On Nov. 24, former New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg made a belated entrance into the crowded 2020 Democratic field — despite insisting in March that he would instead be “doubling down on the work that I am already leading and funding” rather than run.
Bloomberg served as chief executive of the Big Apple from January 2002 to December 2013, requiring a special City Council vote to extend his term limit in order to do so. In the past two decades, he has become a Republican (2001), registered as an Independent (2007), and become a Democrat once more (2018). Oh, and he’s worth over $54 billion.
What’s Bloomberg’s Jewish background?
Bloomberg grew up in Medford, Mass., a town with few other Jewish families, yet lived in a kosher-keeping household and was bar mitzvahed. His hometown synagogue, Temple Shalom, was renamed the William and Charlotte Bloomberg Community Center of Medford after Bloomberg endowed the synagogue. He still attends High Holiday services, but his two daughters were not bat mitzvahed.
In 2013, Bloomberg received the first Genesis Prize, which honors “individuals for their accomplishments and commitment to Jewish values.” Bloomberg used his prize money to establish a challenge for projects “guided by Jewish values.” The prize has since gone to Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Natalie Portman, and Michael Douglas, among others.
My parents believed that our Jewish history gives us a special obligation to build a brighter future for everyone #GenesisPrize
— Mike Bloomberg (@MikeBloomberg) May 22, 2014
Just before Bloomberg declared his presidency, Saturday Night Live parodied him. Former SNL cast member Fred Armisen crashed the debate stage, telling the audience, “I’d like to see those Trump supporters come up with a conspiracy theory about a Jewish billionaire with his own media company. Good luck making that stick.” Because, yes, Bloomberg is a Jewish billionaire who owns a media company. That’s just the facts!
Now that we mentioned an anti-Semitic stereotype, shall we get into Bloomberg’s stances on anti-Semitism?
Lol. Yes, please.
What has Bloomberg said about anti-Semitism?
In 2019, Bloomberg was the commencement speaker at Washington University in St. Louis. “We face a lot of hard challenges in America today — from climate change, to gun violence, to failing schools, to the opioid epidemic, and on campuses from the frightening trend toward racism, sexism, hatred, anti-Semitism, and intolerance of unpopular views and opinions,” he told the graduates. “To have any hope of overcoming these challenges, we have to start by reclaiming our civic dialogue from those who are debasing and degrading it — and preventing us from getting things done.”
Ahead of the 2018 midterms, Bloomberg released an ad with images of Pittsburgh in the aftermath of the synagogue shooting. “Political violence tears at the heart of our democracy. And violence against a religious group, in a house of God, tears at the heart of our humanity. At these moments of great national tragedy, we look to Washington to lead, to offer solutions, to bring us together, and to appeal to all of us as Americans,” Bloomberg says in the voiceover.
Unlike the other candidates, he has posted no tweets with the words “anti-Semitic” or “anti-Semitism,” but he made many statements during his 11-year tenure as mayor of New York City. For example, you can read what he said in response to anti-Semitic property crimes (“This kind of hateful act has no place in the freest city in the freest country in the world”).
What does Bloomberg say about BDS, the movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel?
In 2013, Mayor Bloomberg said he “couldn’t disagree more violently” with BDS, and in 2014 called the movement “an outrage” that is “totally misplaced.” However, the same year, he defended Brooklyn College’s decision to co-sponsor a panel discussion about the movement:
“If you want to go to a university where the government decides what kind of subjects are fit for discussion, I suggest you apply to a school in North Korea,” Bloomberg said at a press conference in regard to the Brooklyn College controversy. (Burn, Bloomberg!)
Bloomberg also thinks pro-Israel groups have given too much attention to BDS.
Let’s let him explain: “If you want to promote views that you find abhorrent, this is exactly the way to do it. What the protesters have done is given a lot of attention to the very idea they keep saying they don’t want people to talk about!” he said at the same press conference where he addressed the Brooklyn College drama.
“If they just shut up, it would have gone away! It would be a bunch of kids on a campus. Nobody would have gone to listen to them and nobody [would have] seen it. Now they’ve created the very monster that they say they’re opposed to.”
Woah is right! Let’s move on…
What is Bloomberg’s relationship with Jewish groups?
Bloomberg is a prolific philanthropist, and has given to many Jewish causes. In addition to sponsoring the redesign of his childhood synagogue, his name is emblazoned on the Jerusalem headquarters of Magen David Adom — which he named the William H. Bloomberg MDA Jerusalem Station in honor of his father — and he also dedicated the Charlotte R. Bloomberg Mother and Child Center at Jerusalem’s Hadassah University Medical Center to his mother for her 95th birthday in 2003.
While mayor, Bloomberg helped initiate (and donated $100 million to the effort to create) Cornell Tech, the high-tech research university on Roosevelt Island that is a joint venture between Cornell University and the Technion-Israel Institute of Technology. In September, Bloomberg Philanthropies launched Hazira, an innovation program to improve Israeli cities.
What does he think about Israel?
In 2005, Bloomberg visited Israel in his capacity as NYC’s mayor, leading the U.S. delegation in honor of the dedication of Yad Vashem (Israel’s Holocaust museum). Bloomberg said, “This visit went to the very heart of why the State of Israel exists, and why it must always endure. This spring marks the 60th anniversary of the end of the Holocaust. We must never forget the enormous atrocities that were committed then.”
As the Jewish Telegraphic Agency’s Washington Bureau chief wrote, Bloomberg is “conventionally pro-Israel.”
During the 2014 Gaza War, Bloomberg flew to Israel, defying a Federal Aviation Authority ban on flying into the country. Bloomberg tweeted that he was there to show support for Israel’s right to defend itself,” and wrote an op-ed in Bloomberg View explaining why.
What does he think of Netanyahu?
In 2014, he tweeted Netanyahu was “a great leader and friend.”
What is his position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict?
Bloomberg is in favor of a two-state solution.
“My personal opinion is that you have to have a two-state solution because of the fact that both sides think God gave them the same piece of land. You have got to split the piece of land and each will have half of it. You have half a cake. It’s better than no cake. And it can bring peace. So, your people and my people and his people and her people can have a better life,” he told Arab News in September 2019.
Tl;dr: “Half a cake: It’s better than no cake.”
What has he said on aid to Israel, or settlements, or annexation of the West Bank?
In 2011, Bloomberg was asked whether or not he, like his predecessor Ed Koch, would refuse to support President Obama’s reelection unless the president stopped pressuring Israel to halt new settlement construction. Bloomberg didn’t totally answer the question, but he said, “America’s support for Israel is something that I think is in the interest of all Americans, not just Jewish Americans, but all Americans, and it’s a very important issue for me.”
Essentially: He didn’t say anything explicitly about Israel’s settlements.
Jewish fun fact?
Well, winning the first “Jewish Nobel Prize” is pretty fun.
Image of Michael Bloomberg by Jamie McCarthy/Getty Images for Hudson River Park; design by Grace Yagel