Don't Go Coalition open letter to New York City Council

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January 08, 2015
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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,injured over 10,000, and left countless others psychologically scarred , this trip would be an2 3 exercise in misinformation. You will not see Israel’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 Gaza’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. Israel’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 Israel’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 Israel’s increasingly horrendous war crimes, from the fatal shootings of protesters in the West Bank 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 NYPD’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 joined at least 9,000 US6 law enforcement officials on trips to Israel.7 These junkets have an undeniable effect on NYPD policies. A former official described the Department’s notorious Demographics Unit, disbanded in April after outrage followed revelations of its unconstitutional surveillance of Muslim communities, as “modeled in part on how Israeli authorities operate in the West Bank.”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 Yorkers’ 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 “meets its obligation to recognize the Palestinian people’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.”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 people’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 with 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 willfollow up with your offices in the coming weeks.

Sincerely,

The Undersigned Groups

1 Ma’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