An American city council resolution to endorse a peaceful boycott of Israel has been shelved over fears raised by sections of the Jewish community that it promotes anti-Semitism. Council members in Burlington, Vermont, were expected to vote in favour of a bill endorsing the global Boycott Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) campaign. If the resolution had been passed, Burlington would have become the first city council in the US to fully endorse the campaign.
Cities like Portland, Oregon; Berkeley in California; and St. Louis in Missouri have passed measures supported by BDS activists targeting specific companies, but no US council has endorsed a bill that backs BDS fully.
Having been approved by the council's Racial Equity Committee it seemed that a victory for the pro-BDS resolution would be a formality. However, a last-minute U-turn by its sponsor Ali Dieng, an independent member of Burlington City Council, means that the resolution will be returned for further discussion to the same committee which had approved it in the first place.
"It needs further discussion and further input from the community," Dieng is reported as saying. "There are elements of this resolution that I feel are a little bit strong, basically."
Announcing that the bill will be returning to the council's Racial Equity Committee, Dieng added that, "People are really concerned this is going to bring more anti-Semitism and we don't want that and now my eyes are open."
The Jerusalem Post reported that Dieng's reversal came moments after Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger came out with a statement opposing the resolution. Weinberger is a member of the local Jewish community and has the power to veto council resolutions.
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"While I support efforts to advance full equality and human rights for all and am deeply troubled by the current status of Israeli-Palestinian relations," said Weinberger, "I cannot support the Resolution that has been submitted to the City Council for action tonight."
Burlington's mayor stressed that he was specifically opposed to the BDS movement because it "seeks to weaken and delegitimise an important and long-standing partner of the United States, the democratic State of Israel."
Weinberger's claim that Israel is a functioning democracy, however, has been refuted strongly by prominent rights groups, the UN, and former Israeli ambassadors who have slammed the occupation state for imposing a system of apartheid. This affects not only the Palestinians in the Israeli-occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip but also Israel's own non-Jewish, largely Palestinian citizens, who make up 20 per cent of the population.
The pro-BDS resolution was put forward by Vermonters for Justice in Palestine (VTJP) and 17 other sponsor organisations.