Community Leaders Launch Campaign Against City Council Delegation to Israel

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
January 12, 2015

Community Leaders Launch Campaign Against City Council Delegation to Israel

Coalition of more than 40 groups holds press conference outside City Hall, calls on the City Council to honor commitments to New York City residents and stand for justice

Representatives from a diverse coalition of groups across New York City will hold a press conference outside City Hall at noon today to announce a campaign demanding the City Council cancel a delegation to Israel 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 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 coalition is composed of over 40 community organizations, including the Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV), the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, and theDirect Action Front for Palestine (DAFP). Members of the Jews Against Islamophobia coalition have also written a letter to the City Council members calling their attention to some of the ways in which the JCRC of New York has supported practices and policies that foster Islamophobia.

The coalition includes many Jewish groups that want to remind local politicians that the New York Jewish community is not monolithic in its opinions on Israel. Š__The Jewish Community Relations Council may present a facade of nonpartisanship, but their right-wing pro-Israel policies are not representative of the Jewish community,Š__ said Candace Graff, a member of the New York chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace. Š__My Judaism does not include support for apartheid Israel, and the JCRC does not speak for me.Š__

The City CouncilŠ__s trip to Israel follows one of IsraelŠ__s most brutal assaults against the Palestinian people this past summer, in which the Israeli military killed over 2,000 Palestinians, including 501 children, and left thousands more homeless and displaced. Outrage against the war, as well as the heightened militarization of IsraelŠ__s occupation of the West Bank, have led to historic wins for Palestine solidarity activists in the US who have taken up the call from a wide array of Palestinian civil society organizations for Boycotts, Divestments, and Sanctions against Israel. Š__The City Council members participating in this delegation to Israel are essentially crossing an international picket line,Š__ said Mette Loulou von Kohl, a member of the Direct Action Front for Palestine.

The trip also occurs in the midst of a historic movement against racism in New York City and the US more broadly. With nine members of the City CouncilŠ__s Progressive Caucus scheduled to make the trip, coalition members highlight the hypocrisy of denouncing discrimination and racist police in New York City while turning a blind eye to these same crimes in Israel and occupied Palestinian territory. Š__We have seen incredible displays of solidarity between Black Americans and Palestinians in recent months,Š__ said al-Awda NY member Fatin Jarara. Š__These supposedly Š_…progressiveŠ__ City Council members need to decide whether they truly stand for justice, or whether they choose the more politically expedient option of standing with the oppressor.Š__

The coalition also focuses on connections between militarized US and Israeli policing, including an NYPD branch in Israel and regular trainings of US police officers in Israel. Š__The US-Israel relationship has only heightened the oppression of people of color in the US.  It is hypocritical of these City Council members to oppose racist abuses of the US police while participating in this delegation to Israel,Š__ said People Power Movement member Dominick Braswell.

The press conference will conclude with a statement from New York-based participants on a solidarity delegation to Palestine, organized by the national anti-racist organization Dream Defenders:  “If you stand with oppressed people and against police brutality here at home, you must stand with oppressed people and against state violence abroad.”

Please visit facebook.com/donttourapartheidisrael for more.

Attached: the open letter from coalition members to City Council members, a list of press conference speakers and bios, and an additional letter from Jews Against Islamophobia.

###

OPEN LETTER

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Members 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:

As a diverse coalition of concerned New Yorkers and grassroots social justice groups, we urge you to exercise the responsibility entrusted to you as elected officials by declining to accept an all-expenses-paid trip to Israel, scheduled for February 2015 and sponsored by the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York and United Jewish Appeal, which inaccurately claim to speak for the Jewish community. Do not neglect your official responsibilities to our diverse city by touring an apartheid state.

In light of the 2014 massacre in Gaza that killed over 2,300 people, including over 500 children,1 injured over 10,000,2 and left countless others displaced and psychologically scarred3, this trip would be an exercise in misinformation. You will not see IsraelŠ__s Apartheid Wall, four times longer and twice as high as the Berlin Wall. Nor will you traverse the labyrinth of military checkpoints that West Bank Palestinians encounter daily. You will not walk GazaŠ__s decimated streets to speak to residents about their murdered families, or the poverty imposed upon 1.8 million people, mostly refugees, in an open-air prison one-third the size of New York City.4

As New Yorkers, we recognize that the struggle for social and racial justice in our own city is deeply connected to that of the Palestinian people. IsraelŠ__s callous disregard for international human rights norms and the impunity enjoyed by Israeli police and occupation forces cannot be viewed apart from the near-total lack of accountability mirrored by the NYPD and other police forces as they target communities of color in the United States.

In recent weeks, many of us joined demonstrations to protest the killings of countless Black people by police forces across the country. Members of City Council also protested these killings. However, these gestures are wholly incompatible with participating in a private tour funded by special interests hoping to legitimize IsraelŠ__s laws discriminating against its Palestinians citizens and the violence it inflicts upon Palestinians under military occupation. To demonstrate in support of racial justice while participating in a tour of apartheid is a fundamental contradiction.

