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Coalition of more than 40 NYC community groups calls on City Council to cancel delegation to Israel

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A coalition of more than 40 New York City community groups held a press conference outside City Hall on Monday calling for the City Council to cancel a planned delegation to Israel. A diverse group of speakers addressed the city’s progressive politicians, asking how they could reconcile their opposition to racism and state violence at home with support for Israel’s policies against the Palestinians.

Around 50 people gathered in the near-freezing rain for the event, which was introduced by Brandon Davis of Jewish Voice for Peace. Davis denounced the “flagrant disregard for justice” displayed by the delegation, “in our streets” as well as in Palestine. A recurring theme of the remarks that followed was the link between the current movement to end racist policing in U.S. cities and the struggle against Israel’s apartheid in Palestine. Connections were mentioned between the New York Police Department and the Israeli security establishment, including the opening of an NYPD branch in the Sharon District police headquarters at Kfar Saba.

Organizations that have joined the campaign include the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence, the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, the Direct Action Front for Palestine, and Jews Against Islamophobia. The Council’s nine-day trip, scheduled to begin on February 15, is sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and the United Jewish Appeal (UJA) Federation of New York.

City Council members participating in the delegation to Israel are Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, Mark Treyger, Brad Lander, Antonio Reynoso, David Greenfield, Rafael Espinal, Darlene Mealy, Mark Levine, Helen Rosenthal, Corey Johnson, Ritchie Torres, Andrew Cohen, Donovan Richards, Eric Ulrich, and James Van Bramer. The trip would be Mark-Viverito’s second such junket, the speaker having made a JCRC-funded visit to Israel in 2012. “New York City and Israel share many cultural, business, and educational ties and this trip with members of the Council will help strengthen them,” Mark-Viverito told The New York Daily News. “We’re looking forward to a productive and informative trip.”

Fatin Jarara of Al-Awda New York, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, speaks at the rally. (Photo: Eamon Murphy)

Fatin Jarara of Al-Awda New York, the Palestine Right to Return Coalition, speaks at the rally. (Photo: Eamon Murphy)

Speakers at the press conference wondered how informative such a visit could really be. Would the Council tour the West Bank separation barrier, asked criminal defense attorney Bina Ahmad, or Gaza’s ruined homes and schools? How could those who have taken a stance against domestic discrimination, she demanded to know, go on to contribute to normalizing systematic racism against an entire people — “gross hypocrisy,” in her words. Ahmad, who works with the Legal Aid Society in Staten Island and represented police chokehold victim Eric Garner, analogized Israel’s occupation of Palestine to the NYPD’s presence in communities of color.

Donna Nevel of Jews Against Islamophobia criticized Council members for publicly opposing anti-Muslim discrimination and then visiting Israel under the auspices of the JCRC, which fervently backed Police Comissioner Ray Kelly after the revelation of NYPD spying on Muslim communities. “It is clear that the JCRC has helped undermine the basic civil rights and liberties of our city’s Muslim residents,” according to a letter from the anti-Islamophobia coalition to the Council, “and we hope that you agree with us that it is a most inappropriate organization to lead such a trip.”

Other speakers emphasized the unprogressive nature of a trip that would entail crossing an international picket line. CUNY activist Conor Tomás Reed mentioned labor groups around the world that have heeded Palestinian civil society’s call for a boycott. An official visit to Israel, with its segregated workforce and wage discrimination along ethnoreligious lines, amounts to an anti-labor stand, he suggested.

Last to speak was David Galarza, a Puerto Rican activist who helped create the solidarity group Boricuas for Palestine during last summer’s assault on Gaza. Galarza warmed up the freezing crowd with a chant “to get the blood flowing” — Puerto Rico, Palestine, / occupation is a crime — before delivering a forceful challenge to Mark-Viverito, who before her speakership was a committed activist against the U.S. Navy’s bombing of Vieques: “What has changed?” Galarza likened the four boys killed on the beach in Gaza during Operation Protective Edge to the four girls who died in the bombing of a black church in Birmingham, Alabama; where, he wondered, was Charlie Hebdo-style solidarity in the case of the murdered Baker children? Photographs of the two bombings were held up as Galarza declared his identification with the eight victims, alternating Palestinian and African-American names.

