Both supporters and protestors are expected to pack next week’s Sacramento city council as it decides whether to become sister cities with Ashkelon, Israel.
The California capital already has joined up with nine cities, including what it calls “Bethlehem, Palestine,” and has been discussing adding an Israeli town for several years.
A vote is planned Tuesday, Aug. 14 on whether to add Ashkelon, a frequent target for bombs from the Hamas-controlled Gaza Strip.
Those opposed to becoming a sister city with Ashkelon have waged an active campaign, claiming that Arabs there are second class citizens and that other Arabs were evicted from the area following Israel’s 1948 War of Independence.
Sacramento Council member Jay Schenirer said he was disappointed that the issue has become so contentious and that “again we are trying to resolve 5,000 years of history.”
In 2009, the council twinned with Bethlehem and agreed to choose a city from Israel as well, he said. The discussions back then, he said, were contentious and those involved “this would be a reasonable way to proceed.”
Schenirer said he believed Ashkelon would become a sister city next week.
Several groups have come out sharply in opposition to the potential twinning. A group called No Human Rights, No Sister City writes on its website of Ashkelon’s “history of ethnic cleansing” and urges people to sign a petition against the sister city tie. As of Friday, 478 people had signed the petition.
Palestinian Americans for Peace also has sent a letter to city council which states in part its concern for “not only Ashkelon’s history of ethnic cleansing but also the current discriminatory treatment of Palestinians.
Also speaking out in opposition is the Sacramento Jewish Voice for Peace. Its website calls for an end to Israeli occupation of the West Bank, the Gaza Strip and East Jerusalem.
The Anti-Defamation League lists the national Jewish Voice for Peace in its list of top 10 anti-Israel groups.
However, advocates of the Ashkelon tie also have supporters.
Stand With Us, a non-profit group that seeks to combat extremism and anti-Semitism against Israel, is circulating a petition that asks signers to tell council members to vote yes on Ashkelon.
“Together we will tell them to oppose political prejudice,” the petition states.
Also, the Rev. John Hagee’s group, Christians United for Israel, sent out a letter urging people to “tell the Sacramento City Council that as an American you want to see California’s state capital stand with Israel.”
Hagee added, “This effort appears to be a disturbing new front in the effort to delegitimize Israel in America.”