In an exclusive interview before leaving Jerusalem Sunday, Mayor Bill de Blasio said his visit to Israel was meant to promote peace. He also warned of a growing scourge of anti-Semitism. NY1's Josh Robin filed the following report.
In a place where millennia of conflict continues, New York's mayor holds up his city as a beacon of tolerance.
"I think it's just natural," said Mayor Bill de Blasio. "We come from a city with a huge Jewish population and a huge Muslim population that coexists. I hope our city can be a positive example."
A positive example, he hopes, not just to the Middle East but, de Blasio says, to other cities, particularly where anti-Semitism is hounding Jews.
At Israel's Holocaust memorial, the mayor likened the climate, particularly in Europe, to the rise of Nazi Germany. Evoking the 1938 Kristallnacht attacks on Jews, de Blasio cited Police Commissioner William Bratton and said all kinds of unrest must be checked early.
"We call this approach to fighting crime the broken window strategy. Well, there is a broken windows strategy necessary to fighting bias and intolerance," de Blasio said.
The mayor also says recent so-called lone wolf attacks have the notice of police in New York.
De Blasio calls himself spiritual, not religious, and has long found solace in the 2,000-year-old Jerusalem Stone of the Wailing Wall. The note the mayor pressed into a crack called the wall a cherished testimony to faith.
"The notion that I stood before one wall in one place that people for millennia have thought about, prayed about," de Blasio said.
His tour of the old city wasn't always placid. Trailed in the Middle East swelter, de Blasio gamely explored controversial Israeli archeological excavations, descending into a tunnel that two decades ago touched off deadly unrest.
Muslims have seen the spaces as encroaching on their holy spaces and sovereignty. The Israeli government says it doesn't want to infringe on Muslim rights to pray.
De Blasio, unlike many American officials, took some pains to show his sympathy for Palestinians. Saturday, he visited a school trip for Arab and Jewish kids.
Still, he repeated his solidarity with Israel as a Jewish homeland. He shook hands with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu but no major Palestinian official, although security concerns may have prevented it.
De Blasio says Palestinian New Yorkers should see him as fair.
"I believe in the two-state solution," de Blasio said. "I believe it's the only way forward."
And then, the mayor was off, bound for New York. Despite the unsettled backdrop to his visit, de Blasio says he takes with him with him what many see in short supply here: hope.