The event concluded with Brandon Davis reading a statement from New York-based participants on a solidarity delegation in Palestine, organized by the national anti-racist organization Dream Defenders (full text at the end of this article). During the q-and-a, a man who identified himself as a freelance photojournalist asked Davis about Hamas’s killing of innocent Israelis, and Mahmoud Abbas’s declaration that no Jews will live in a future Palestinian state (not Abbas’s actual position). “Which is the real apartheid state?” the man demanded. After the event was over, he approached Galarza and declared that, as an experienced and well-sourced reporter who has worked in the Middle East, he knew the deaths of four boys on the beach in Gaza were staged.

The press conference began around noon and lasted until 12:30. As I left City Hall at 12:45, two dozen people were still standing and talking in the cold and the rain.

Statement from New York-based members of the Dream Defenders delegation:

For the last 10 days over a dozen artists, activists, educators, and organizers have been traveling across Palestine witnessing power, heartbreak, apartheid, occupation, state violence and grief. It is a binding grief, due to parallel experiences with state violence, that brought us to Palestine. It is also this binding grief that makes the New Yorkers on this historical delegation concerned about the nature, scope, and intent of some New York City Council member’s planned trip to Israel.

We stand in support of Palestine, in support of the international BDS movement, and against Zionist beliefs. We believe this City Council trip would be a dangerous symbolic gesture of normalizing Israeli’s apartheid state. We were able to witness this first hand at the check points in Ramallah, and in the settlements surrounding Bethlehem. It is not completely unfamiliar to us to live in a country where you can be profiled and denied humanity. We know Israeli training forces have a long mentoring relationship with NYPD, and if you stand with oppressed people and against police brutality here at home, you must stand with oppressed people and against state violence abroad.

Cherrell Brown
Carmen Perez
Aja Monet
Marc Lamont Hill

Eamon Murphy

Eamon Murphy is a journalist in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @epmurph.

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20 Responses

  1. anthonybellchambers on January 12, 2015, 6:33 pm

    Is Political Zionism another form of Ideological Fundamentalism?

    The Political Zionist doctrine of the Netanyahu government that claims the whole of former Palestine as being a ‘gift from God’ is essentially ideological fundamentalism i.e. a ritualistic reading of scripture and a reliance upon dogma – a position also known as ‘extremism’.

    It is this fundamentalist ideology that gives the state of Israel its sole claim to the West Bank and East Jerusalem – which position it relies upon exclusively in its assertion that its policy that has persuaded half a million of its citizens to settle on Palestinian land is legitimate when the entire international community has branded it a violation of international law.

    The paradox in the status quo established by the Likud government to back-up its claim to the occupied Palestinian Territories, is that Israel actually claims to be a secular state. This means that its claim to the West Bank and East Jerusalem is merely a fabricated position used to justify that which is unjustifiable.

    Political or religious extremism is unacceptable to the democratic nations of the world in the 21st century, and the UN Security Council should pass a resolution to that effect. In the event that any UNSC member would use its veto against such a resolution then it will be clear to all as to where the illegality lies; who supports and fuels the conflict and who it is that ensures the continuity of the illegal settlements and the dispossession of the oldest continuous indigenous people of the region, the Palestinian Arabs who have farmed and lived on the land for over a thousand years.

    Fundamentalism either in Paris, London, Jerusalem or Hebron needs to be dealt with in an appropriate manner by democratic governments. We have all seen the damaging violence that such extremist beliefs can bring to the community of free nations.

    Action is needed now to root-out fundamentalism wherever it rears its head – regardless of the attitude of any state or party that overtly, or covertly, supports such violence.

    London 12.01.2015

    • JWalters on January 12, 2015, 7:54 pm

      An excellent analysis. The fundamentalists of all religions war with each other and drag all the peace-loving people into their butchery. And behind these fundamentalists are the predatory, war profiteering financiers who fan those flames.

      The extreme control of these financiers is shown by the fact that during all the ongoing discussions of the French tragedy, with its incessant references to “Islamic extremism”, there are NO mainstream media references to the glaring “Jewish extremism” that fuels the Zionist project.

      This protest in NYC will hopefully inspire others to resist the insane slaughter of Muslims by well-known Jewish supremacists governing Israel, intending to re-enact de-bunked tribal myths and ethnically cleanse an imaginary ancient Israel.

      We need a universal rejection of all fundamentalism by a sane, universal tolerance.

    • Ellen on January 13, 2015, 12:20 pm

      Erudite and clear. Thank you.

      Activists should be on the steps of Congress with exactly this message every day. Their ranks will swell from week to week.

