know that if they speak out that they can get punished politically,” he said.
“But you cannot sit here and watch people perish and say absolutely nothing but someone has the ‘right to defend himself.’ If you slap me in my face and I take a gun and blow your brains out, it’s a disproportionate response and a disproportionate use of force. You can still say Israel has the right to protect itself but you should not ignore the fact that innocent babies die. Bloomberg does not speak for me and he certainly does not speak for all of New York City.”