The Times on Thursday ran a lengthy profile of Anthony Weiner, former very liberal congressman and staunchly right-wing Zionist. The paper depicts him, basically, as a jerk. The piece doesn’t mention the sexting scandal that drove him from office two years ago but casts a baleful eye on his achievements as a politician. Weiner is now running for mayor of New York and stands second in the polls, surging in a weak Democratic field. He seems to have more political energy than his rivals. As a congressman, Wiener was a relentless attention seeker, wonderful at getting TV camera time, weak in actual legislative achievements, even liberal ones.
Surprisingly the Times can find no one among his peers with much good to say about him. He comes across as a caricature of driven selfishness, abusive of his staff, demanding that airline flights be rescheduled to fit his convenience, running traffic lights to reach events, heedless of any issues besides those which can benefit him politically or financially.
I saw Weiner in action once, at a debate on Israel, Palestine, and the attack on Gaza a little over two years ago at the New School in Manhattan. He was debating Brian Baird, the now retired congressman from Washington state who distinguished himself by visiting Gaza after Israel’s first assault in 2008 and describing on Capitol Hill the damage American weapons had inflicted on schools and homes. (I hope to see Baird, who is brave and thoughtful, emerge in some other public role soon).
Weiner was something else. He stunned the audience, and no doubt pleased his supporters, by making the most hard-right Zionist claims one could imagine. He claimed there was no Israeli occupation of the West Bank, he claimed Israel’s eastern border was the Jordan River. He wasn’t smooth or even educated on the subject, there was no phony hasbara about how he really desired a Palestinian state if the Palestinians only had better leadership. He simply claimed all the land for the Jews, Palestinians be damned.
I haven’t lived in New York in over ten years, but it is surprising to me this kind of thing isn’t a deficit in city politics. Evidently it’s not. A few months ago mayoral candidates outdid themselves to get on record as opposing Brooklyn College’s decision to allow BDS supporters to hold an event. Mayor Bloomberg finally punctured the suck-up frenzy by stating that New York shouldn’t really aspire to be North Korea, and as much as he might deplore BDS he really wasn’t bent out of shape by a forum at Brooklyn College. That was good enough, but the sad thing is that the other mayoral candidates, avowed liberals to man and woman, did want the city to be North Korea as far open debate on Israel-Palestine is concerned.
I have a question for readers who may be closer to the city’s political culture than I am now. The city’s demographics are more Asian, more Hispanic, fewer ethnic whites of any sort, probably a slightly smaller number of white “Protestants”—once the catch-all category for young people who came from elsewhere in the country to work in advertising or finance or any industry which hired nationally.
I know there are genuine progressives on Palestine in the city; I’ve demonstrated with them. I know also the issue is debated intensely among liberal Jews, and that a figure like Peter Beinart, an eloquent liberal Zionist, has a considerable following. I know also that 30 years ago, any mayoral candidate who was an out-and-out apartheid advocate, as Weiner is, would be outed, hounded by the left, and wouldn’t have a chance to be elected mayor. I know also that in the enclaves of “old” New York, in the pockets of Irish, Poles, Italians and the neighborhood church, most people would be respectful of Israel, and ready to think, vote, and act as if it should be defended. But they wouldn’t go so far as denying there are two sides to the question or think the other side should wiped out and not even heard.
So, really, a question. Has New York become oddly extremist in my absence? What if a candidate for mayor said, simply (as Henry Kissinger once did) I’m strongly committed to protecting Israel’s existence, but not its conquests? Would that now be a losing proposition in a Democratic primary? Or has the power of the Israel lobby in the city’s politics, based considerably on its financial clout, grown so overwhelming that the city’s famously liberal political culture has been completely effaced?