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Bloomberg on the Candidates and Israel

Mike Bloomberg

Mayor Michael Bloomberg at the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach County
The following is the text of Mayor Bloomberg's speech as prepared. Please check against delivery.

Thank you, Ellen, and good morning. I bring warm greetings to the members of the Jewish Federation of South Palm Beach from all the members of the Jewish Republic of New York City. This is a wonderful season - schools are getting out, beaches are packed, and tomorrow, June 21st, is the first day of the summer - the longest day of the year. Once upon a time, I thought Yom Kippur was the longest day of the year. At least it was from my seat in temple.

We have a few months to go before that big day, but today's another one on the Jewish calendar. Anyone know what it is? Here's the answer: Today, on the Hebrew calendar, is the day when Noah's Ark - after 40 days and 40 nights afloat - came to rest on Mount Ararat. But I did not come this morning to talk about giant floods (even though global warming is threatening to melt the ice caps and flood New York City and the Florida Coast.) I bring up the story of Noah and his Ark because I think it's a wonderful tale about faith, and strength, and seizing every opportunity to survive the storm. And I know that's something a roomful of Jews knows a lot about.

Surviving the storm through faith and strength is what our ancestors did thousands of years ago while enslaved in Egypt. It's what our people did a half-century ago during the nightmare of Nazi Germany. And it's also what led us, finally, to the land we were promised in that same book containing the story of Noah - Israel. And despite the trials and the tragedy, the great state of Israel has weathered the storm, not for just 40 days and 40 nights, but for 60 years. That's an incredible cause for celebration.

It's something that I really wish my father could have lived to see. For him, and for so many Jews of my parents' generation, Israel represented the great hope of the future. And for 60 years that hope has been kept alive by so many people who have stood up in the face of terror and who have given their lives in the name of freedom.

Today, when the United States looks to the Middle East, it sees an ally with common interests and common values. It sees a bright beacon of democracy that is triumphing against all the odds. And because Israel is also a bulwark against hatred, intolerance, and terrorism, it sees an unshakeable bond between our two nations.

And I've seen it myself during the several times I've visited Israel as mayor. I've gone on happy occasions - like to break ground on the new Magen David Adom Emergency Medical Station in Jerusalem in memory of my father and to dedicate a new wing at Hadassah Hospital in honor of my mother's 95th birthday. And I've visited in times that try our souls - like when I went to Jerusalem to show New York City's solidarity with Israelis after a terrible bus bombing.

I've also had the privilege, three years ago, of leading the American delegation to the dedication of the new Holocaust History Museum at Yad Vashem. It was a great honor for me, and may have been the most moving trip of them all. That's because being in Israel, 60 years from the end of the Shoah, went to the heart of why Israel exists, and why it must always have our full and unflagging support.

That support is needed now more than ever. Unfortunately, in each generation, a new threat has emerged to the existence of the Jewish State. I saw that firsthand when I visited the town of Sderot, near the Gaza Strip, which has been subjected to near-daily rocket attacks from Palestinian militants. Many residents have died or been seriously injured. The town's economy and way of life have also taken a big hit: businesses have shut down; schools have closed; many families spend their days indoors. It's tragic to see so much suffering, but inspiring to see the strength of the community.

This week's announcement of a possible cease-fire in Gaza is welcome news. But the fact remains that Hamas continues to be a sponsor of terrorism committed to destroying Israel. And just as disconcerting, Israel faces the growing threat of Iran - with a president who has spoken of wiping Israel off the face of the Earth.

President Bush is right to make the peace process a priority in his final year in office - and what an incredible legacy peace would be. But in all likelihood, it will be up to our next president to help convince the Palestinians to renounce violence and negotiate a lasting peace. And that must be a top priority right from the get-go.

From a distance of 6,000 miles away, it would be easy to resign ourselves to a permanent state of conflict in the Middle East. But that would be a terrible mistake. There is too much danger - for Israelis, for Palestinians, for the United States, and for the world - in the current status quo.

We cannot force peace on the region, but we must do all we can to encourage it and to help lay the foundation for progress. Achieving peace will be one of the most important challenges that the next president faces. And it's heartening to know that we have two candidates who are as committed to maintaining our strong defense of Israel as they are to achieving a lasting peace.

Both Senator McCain and Senator Obama have clearly expressed their commitment to Israel's military security, political sovereignty, and economic success. And that's how it should be. That's how it must be. The two senators also understand the threat Iran poses to Israel, and both are determined to ensure Iran never gains access to nuclear weapons.

Of course, in any election, one candidate's supporters will look to pick holes in the other candidate's statements - on Israel and everything else. And that's fine. One thing Judaism always welcomes is a debate. It's one of the great tenets of our faith: to not accept things as told - but to question; to seek answers; to explore. But as we do that, let's make sure that we, as Jews and as voters, keep the conversation focused on the facts and not let it descend into false rumor and innuendo.

