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Saturday, June 21, 2008

Bloomberg Is A Good Egg: He Defends Obama From "Lies"

New York Mayor Mike Bloomberg, speaking to a Jewish audience in Boca today, offered an extended defense of Barack Obama, according to prepared remarks released by his office.

[I]t’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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