BDS resolution withdrawn at Burlington City Council meeting

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By Faygie Holt

(JNS) After more than two hours of public commentary, the Burlington, VT city council meeting ended Monday evening, September 13, with a vote to withdraw a resolution that would have made it the first city in the United States to support the BDS Movement and efforts to boycott Israel.

“Last night’s vote was an incredible victory for opponents of BDS,” said Yoram Samets, chair of the Vermont Jewish Communities Anti-Semitism Task Force. “We discovered this resolution two weeks ago. When we embarked on this challenge, we knew that seven city council members supported the resolution and we did not know what the mayor’s position would be. “

“The past two weeks,” he added, “have created a fear that many Jews have never known. “

Removing the resolution from the agenda, board member Ali Dieng, who sponsored it, said it had gone through a process that included approval from the race, equity, inclusion committee. and belonging to the city and that it was supported by at least 27 local organizations. But on Monday, he said he welcomed more talks and that after hearing comments and opposition, the resolution was “not yet ready” for adoption.

The resolution says, in part, that Burlington “expresses its solidarity with the Palestinian people … and supports the Palestinian-led boycott, divestment and sanctions movement.”

He also blames the violence between Israel and the Hamas terrorist organization that runs the Gaza Strip – and with its proxies launched more than 4,000 rockets at civilian population centers in the Jewish state in May – directly on the shoulders from Israel.

Council member Karen Paul said the town received 2,000 emails from all over Vermont and the country, and only 10 or 11 of them were “in favor” of the resolution. “The rest were overwhelmingly opposed,” she said, “more than any resolution I have ever seen. … BDS is not about finding common ground, it just isn’t. That is why President Biden, President Obama, 50 governors and our own delegation are against it. “

However, she was among those who voted against withdrawing the resolution because it means that it can be reintroduced in the near future, putting the city back in the “storm of controversy”. … As difficult as it may be, I would prefer that we have the debate tonight and just vote, and I just hope we can move on from there.

Council member William “Chip” Mason, who also opposed the removal of the measure, admitted that when he entered the building “I was legitimately concerned that violence would break out. … I was afraid for the people in this room. … I want to recognize the very real fear. I looked around the room – people were crying; people were shaking their heads to stop.

On this question, “we are all one”

The vote to withdraw the resolution came hours after Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger expressed his opposition to the measure, which Jewish groups claimed was anti-Israel and would lead to an increase in anti-Semitism.

Even before the meeting began, as people filled the rooms and the balcony overlooking the room, cries of “Free and Free Palestine” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free” rang out in the hall. audience as people waved Palestinians. flags and posters.

Opponents held their own placards opposing the resolution, some of which read: “BDS delegitimizes Israel,” “Burlington, we’re better than this.” Vote NO ”and“ BDS = hate ”.

One after another, people came to the microphone to talk for two minutes about their concerns and feelings. Opponents of the measure, including many Vermont Jews, said the resolution was one-sided and demonized Israel, and would endanger the Jewish community there.

“I find it hard to believe that we are even discussing this resolution that will create so many divisions,” Rabbi Yitzchak Raskin, director of Burlington Chabad, told city council. “I kind of want to beg you, the Jewish community here in Burlington is over 100 years old; [we have] strong roots, and I know a majority of them oppose this resolution.

He added that it is often difficult to get the various synagogues in the city to agree on anything, but on this issue, “we are one.”

Dressed in a well-worn Israel Defense Forces t-shirt, University of Vermont student Spencer Karofsky said he was reluctant to speak but did so “out of fear” because “I am terrified of being attacked for my religious and ancestral identity if I don’t. When pro-BDS activists walked into this meeting, I felt an emotion that I have never felt because of my religion: fear.

“I am a Jew and a proud Jew, a Jew who does not apologize,” he said, noting that when other BDS measures were adopted, “disgusting increases in anti-Semitic incidents are occurring.”

Karofsky told JNS “that angry pro-BDS activists shouting slogans that indirectly call for the destruction of Israel – the only safe space for Jews – was the first time in my life that I felt unsafe because of of my religion. I was shaking when I wrote and delivered my speech, as many of the pro-BDS activists were other UVM students.

He said it was a 30-minute walk from Town Hall to his dorm, and he feared possible retaliation: follow me. “

Another speaker, Jason, said he was open to learning more about both sides of the issue; however, “BDS calls for an end to Israel. ‘From the river to the sea’ means the end of Israel, ”he said. “The BDS movement goes beyond protecting Palestinians – it calls for Israel’s death. I’m sure you can have a conversation with someone when the opening salvo is you have to die.

“There is pain on both sides. There is injustice on both sides. But, ”said the Burlington resident,“ we need to have this conversation, and to begin with, we need to recognize everyone’s right to exist. “

“It seems they have been heard”

While most of the speakers were local, the last of the evening was not.

David Feldman, a member of Neturei Karta, a virulent anti-Zionist group, wore a headscarf with the word “Palestine” on it and an identity card that appeared to have a Palestinian flag and Arabic script, as he claimed “the occupation is totally false ”on religious and moral grounds.

He received applause mainly from Palestinian supporters in the crowd.

Over 2,000 people contacted board members directly and over 1,000 signed a letter organized by Jewish communities in Vermont with the support of AJC New England, ADL New England, Israel American Council, StandWithUs and other organizations and synagogues in the region. , opposing the resolution, according to the American Jewish Committee.

This wave of opposition to BDS came as the hearing was scheduled for the 10 days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, also known as “The Days of Fear.”

AJC New England Director Robert Leikind said that “this resolution was based on carefully selected information, devoid of context and designed to create a false and misleading portrait of Israel and its supporters. Such tactics fuel polarization, destroy prospects for peace and inspire hatred. Thousands of people have called on city council members to reject this morally disturbing BDS resolution. It seems they have been heard.

Main photo: Pro-Palestinian supporters and Jewish residents and organizations gather at a city council meeting in Burlington, Vermont, which has proposed a measure to boycott Israel, September 13, 2021. (Screen capture)


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