Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti spent five days in Israel this week, chairing a visiting bipartisan delegation of American mayors.
The trip, co-sponsored by the nonpartisan American Jewish Committee’s Project Interchange and the U.S. Conference of Mayors, aimed to boost U.S.-Israel relations at the municipal level.
Garcetti met with The Times in Jerusalem a few hours before returning to Los Angeles. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
The United States celebrated the first anniversary of the controversial transfer of its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem while you’ve been here. What’s your take?
As an American, as a Jew, I’m sorry to see Israel portrayed by some leaders as a more and more partisan issue.
I support the embassy being here. Israel shouldn’t be the only country in the world that can’t determine where its capital will be, but there is usually a process to these things rather than what seems like an overnight, one-sided, partisan move.
The turning of this relationship into a partisan thing, by some who decide this is in their short-term political interest, seems to run counter to building a long-term deep relationship between Americans and Israelis, when many of us will always have lifetime ties to Israel.
Is it lonely these days, being a Democrat with nuanced views about this matter?
Not at all. We have this really caricatured debate right now that’s defined by whoever gets the most clickbait, where two or three people suddenly are 99% of the discussion, as if they were the only spokespeople in the party. So no, it’s not lonely at all, because there is still a huge consensus in Congress, huge support.
Undoubtedly, we have to go beyond old talking points, and have to confront new challenges. But the Democratic Party is not suddenly fraying because younger people don’t know as much about Israel or might question human rights issues or race relations here.
I think the questioning is healthy. It requires going beyond superficial answers to thinking on both sides and a deeper engagement. This was my message to Israeli officials here: Let’s do that. Let’s have deeper conversations than just the talking point response to something.
Israelis and American Jews need to spend more time together. We have to continue to make sure this isn’t about two leaders, but about two nations.
But there is absolutely a space to be pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian. And if anybody thinks there will be resolution to this conflict, how can you not be pro-both? More so if our nation is going to lead any resolution of this conflict, to help our friends in the region.
How do you feel about the Democratic field?
Great! They are amazing people. I’m not scared by the numbers. I embrace them. I think it’s awesome. There are many brave voices from different perspectives.
In presidential elections, I think people focus way too much on ideology. It is absolutely about character and a feeling people have — because it’s almost like electing a parent, but we don’t have just one image of what that parent looks like or where she might come from, or what she might look like.
It’s much more honest regarding what American people want to hear and see. They want options. They want authenticity. And I happen to be personally close to a lot of the people in the race, so I’m excited.
Have you decided on who you’ll endorse?
No. I’m close with Kamala [Harris]. Cory Booker I’ve known since 1993. We used to be part of the L'Chaim Society at Oxford University together. He was the first person to greet me when I got off the bus at Oxford, so we’ve been deep, close friends before we were elected officials. Pete Buttigieg is one of my closest friends as a mayor. And Joe Biden has been an extremely close friend and mentor who helped me raise the minimum wage and came out to support me.
I was with him at his home in Washington on the day he decided not to run for 2016, at a one-on-one breakfast.
I know a bunch of the other people. And those I don’t know are reaching out to me, which I appreciate, because I’ve got a few thoughts on what we should do, and California matters for more than money. Our early voting starts on the same day as the Iowa caucuses.
But another reason I haven’t endorsed is that I represent 4 million people, and on their behalf I want to ask each of the candidates what are they going to do for Los Angeles.
What are the issues you’ll ask about?
Environment, homelessness, infrastructure and immigration. I’m very focused on all four, which are critical to the success of Los Angeles. We need national leadership on homelessness, which doesn’t exist, which I think is our biggest day-to-day concern. Environment is our biggest long-term concern. We’re doing a lot of infrastructure work on our own, but Washington has been missing in action. And we need common sense on immigration.
Sometimes it seems like the president has declared war on California.
We’re definitely a whipping boy, but I don’t know if he has declared war. He doesn’t stay focused enough to literally fight a war. People ask me, day to day, does it mess up my life as mayor? No — he’s loud about things. It’s “I’m not going to give you your fire money,” but of course the fire money comes. These are the people of the federal government who actually do things.