      That is what Congress rats are most afraid of — being exposed and losing their comfy perches. The more our paid off legislators are called to answer for their support of extremists beliefs, bankrolled by the US taxpayer, the more fearful they will become.

      Money is not the only thing that keeps them in office.

    • Mooser on January 13, 2015, 1:34 pm

      “Fundamentalism either in Paris, London, Jerusalem or Hebron needs to be dealt with in an appropriate manner by democratic governments”

      I notice you left out NYC or any other US place. Good thinking.
      See we have this little law which begins: “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion” and ends,…“or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”

      It’s called the First Amendment. It seems to work better than being “dealt with in an appropriate manner”

      • Mooser on January 15, 2015, 5:02 pm

        Of course, it doesn’t take away the problems associated with religious fundamentalism, or religious progressiveness, which can be no picnic either, but it does help in arriving at solutions which aren’t worse than the problem.
        And nowhere does it say that religions are exempt from all the other laws.

    • Mooser on January 13, 2015, 1:46 pm

      “It is this fundamentalist ideology that gives the state of Israel its sole claim to the West Bank and East Jerusalem”

      And this fundamentalist ideology is the Word of God! And with that kind of backing, how can they fail?

    • RockyMissouri on January 13, 2015, 5:44 pm

      THANK YOU.

  2. Scott on January 12, 2015, 10:46 pm

    I would think these groups probably could play a role in drawing attention to Israeli oppression of the Palestinians. But I wonder–when I read stuff like – Ahmad. . . analogized Israel’s occupation of Palestine to the NYPD’s presence in communities of color. I have to wonder how effective it is. Israel’s oppression of Palestiniansis like the NYPD’s oppression of “communities of color”. Really?

    • on January 13, 2015, 7:44 am

      Israel’s oppression of Palestiniansis like the NYPD’s oppression of “communities of color”. Really?

      Of course.

      The question is, how do you not see this?

      • Scott on January 13, 2015, 8:28 am

        Maybe because I lived thirty years of my life in New York, and because as I write, I am staying in a small New York hotel waiting for my daughter to have a baby, in Bed Stuy/ Williamsburg and see the cops every day. The analogy Ahmed posits will only make people think Palestinian aspirations for justice and equality are ridiculous.

      • eljay on January 13, 2015, 9:00 am

        >> Scott: The analogy Ahm[a]d posits will only make people think Palestinian aspirations for justice and equality are ridiculous.

        The issue of “racism and state violence” is better compared to how Israel treats non-Jews within its / Partition borders. (Israeli police / NYPD have a right to operate in their respective districts, but have no right to discriminate against their respective citizens.)

        Israel’s 60+ years and on-going occupation and colonization of Palestine is a crime far greater than NYPD violence against citizens of New York. To equate the two might make people think that Palestinian aspirations are ridiculous, but IMO it most definitely diminishes Israel’s past and on-going (war) crimes.

      • epmurph on January 13, 2015, 10:51 am

        an analogy is not an equivalence

      • Ellen on January 13, 2015, 12:23 pm

        That can be debated forever, but there are MUCH better and more effective arguments to stop supporting extremism, including Zionism.

      • Mooser on January 13, 2015, 1:38 pm

        “I am staying in a small New York hotel waiting for my daughter to have a baby, in Bed Stuy/ Williamsburg and see the cops every day.”

        And you don’t find them oppressive at all do you? And they’ve never been anything but correct towards you, so what are those people complaining about?

        I would say, “put yourself in their….” Oh, sorry, can’t ask you to lower yourself like that. Forget it.

        That “small hotel” has a wishing well, I trust? Ah, I wish that we were there, together.

  3. American on January 12, 2015, 11:27 pm

    Let’s quit playing around on the fringes and ‘symptoms’ of the problem.

    I demand Senate McCarthy Hearings for the subversion and treason of all Zionist organizations, lobbies and affiliates in the US.
    Get them out of the US and that will get Israelis out of Palestine.

    Anyone who doesn’t have the guts to demand the ‘ real cause’ be eradicated should just as mj said recently…’shut the fuck up’.

