NYC Mayoral Candidate Bill Thompson Talks Settlements, Chasidic Sects and the Price of Matzah (INTERVIEW)
New York Mayoral candidate Bill Thompson touted his relationship with the Jewish community in a recent interview with The Algemeiner and he says he has the goods to prove it. He grew up in a largely Jewish neighborhood, worked for a Jewish congressman, visited Israel twice and was the first New York City Comptroller to invest in Israel Bonds. It is a relationship that he says goes “back to the mid-1960’s when I was probably 10 or 12 years old.”
He talks with ease about Jewish holidays: “I’ve been to a number of services in different people’s homes over the years and read from the Haggadah.” Various Chasidic sects: “I had the chance to meet one of the leaders from Bobov in Boro Park. There were also people there from Williamsburg, from Satmar, from different factions in Satmar. So I understand it pretty well.” He even has an opinion on the exorbitant price of matzah, an issue which he said would be beyond his reach if elected mayor: “I don’t know if even a mayor can have anything to do with that.”
But Thompson speaks most passionately about his experiences in Israel. He has visited the Jewish state twice, both times as New York City Comptroller, and witnessed some elements of Israeli life firsthand.
His first trip was in 2002 in the throes of the infamous Arab terror bombing rampage of the second Intifada. He came to show solidarity he says, and met with victims of terror. “I still remember young girls who were 12, 13 and 14 talking about how they did sleepovers,” he said, “they took photos […] of everyone who was there, so in case something happened to one of them everyone would remember them, remember what they looked like.” Now over ten years late he says: “I never forgot that.”
“I mean, I was there, the King David Hotel was empty,” he said, remarking on how the Intifada affected daily life in Israel. “And the thing that always stayed with me – in spite of that,” he added, was that “people went about their business each and every day and refused to be scared, refused to be terrorized.”
On a trip to visit some West Bank towns, Thompson experienced first hand what many Israelis endure daily. “You get in basically an armored bus, because people take shots at that bus as they go to the settlements all the time,” he said.
As Comptroller Thompson was fiscally engaged in Israel related matters as well. “I was the first comptroller to invest directly in Israel bonds and I think in the end we probably had somewhere between $30 and $50 million that we had invested in,” he proudly declared.
Another focus of his, was pushing companies to divest from terror supporting states. “It was a lot of the work that you did to be able to get some of the companies that we held stock in, to be able to get them out of doing business in nations that supported terrorism,” he said.
Thompson spoke out earlier this year, when the Brooklyn College Political Science department sponsored a forum promoting the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign against Israel. “Those are our taxpayer dollars,” he said at the time, “We should not be using those dollars to express hate.”
While he says that speaking out is necessary, as mayor however, he wouldn’t go any further than that, and opposes withholding funds from institutions that sponsor similar anti-Israel forums.
“I think that is the appropriate role for the mayor, not to beat them up, not to hold money back, not to threaten them, but to be able to speak out also and say, I think this is wrong,” he said.
Thompson’s message to Jewish New Yorkers is much the same as his message to New York in general. The things that are important to the Jewish community “in a lot of ways are no different than what’s important to so many other people across this city,” he says, describing himself as someone “who’s sensitive and understands the Jewish community.”
Much like Mitt Romney in 2012 Thompson’s polling numbers have been high and steady throughout the campaign season, and although ranking third in the most recent polls, he sits well withing striking distance of the front-runner.
If he wants to make it all the way, his pitch to the City’s Jewish community is among his most important.