What’s the difference between a billionaire defying an air travel ban and an average Mike defying an air travel ban?
Well, if you’re Mike Bloomberg, you can make them drop the travel ban. Because no sooner had the former New York City mayor blasted the FAA’s crackdown on travel in and out of Telaviv on my Fox News program last night, than the FAA only hours later was lifting it.
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And that’s probably exactly how the former New York City mayor wanted it, and no doubt, planned it. Upon hearing earlier this week the FAA was banning all U.S. carriers from flying into and out of Telaviv, Bloomberg dropped everything, hopped on an Israeli El Al flight (I think, first class), and flew to Telaviv himself.
He told me he wasn’t trying to be defiant, just clear. He said the FAA was over-reacting and Hamas was the only one winning. While I reminded him the ban was perfectly understandable, given last week’s Malaysian Airlines crash, Bloomberg said there was a difference between an abundance of caution and an abundance of craziness.
“When we cower in fear, terrorists win,” the former mayor told me, “and Hamas celebrates.”
What’s more, by clamping down on air travel in and out of Israel, the economic hit was disproportionately Israel’s to bare, and that, the former mayor said, simply was unfair.
To be sure, many other Americans found ways around the Israeli travel ban by seeking out non-U.S. carriers, such as Israel’s El Al Airlines. But they didn’t get the attention. Bloomberg did. That’s what happens when a guy with a lot of money and still a lot of influence makes a statement. Folks hear it. And in my more than 24-minute television chat with him out of Jerusalem, he wanted folks to hear it.
He wanted folks to hear Israel’s side of this escalating crisis story. Contrary to what’s been largely reported in the mainstream media, with which the left-leaning Bloomberg usually rarely departs, Israel isn’t being the bully here. It’s defending its borders, and Bloomberg argued it’s behaving no differently than any country would if intruders were hurling missiles at them. Naturally, they’d respond. Bloomberg even pointed out the hypocrisy of critics urging President Obama to reign in Israel.
“They’d be first in line,” to rightly argue forceful action if the same thing was happening here, he said.
The fact that Bloomberg chose the moment as emblematic of divisiveness in Washington, only confirmed his greater thesis we live in a world where political inconsistencies abound, and people are suffering as a result. I was only all the more happy to comply and expand our exceptionally long chat to get into these matters, because Michael Bloomberg’s views do matter.
Despite his insistence he has no interest in running for president, and told me himself at least three different times he can’t and won’t make an Independent run for the White House, that doesn’t mean he isn’t going to have his say on who he likes. For what it’s worth, he’s a big admirer of Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush (talk about fair and balanced).
Also for what it’s worth, he has no interest in buying CNN if Rupert Murdoch succeeds in scooping up TimeWarner, and ain’t exactly keen on this stock market that seems to defy laws of gravity.
But to the bigger point why anyone should care what Bloomberg thinks, consider once again, what happened hours after my Bloomberg interview -- the FAA lifting that travel ban. We’re told it did so, citing safer conditions. From what I can see, things are still pretty rocky in Israel, but I’ll take the FAA at its word, maybe not AS rocky. Or maybe some folks in Washington were weighing what Bloomberg was saying; that such bans were only hurting Israel, and aren’t we supposedly with Israel? Others argue Washington was being sensitive to a notion I brought up with Bloomberg myself – that this travel ban was indeed political tit-for-tat – a means of punishing Israel for going beyond what Secretary of State hinted in a supposedly off-mic comment, was “more than a pin-point operation.”
Who knows? This much I do know: Within hours of our exchange, things changed. Travel resumed. Washington off-mic comments stopped, and back-channel back-stabbings ceased. Hard to say a billionaire’s musings made these things happen. But for my money, very hard to say, they…didn’t.