Here’s a little morsel of insanity for your Tuesday morning: New York City Public Advocate and mayoral candidate Bill de Blasio is trying to yank Saudi Arabian Airlines’ right to land at U.S. airports over its policy of not allowing Israeli citizens to board, starting with JFK. The director general of Saudi Arabian Airlines, Khalid Al-Melhem, shot back at de Blasio, insisting that it is merely the lack of diplomatic relations between the two countries that is behind the policy. Al-Melhem’s claim that discrimination isn’t behind the ban is bullshit, but so is de Blasio’s outrage.
I’m reluctant to wade into this particular cesspool, because I’d rather not end up snacking on the business end of an Anti-Defamation League lawsuit. Also because I am half Saudi Arabian, which I throw out there now before some puckered commenter digs it up and points it out. (I hate to hedge my argument like this, but experience shows that ethnic Arab-Americans are often unwelcome participants in this conversation.)
My quarrel is not with the obvious pettiness that defines the post-1967 Middle East, of which the airline’s rule is one small part.
It’s with the filthy cynicism of de Blasio’s timing. By generating this news item, he’s invoking the Israel-Palestine crisis for political gain without openly maligning New York’s Arab population. He gets to shore up support within the city’s pro-Israel machine while steering clear of the overt racism propping up things like the NYPD’s massive surveillance apparatus of the city’s Arabs and public disapproval of Park51, otherwise known as the Ground Zero Mosque.
What’s worse, there is already a history of hysteria here, a history de Blasio must be banking on.
In 2011, Delta Airlines announced a new partnership with Saudi Arabian Airlines. In the weeks after the announcement, the Internet exploded with false rumors of bans on Jewish passengers, stoking religious hatred in New York and abroad (yes, even the Voice was guilty of publishing some bogus information back then, though the author did his due diligence in walking it back.)
The really grinding part of all this is that de Blasio seems to have a knack for manufacturing divisive campaign issues. He made headlines two weeks ago when he was arrested protesting the closure of Long Island College Hospital. He spent the last two weeks getting as much mileage out of the arrest as possible, aided along by the continuing controversy he helped to bloat.
Why is coverage of de Blasio so light on skepticism? Because the man has spent a career building a name for himself as a Defender of the Downtrodden, a bonny shroud for cold political calculus.
Is the airline’s ban on Israelis outright wrong? Of course! Anyone who has any part in the shittiness with which Arabs, Israelis, and their supporters treat each other ought to be ashamed.
But believing that de Blasio is acting purely out of a higher appeal to justice is at best naïve. At worst, it makes you part of the problem.
This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on July 23, 2013