International law requires Israel to protect the civilian population in the occupied West Bank, including East Jerusalem, and the Gaza Strip, yet it has repeatedly failed to do so. The world has witnessed IsraelŠ__s increasingly horrendous war crimes, from the fatal shootings of protesters in the West Bank5 to the horrific slaughter in Gaza. Strengthening cultural, business, and educational ties to a state engaged in these ongoing transgressions is not a proper goal for our city.

The trip is especially worrisome given the NYPDŠ__s long history of cooperation with Israeli forces, including its 2012 establishment of an office in Kfar Saba, just outside of Tel Aviv, funded with our taxes. NYPD officers, including former Commissioner Ray Kelly, have joined6  at least 9,000 US law enforcement officials on trips to Israel.7 These junkets have an undeniable effect on NYPD policies. A former official described the DepartmentŠ__s notorious Demographics Unit, disbanded in April after outrage followed revelations of its unconstitutional surveillance of Muslim communities, as Š__modeled in part on how Israeli authorities operate in the West Bank.Š__8

At a time of public outrage over police brutality, participation in a delegation ignoring Israeli policies that inspired and reinforced unjust tactics of the NYPD can only aggravate New YorkersŠ__ concerns. Any trip in support of Israel conflicts with a concern over domestic police abuses.

Finally, accepting this invitation would breach a request for solidarity from Palestinian civil society organizations, who have called for boycott of, divestment from, and sanctions against Israel until it Š__meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian peopleŠ__s inalienable right to self-determination and fully complies with the precepts of international law by:

1. Ending its occupation and colonization of all Arab lands and dismantling the Wall
2. Recognizing the fundamental rights of the Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality; and
3. Respecting, protecting and promoting the rights of Palestinian refugees to return to their
homes and properties as stipulated in UN resolution 194.Š__9

These demands, which have inspired a robust movement with international support, call on citizens and public officials alike to do their part in bringing comprehensive justice and peace to the region. Being part of this trip is the equivalent of crossing an international picket line.

In a year when the people across the world have been inspired by the Palestinian peopleŠ__s resistance to an unjust occupation, and at a moment of heightened political tension in our city, participating in an all-expense-paid vacation to a country committing war crimes enabled by United States tax dollars would be viewed by many as entirely inappropriate.

In the spirit of the progressive values you espouse, we urge you to withdraw from this delegation. We are eager to dialogue and will follow up with your offices in the coming weeks.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned Groups

1 MaŠ__an News Agency | maannews.net/eng/ViewDetails.aspx?ID=751290
2 UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs | ochaopt.org/documents/ocha_opt_sitrep_04_09_2014.pdf
3 Washington Post | wapo.st/1uq7cHK

4 British Broadcasting Company – Profile: Gaza Strip | bbc.com/news/world-middle-east-19975211
5 Amnesty International | amnesty.org/en/news/trigger-happy-israeli-army-and-police-use-reckless-force-west-bank-2014-02-27
6Al Monitor | al-monitor.com/pulse/security/01/09/nypd-kfar-saba-branch-new-york-p.html
7Al-Akhbar | al-akhbar.com/content/occupation-%E2%80%9Coccupy%E2%80%9D-israelification-american-domestic
security

8Associated Press | ap.org/Content/AP-In-The-News/2011/With-CIA-help-NYPD-moves-covertly-in-Muslim-areas
9 BDS National Committee | bdsmovement.net/call

SIGNERS ON THE OPEN LETTER (as of Jan. 10, 2015)

Jewish Voice for Peace – New York
Adalah-NY: The New York Campaign for the Boycott of Israel
Direct Action Front for Palestine
Queers Against Israeli Apartheid
Jews Say No!
Granny Peace Brigade
CUNY for Palestine
Students for Justice in Palestine Chapters: Hunter, Pace, NYU, Columbia, CUNY School of Law, College of Staten Island
CODEPINK NYC
Women in Black Union Square
NYC Solidarity with Palestine
We Are All Dominican
Committee for Open Discussion of Zionism
Librarians and Archivists with Palestine
New Day Church
Existence is Resistance
Queens Families Speak Out
MADRE
Center for Constitutional Rights
Palestine Solidarity Legal Support
Labor for Palestine
International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network – New York
New York Association for Gender Rights Advocacy (NYAGRA)
Al-Awda NY: The Palestine Right to Return Coalition
New York City Labor Against the War
Boricuas for Palestine
People Power Movement
Brooklyn For Peace
Malcolm X Grassroots Movement
New Yorkers Against the Cornell-Technion Partnership (NYACT)
US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation
VirtualBoricua.org
Trinity Lutheran Church (Brooklyn)
American Muslims for Palestine
Palestinian Youth Movement (PYM)
Breakaway
National Lawyers Guild, NYC Chapter
North Manhattan Neighbors for Peace
West-Park Presbyterian Church
Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition
International Socialist Organization (ISO)
Committee Against Anti-Asian Violence (CAAAV)/Organizing Asian Communities
Free Mumia Abu-Jamal Coalition (NYC)
Campaign to End the New Jim Crow-NY
Freedom Road Socialist Organization, NY/NJ District
St. Michael’s Task Force on Israel Palestine
Park Slope Food Coop Members for BDS
Irish Queers

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