Anybody left debating who is winning the p.r. war over the bloodbath underway in Gaza need only hold up the New York tabloids today. Besides running pictures -- exclusively -- of Israelis running for cover, we see half-page images of our own Mayor Michael Bloomberg, usually a man of reason and measured habits, over in Sderot, letting himself be herded into a bomb shelter before a passel of photographers.
Leaving the financial meltdown that's crushing his city behind for a few days, the Mayor mysteriously decided that his time would be better spent jetting off to Israel on the day after Israeli soldiers began their ground assault on Gaza. At that point, according to accounts available in the American newspapers, there were some 400 Palestinians dead, to four Israelis dead.
Bloomy was visiting Israel to "express solidarity with residents whose cities have been hit by rockets from the Gaza Strip," according to a story on his eponymously-named newswire.
"New Yorkers know what terrorism is all about," Bloomberg told reporters in the ancient city of Ashkelon, about ten miles north of Gaza. "If we were threatened in New York, we would do everything in our power to protect our citizens."
The rocket Bloomy avoided turned out to land without injury to person or property. Still, its threat made a nice photo op.
The attacks on New York City on September 11, 2001, which the mayor referenced without explicitly naming, were indeed traumatic. They also instilled in most Americans, including me, a visceral loathing of Islamic militants that we never had before.
Visiting Israel in the last year researching a book, I did feel strong solidarity with the people of that challenged nation. Israelis -- many of them descended from Europeans -- are more kin to us than the Arab Muslims on their borders and in refugee camps in their midst. And I revile the Islamists' misogyny, hatred of modernity, and willingness to slaughter civilians.
However, as a visitor to Israel and to the West Bank during those trips, I saw firsthand how nasty, brutal and hard life is for Palestinians -- and I never even got near the 1.5 million of them crammed into the fetid pen that is Gaza City. The vast majority of Palestinians I met in places like Bethlehem and Ramallah were not Islamic terrorists. They just wanted to be able to move around freely, hold jobs, and be treated with dignity and respect rather than herded through checkpoints.
In the public relations campaign accompanying the Gaza assault, once again, we are confronted with an effort to make all Arabs Islamists and all Palestinian resistance Islamist in origin. If this tactic sounds familiar, think back to the months before April 2003, when we were asked to believe that secular fascist Saddam Hussein was a BFF of Wahhabi fanatic Osama bin Laden -- and we bought it. Hundreds of thousands of dead Iraqis and thousands of dead Americans later, we still don't really know the difference.
New York's Mayor doesn't just represent the men and women in his synagogue who will support Israeli policies without a sense of due scale and proportion, and dare I say it, common humanity. He also represents the millions of non-aligned, apolitical New Yorkers -- the vast majority of us really -- who remember 9/11 for what it was: a scene of mindless, unbelievable carnage and killing of innocents.
For our mayor to be truly expressing solidarity on behalf of New Yorkers who lived through terrorism, he ought to also set foot over into Gaza as well -- right now, today.