Unfortunately, we've already seen that happen. As I'm sure many of you know, there are plenty of emails floating around the Internet targeting Jewish voters and saying that Senator Obama is secretly a Muslim, and a radical one at that. Let's call those rumors what they are: lies. They are cloaked in concern for Israel, but the real concern is about partisan politics. Israel is just being used as a pawn, which is not that surprising, since some people are willing to stoop to any level to win an election.

These demagogues are hoping to exploit the political differences between the Jewish and Muslim people to spread fear and mistrust. This is wedge politics at its worst, and we've got to reject it - loudly, clearly, and unequivocally. And how can we as a people not speak out against demagoguery and stereotype and whisper campaigns!? Of all people, we know how hurtful these forces can be. We know the evils they can stir up and the violence they can inflame.

Senator McCain has done the right thing in denouncing this whisper campaign, which speaks to his character as a standup guy and an honest leader. After all, he knows what it's like to be the target of a whisper campaign. He faced the same slimy, low-ball tactics during the 2000 South Carolina primary.

And in this election, we must all stand up to this whisper campaign against Senator Obama. That's because it threatens to undo the enormous strides that Jews and Muslims have made together in this country - and the enormous strides that Jews and African-Americans have made together.

New Yorkers know that progress better than anyone. New York is a very different place than it was 15 or 20 years ago, when a neighborhood in Brooklyn called Crown Heights became synonymous with racial animosity and the whole city seemed divided. Sure, there are still occasional tensions between groups, but nothing like the old days. We've built more trust. We've gained more understanding and appreciation of each other's cultures. And we've seen the strength that comes with diversity.

You might say we've grown up - and the younger generation has helped us do it. I'm not just talking about Jews and African-Americans. I'm talking about all of New York, the most wonderfully diverse city in the world. I'm incredibly proud of the spirit of unity and acceptance that has become the hallmark of our city. And one of the things we've learned along the way is that you have to speak out when you hear people spreading fear and stereotypes. That's why I'm speaking out today, and I hope all of you will join me throughout this campaign in strongly speaking out against this fear mongering, no matter who you'll be voting for. (And I don't even know who I'm voting for, yet.)

Unfortunately, rumors and stereotypes aren't only popping up in the discourse on Israel; they're all too prevalent on another issue that's critical to America's future, and a huge part of our Jewish tradition: immigration. My grandparents and great-grandparents came to this country more than 100 years ago from Lithuania and Belarus. And I know every person in this room has their own story. Immigration is our story. It's the reason why we are all here today. Most of our families came here decades ago seeking a better life and greater opportunity, and some of them were fleeing oppression and persecution in their own homelands.

The influx of new talent, new energy, and new ideas that's accompanied each wave of immigration has always been America's greatest historic strength. Just look at companies like eBay, Google, Levi's, and Budweiser. They were all started by immigrants. Or consider the fact that more than half the people with PhDs working in America today were born abroad.

Continuing to welcome the best and the brightest -the doctors, scientists, artists, and engineers who are such a source of innovation and progress - is essential to staying competitive in today's global economy. That's a basic fact. Yet most of the current debate in Washington about immigration and securing our borders has been very polarizing and dominated by the politics of fear and division.

Yes, it's true that it's critically important for us to secure our borders. But we also need to get real. The idea of deporting the 11 or 12 million people who are already living here illegally, which is about as many people as live in the entire state of Pennsylvania, is ridiculous. Although they broke the law by illegally crossing our borders or overstaying their visas, and our businesses broke the law by employing them, the nation's economy would take a serious hit if they were deported. Even if we wanted to, it would be physically impossible to carry out. America is better than that and smarter than that - and it's time we focus the debate on real ideas and real solutions.

Fortunately, each party's nominee has been a leader on this issue. In fact, Senator McCain stood up to the pandering in the past - another testament to his integrity. Now, we need to hold both of them accountable for continuing to make rational immigration reform a national priority. And we need to start having a more pragmatic and balanced conversation about all of the challenges at hand - from health care to energy to the environment.

Both parties share the responsibility of engaging in this conversation. But if left to their own devices, they won't. They'll just fall back on the same old partisan attacks and special interest pandering. So if we want to rise above politics as usual, then we - the voters - have to lead the way.

Yes. Us. The voters. The citizens of this great democracy. Because when it comes to protecting integrity and independence in our political process, we the people are the last line of defense. And heaven knows our country needs us now, more than ever before - for whatever journey lies ahead. Whether it's aboard the Straight Talk Express, or the Obama Bandwagon, or even Noah's Ark. It's up to us to reject the politics of ethnic and religious division. It's up to us to speak out against the lies and prejudice. It's up to us to stand up for the truth. Thank you, and God bless.

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