    AIPAC Is the Only Explanation for America’s Morally Bankrupt Israel Policy
    Stephen M. Walt

    Professor of International Affairs, Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government

    This Orwellian situation is eloquent testimony to the continued political clout of AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) and the other hardline elements of the Israel lobby. There is no other plausible explanation for the supine behavior of the U.S. Congress–including some of its most “progressive” members–or the shallow hypocrisy of the Obama administration, especially those officials known for their purported commitment to human rights.
    Behind all these maneuvers looms Israel’s occupation of Palestine, now in its fifth decade. Not content with having ethnically cleansed hundreds of thousands of Palestinians in 1948 and 1967 and not satisfied with owning eighty-two percent of Mandatory Palestine, every Israeli government since 1967 has built or expanded settlements in the West Bank and East Jerusalem while providing generous subsidies to the 600,000-plus Jews who have moved there in violation of the Fourth Geneva Convention. Two weeks ago, Netanyahu confirmed what many have long suspected: he is dead set against a two-state solution and will never–repeat never–allow it to happen while he is in office. Given that Netanyahu is probably the most moderate member of his own Cabinet and that Israel’s political system is marching steadily rightward, the two-state solution is a gone goose.

    Historians will one day look back and ask how U.S. Middle East policy could be so ineffectual and so at odds with its professed values — not to mention its strategic interests. The answer lies in the basic nature of the American political system, which permits well-organized and well-funded special interest groups to wield significant power on Capitol Hill and in the White House. In this case, the result is a policy that is bad for all concerned: for the Palestinians most of all, but also for the U.S. and Israel as well. Until the lobby’s clout is weakened or politicians grow stiffer spines, Americans looking for better outcomes in the Middle East had better get used to disappointment and prepared for more trouble.”

  4. Blownaway on January 12, 2015, 11:56 pm

    It doesn’t matter…the leadership of this country is out of touch with thr grass roots. progressive except palestine is enshrined. For example today’s Israeli headlines “Obama reassures Netanyahu on Iran, PA war crimes bid
    Leaders speak on phone as president’s UN ambassador tells Republicans White House objects to new sanctions on Tehran
    BY AP January 13, 2015, 3:04 a

    Read more: Obama reassures Netanyahu on Iran, PA war crimes bid | The Times of Israel
    Follow us: @timesofisrael on Twitter | timesofisrael on Facebook

  5. Pixel on January 13, 2015, 1:12 am

    Thank-you, Eamon. This feels really important to me.

    40 organizations…

    Who in the world would have thought things would move ahead so quickly. Not me, although I’ve long understood that courage is contagious.

    In my view, the sea-change just keeps coming.

    “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends towards justice.”
    ― Martin Luther King Jr.

    I hope I live to see that brighter day.

  6. Kathleen on January 13, 2015, 3:41 pm

    This is wonderful… More awareness..action

    Did not see anything in the piece in regard to who is paying or how these trips are being paid for? One would think there would be by laws or standards that these officials have to abide by. Seems like they would be breaking some laws here.

  7. Pauline on January 16, 2015, 9:36 am

    NYAGRA is a transgender advocacy organization and issued this statement on behalf of the Don’t Go Coalition:

    The New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA) is proud to join with other members of the Don’t Go Coalition in protesting the New York City Council’s February 2015 trip to Israel and in calling on those Council members to withdraw from a propaganda tour intended to increase American support for the illegal Israeli occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and the illegal Israeli siege of the Gaza Strip.

    Shamefully, 15 members of the City Council — including members of the LGBT Caucus — are going on what is for all practical purposes a junket paid for by the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) and the United Jewish Appeal (UJA). Shockingly, these Council members are participating in a tour that in previous years has taken elected officials to visit illegal Israeli settlements . Even the United States, Israel’s closest ally, which subsidizes Israel with approximately $3 billion in aid each year, does not recognize its illegal occupation of the occupied Palestinian territories (OPT) ; in participating in this tour, the 15 Council members are implicitly endorsing Israel’s war crimes and contravention of international law.

    NYAGRA was founded to pursue transgender rights, which members of the board of directors see as inextricably linked with human rights for marginalized and oppressed groups both in the United States and abroad. NYAGRA’s chair, Pauline Park, participated in the first US LGBTQ delegation tour to Palestine, in which she represented NYAGRA, part of the organization’s commitment to human rights in occupied Palestine, where transgendered and gender-variant Palestinians suffer under the illegal Israeli occupation just as non-transgendered Palestinians do.

    Among the many other members of the Don’t Go Coalition are Adalah-New York, Jewish Voice for Peace-New York, New York City Queers Against Israeli Apartheid (NYC QAIA), CodePink/NY, Direct Action Front for Palestine and a host of other organizations.

    For more info., contact:
    Pauline Park
    New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA)

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