Rocket Shelled Ashkelon Marked as Den of Apartheid by Sacramento Israel Haters, May Lose Sister City Bid
Latest update: August 13th, 2012
While the Israeli city of Ashkelon has been physically assaulted by rockets and bombs hurled by Israel’s haters in Gaza, haters abroad are doing their best to assault Ashkelon in other ways.
There is a battle now taking place to prevent the city of Sacramento, California, from becoming a sister-city to Ashkelon, Israel. The battle is being waged on the internet and phone lines, in the lead-up to a Sacramento City Council meeting on the topic which will take place on August 14.
Radical anti-Israel activists are distributing hate literature portraying Arabs who live in Ashkelon as second-class citizens “without the same rights, benefits or access to land as Jewish Israelis.”
Sister-cities are cooperative agreements between cities in different countries which are created to promote cultural and business relationships and, according to Sacramento City Councilman Steve Cohn, the goal of Sacramento’s sister-cities program is “to promote peace, through mutual respect, understanding and cooperation.” But Cohn admitted that the vehement attacks against naming Ashkelon as a sister-city has hardly been in keeping with that goal.
According to a group calling itself, “No Human Rights, No Sister City,” Ashkelon is such a den of overt discrimination, that if Ashkelon is approved as a sister city it will expose Sacramento to law suits because “discrimination on the basis of national origin is prohibited in the U.S. and California constitutions.” Under this reasoning the more than forty cities across the United States which already have sister-city relationships with towns in Israel, many of which have been in existence for decades, are all vulnerable to discrimination suits. Those cities include New York (Jerusalem), Los Angeles (Eilat), Chicago (Petach Tikva) and Boston (Haifa).
The anti-Ashkelon activists also describe Ashkelon as having been the thriving “Palestinian” city of Majdal Asqualan whose residents were thrown out in waves of ethnic cleansing by Israeli military, starting in 1948.
The ancient Biblical connection between Ashkelon and the Jewish people is not included in the hate literature. Ashkelon is the site of the most famous haircut in Jewish history – it is where Delilah cut Samson’s hair, depleting his strength, in the famous Biblical story found in Judges XIV-XVI.
Although Arab Israelis have the same rights as do Jewish Israelis both in Ashkelon and throughout Israel, Sacramento does indeed have a sister-city where Apartheid reigns.
In 2009, the Sacramento City Council unanimously passed the Bethlehem Sister City Initiative, naming Bethlehem, Palestine as Sacramento’s sister city. It is in Bethlehem, not Ashkelon, where laws are based on ethnicity, where certain people are prevented from owning property, running for office, and are denied the rights and privileges granted as of right to other ethnicities – Jews are the officially endorsed discriminated against ethnicity in Bethlehem.
Barry Broad, a lawyer and novelist, was the chair of the Sacramento Jewish Community Relations Council in 2009. Broad is a pragmatist. He didn’t see anything wrong with allowing the creation of a sister-city relationship with Bethlehem, even though he was well aware that those promoting the efforts had no interest in developing peaceful relations with the Sacramento Jewish community.
Broad told The Jewish Press that the Bethlehem Initiative supporters “refused to allow the mainstream Jewish community to be involved with the effort.” He said he heard the people involved say some of the most anti-Semitic things he had ever heard, such as calling the Jewish Federation a “tool of a foreign government,” and stating as fact that “the Jews own the media.” He also was under no delusion about the Palestinian Authority government, which he described as a “fascist regime,” and he explained that the Christian Arab population in Bethlehem is being “pushed out by Islamic terrorists.”
But Broad still supported the Bethlehem Initiative. He and other members of the Sacramento Jewish community were satisfied because, when they approved the Bethlehem effort, the City Council at the same time issued a statement of intent that it would establish a sister-city relationship with a town in Israel.
The future is now, and the same people who clamored to have the earlier Bethlehem Initiative passed are now adamantly opposed to having Sacramento gain an Israeli sibling city. But, Broad points out, the threshold question has already been settled. He is confident that the Sacramento City Council will support its earlier decision.
However, Councilmember Cohn would not say that the question was entirely settled.
“Sacramento is a pretty diverse city and claims like the ones being made about Ashkelon, using terms like Apartheid and discrimination,” he said, “can be very damaging, even when unfounded.” And the 2009 Council statement was a statement of intent, which is not binding, according to Cohn, who has served on the City Council for 18 years.
For Cohn, the proof that those fighting the measure are not really concerned about human rights, as they claim, is that Sacramento has sister-city relationships with a city in China, and one in Moldova, countries where the human rights record should have raised concerns.
City Councilmembers have been receiving dozens of emails and calls on the matter, both in favor and against. It is anticipated that several hundred people will turn out for the meeting next week.
Broad says he isn’t trying to have a battle over the Arab-Israeli conflict, “they have enough of that over there.” The concept of establishing sister-cities is to “reach out to other people, to create people to people contact,” and Broad believes that will happen between people in Sacramento and the people in Ashkelon. He is far less hopeful that the pro-Palestinian activists want anything like that with the pro-Israel groups even within Sacramento.
“I was in the room when leaders of the Bethlehem Initiative, some of whom are also in the vanguard of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions groups, pledged in front of several City Council members that they would engage in dialogue and open communications with the Sacramento Jewish community,” recalled Broad. “They have refused.”
What is at the heart of the grievance, what motivates the people who oppose something as benign as the creation of a sister-city relationship with an Israeli city that isn’t even in the territories? Bond didn’t hesitate: “they want to reverse the results of the 1948 war.”
Broad went further, “the Arabs waged an aggressive was against Israel in 1948, and they lost.”
“There are consequences to waging aggressive wars when you lose,” Broad continued. “But the people who don’t want to accept those consequences are still fighting that war, just in a different way.”
On August 14, in the Sacramento City Council, there will be yet another effort to re-fight the war the Arabs lost in 1948. But, according to at least one weary participant in the stateside battle, “that conflict needs to be resolved by the parties, it won’t be resolved in Sacramento.”
Lori Lowenthal Marcus
About the Author: Lori Lowenthal Marcus is the U.S. correspondent for The Jewish Press. A graduate of Harvard Law School, she previously practiced First Amendment law and taught in Philadelphia-area graduate and law schools. You can reach her by email: Lori@JewishPressOnline.com
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