Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Sacramento Makes Ashkelon a "Sister City"

The Sacramento City Council unanimously voted to make Ashkelon, Israel one of its "sister cities". Ashkelon joins nine other Sacramento sister cities, including Bethlehem in the Palestinian Authority (Bethlehem was added in 2009, under a deal that would see an Israeli city added later).

There was some controversy from the usual suspects (including Jewish Voice for Peace, which totally opposes only the occupation and not Israel-qua-Israel). The claim was that adding Ashkelon was unfair given Israeli human rights violations against Palestinians; some argued against Ashkelon specifically because it has a jail which holds Palestinian prisoners and because Ashkelon was formerly the site of a Palestinian village (the village had been the site of fierce fighting between Israeli and Egyptian forces during Israel's war of independence, forcing many of its residents to flee). Today, Ashkelon's most well-known relationship to the Israeli/Palestinian conflict is its status as a constant target for Palestinian shelling emanating from the Gaza Strip.

I'm disinclined to credit the claim that the opposition's problem is with Ashkleon, rather than with Israel -- the arguments they make against Ashkelon are exceptionally thin and could, with minor shifts, be applied against virtually any city in the world). Which inspired me to take a look at the other cities Sacramento has partnered with.

* Manila: Capital of the Philippines, which is currently engaged in a brutal counter-insurgency against Islamic separatists in the southern parts of the country. The Philippines has resorted to extrajudicial killings, vigilantism, disappearances, torture, and arbitrary arrest and detention.

* Matsuyama, Japan: Japan has a long-standing practice of discrimination against the indigenous Ainu people, with de jure discriminatory laws repealed only in 1997.

* Jinan, China: Yeah, I'm not even going to bother with this one. From the occupation of Tibet to one-party rule to government censorship and crackdowns on dissent, this is too easy.

* Hamilton, New Zealand: Built on the site of Maori villages prior to British colonization. New Zealand's treatment of its indigenous minority continues to be of concern.

* Liestel, Switzerland: Switzerland has recently come under fire for banning the building of minarets in Mosques. Liestal is the seat of Basel County, where over 55% of voters approved the ban.

* Chisinau: The capital of Moldova, another country with a spotty human rights record, including many restrictions on independent media and reports of widespread torture by police forces.

* Yongsan-gu, South Korea: Imperialist swine. In all seriousness, though, non-Korean minorities face considerable discrimination, particularly among non-documented workers from elsewhere in Asia. The country also has many anti-gay discriminatory laws.

* San Juan de Oriente, Nicarauga: Also built in the vicinity of native villages by European colonizers, Nicaragua has also experienced significant problems with police abuse, and President Ortega has been accused of using state apparatuses to squelch dissent while enabling regime-friendly groups free reign to violently terrorize opponents.

* Bethlehem: Palestinian security forces stand accused of violence against Christian residents, who have accelerated emigration from the city. Israeli citizens are forbidden from entering Bethlehem, including the Solomon's Pools, while Palestinians require a permit to enter Rachel's Tomb, a Jewish holy site. Military and paramilitary forces linked to the Palestinian Authority have been implicated in numerous terrorist attacks against Jewish targets.

The point isn't that any of these cities shouldn't be "sister cities". The point is that the claim that Ashkelon or Israel is somehow distinct in form from other cities that Sacramento has paired with (or indeed, most cities around the world) are essentially spurious. They're cover for a fundamental objection that Israel is there and doesn't roll over and die.

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