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Former New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio underscored his belief in the importance of the State of Israel and expressed support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a Harvard Law School discussion Tuesday.
Held in a packed Wasserstein Hall classroom, the event — titled “The Progressive Case for Israel” — featured remarks by de Blasio, followed by a question-and-answer session with audience members. In his talk, de Blasio emphasized his belief in the continued need for Israel as a homeland for the Jewish people.
During the event, de Blasio recounted a Shabbat dinner his family shared with a Brooklyn official’s family, during which the official’s mother spoke about her experience living through the Holocaust. He also reflected on times when his own Italian relatives described Mussolini and fascism in a positive light.
De Blasio said that through moments like these, he realized that “that history was far from over in so many ways” and that “so many families are feeling the effects still and deeply right now.”
He also discussed why he supports Israel despite “fundamentally” disagreeing with elements of Israel’s current government. Israel, de Blasio said, is necessary because “the Jewish people are not sufficiently safe any place on this earth.”
In reference to geopolitical tensions in the region, de Blasio said he believes a two-state solution — which would create independent states of Israel and Palestine — is the only way to achieve peace in the region.
“Everyone needs a homeland, deserves a homeland. Everyone needs safety. I believe in a two-state solution as a way to achieve that,” he said. “I think anything short of that won’t achieve it, honestly.”
Concluding his remarks, de Blasio described his viewpoint as “progressive,” explaining that he believes in protecting those who are oppressed and that those enduring oppression should “have a homeland.”
In response to questions posed by the audience about the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, de Blasio said he does not believe economic pressure on Israel’s government would help achieve peace.
“I don’t buy the notion that forcing the government to change through economic boycott, for example, is productive to the long-term outcome,” he said.
Still, de Blasio said he believes an economic solution is crucial to implementing a two-state solution.
“We cannot treat economic issues and political issues as two ships passing in the night,” he said in an interview following the event. “We have to rebond these two points and create an economic framework that will be, to me, the underpinning of a lasting peace.”
Some audience members said they were left unsatisfied by de Blasio’s talk.
Tala A. Alfoqaha, a second-year law student at the Law School, said she believes the talk lacked substance and de Blasio used “the same political playbook that every politician goes by.”
“I presented a vision that needs to be revived that is pertinent today,” de Blasio said when asked for comment. “If people think a two-state solution is not advancing, then the job should be to advance it and work on it, not just decry its lack of progress.”
Charles S. Comiter, a Ph.D. student at MIT who attended the event, said he doubts the viability of the two-state solution promoted by de Blasio.
“I think there’s a whole multitude of reasons that we’re not going to see a two-state solution ever,” he said. “I think that’s a pretty widely accepted viewpoint.”
In a response, de Blasio defended the two-state solution, saying that while he believes it would be difficult to implement, it is also the best way forward.
“I was very interested in the dialogue today. I thought students were very thoughtful — wide-ranging views obviously,” he said. “But I did not hear anyone present a more available coherent option.”
—Staff writer Jo B. Lemann can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @Jo_Lemann.
—Staff writer Neil H. Shah can be reached at email@example.com. Follow him on Twitter @neilhshah15
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