New York City mayor in Israel amid tensions

October 17, 2015 GMT

JERUSALEM (AP) — New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio kicked off a brief visit to Israel on Saturday, saying he was on a solidarity mission to the country at a “painful moment” after weeks of violence.

De Blasio is in the country amid a monthlong spate of unrest that has left eight Israelis and 40 Palestinians dead. On Saturday, Israel reported five stabbing attacks in Jerusalem and the West Bank. Four of the assailants were killed.


“It’s a painful moment here in Israel, it’s a moment when I am certainly here in solidarity with the people of Israel,” de Blasio said during a visit with students from a mixed Israeli-Palestinian school. “This has to stop obviously. Look, these are attacks on civilians ... No one should be condoning attacks against civilians.”

De Blasio met Saturday with his Tel Aviv counterpart, Ron Huldai, in the seaside city before attending an event in the central town of Beit Shemesh sponsored by the school, Hand in Hand. The Jerusalem school, which was targeted by Jewish arsonists last year, is a rare symbol of coexistence in Jerusalem.

Later in the day, de Blasio met Jerusalem mayor Nir Barkat and visited Israeli stabbing victims in a hospital.

“We feel extraordinary closeness, our people, by blood, by history,” de Blasio said after the hospital visit. “So when you are going through pain, we feel pain too. When you’re under attack, we feel under attack, and I’m honored to be here in that spirit of solidarity and sense of common destiny.”

A trip to Israel is a staple for New York mayors, who represent a large Jewish constituency. This is de Blasio’s first visit as mayor, his fourth overall.

Aides said de Blasio considered a trip to the West Bank, but it was scuttled because of security concerns. He was not scheduled to meet with any Palestinian leaders.

The three-day trip is being paid for by Baruch Eliezer Gross, a Brooklyn resident and founder of the Besadno Group, an investment firm with offices in Jerusalem and New York.

The city’s Conflict of Interest Board approved the donation. De Blasio said it was “absolutely appropriate” and noted that the gift prevented taxpayers from being burdened with the cost of the trip.

This was the first international trip for de Blasio paid for by an individual.

The current wave of Israeli-Palestinian unrest began last month with clashes at Jerusalem’s most sensitive holy site and quickly spread across Israel and into the West Bank and Gaza.


A series of attacks, mostly stabbings, have unnerved Israel, which has responded by beefing up security nationwide and imposing checkpoints in Palestinian neighborhoods of Jerusalem. Palestinians say the unrest is the result of years of occupation and failed hopes for gaining independence.

Eight Israelis have been killed in Palestinian attacks, most of them stabbings. In that time, 40 Palestinians have been killed by Israeli fire, including 19 labeled by Israel as attackers, and the rest in clashes with Israeli troops.