Mayor Bill de Blasio pledged his unflagging support for the city's Jewish community and the state of Israel Tuesday night at a Manhattan dinner hosted by Agudath Israel of America, an umbrella group representing many orthodox Jews.
"At City Hall, we consider it our obligation to work closely with the [Jewish] community," he told the gathering of about 800 people at the Hilton New York Midtown. "It's natural for us. There's a friendship. There's a human connection. There's an appreciation for all this community does for the city."
New York City is home to one of the world's largest Jewish populations, providing an "instantaneous link" to Israel, de Blasio said.
"The state of Israel does not have enough defenders in the world," he said. "I am honored to count myself among the number of those who will always rise to stand and defend Israel."
The mayor praised city yeshivas for providing space for his rollout of universal prekindergarten and denounced anti-Semitic crime, such as recent graffiti attacks in Brooklyn.
De Blasio, a Democrat elected to office on a progressive platform, also had stressed his obligation to Israel in January, when he faced criticism for delivering a speech to a closed-door meeting of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee lobbying group.
He had not listed that event on his public schedule.
The mayor was slammed for lack of transparency, but also for what some in his liberal base saw as pandering to AIPAC.
"City Hall will always be open to AIPAC," he had told the group. "When you need me to stand by you in Washington or elsewhere, I will answer the call and answer it happily, because it's my job."
De Blasio also said supporting Israel was "elemental" to being an American.
More than 50 rabbis, activists and other Jewish leaders, including feminist activist Gloria Steinem and journalist Peter Beinart, signed an open letter to de Blasio, drawing his attention to "the needs and concerns of many of your constituents - U.S. Jews like us among them - are not aligned with those of AIPAC. . . . Your job is not to do AIPAC's bidding when they call you to do so."