Thursday, August 16, 2012 | return to: news & features, local


It’s unanimous: Sacramento, Ashkelon now sister cities

by emma silvers, j. staff

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sacramento  |  After more than 60 minutes of impassioned debate, following weeks of acrimony, the Sacramento City Council voted unanimously Aug. 14 to name Ashkelon, Israel as Sacramento’s 10th sister city.

The resolution passed after weeks of rising tension between the pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian communities.

Ashkelon was proposed as a potential sister city for Sacramento in 2009, part of a compromise when the council voted to adopt the Palestinian city of Bethlehem into its sister-city program. The program is generally considered ceremonial, though delegations from Sacramento and its sister cities do make occasional trips to visit one another. Other sister cities include Jinan, China; Chisininau, Moldova; and Liestal, Switzerland.

State Sen. Darrell Steinberg speaks to the Sacramento City Council Aug. 14.   photo/emma silvers
State Sen. Darrell Steinberg speaks to the Sacramento City Council Aug. 14. photo/emma silvers
More than 250 people packed City Hall for the Aug. 14 meeting, with attendees lining up more than an hour before the 6 p.m. start time. Some held Israeli flags. Opponents of the resolution held signs reading “No rights, no sisters” and “I am a Palestinian Sacramentan, therefore I cannot visit Ashkelon on a sister-city delegation.”

Palestinian-Americans against the resolution had argued that they would need special permission to visit Ashkelon. Pro-Israel speakers countered that such permission would be no more difficult than obtaining a tourist visa.

“There’s no reason for this resolution not to go through tonight,” said Melissa Chapman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Sacramento Region, before the meeting. “It was clearly stated that if Bethlehem was accepted as a sister city, an Israeli city would be as well … [Opponents] are really stretching the truth in some of the claims that have come forward … so we’ve tried to provide the City Council with as much factual, unbiased information as possible.”

A large contingent from Mosaic Law Congregation, a Conservative synagogue in Sacramento, attended the meeting; the synagogue’s rabbi, Rabbi Reuven Taff, had been speaking about the resolution this past month.

Twenty-six people were chosen to speak during the public comment portion of the meeting, 13 in favor of the resolution and 13 opposed.

Adeeb Alzanoon, a local delegate for the Palestinian American Congress, said that Ashkelon, which sits just north of the Gaza Strip and was part of the British Mandate for Palestine until 1948, did not meet the criteria for a sister city — such as inclusiveness and the desire to promote friendship between nations.

Another speaker said Ashkelon was a bad choice because a prison there, Shikma, has been cited by Amnesty International for ill-treatment of Palestinian inmates.

Jewish Voice for Peace was among the most vocal opponents of the resolution. “If our neighbors and friends who are from Palestine can’t participate, then we shouldn’t have a sister city relationship,” JVP member David Mandel said.

Among the first people to speak in support of the resolution was State Sen. Darrell Steinberg.

“One great thing about Sacramento, one thing that stands out, is that no matter who we are, who we represent, in good times and bad, we stretch for one another,” said the Senate’s president pro tem. “We build bridges. We expect people with different points of view to talk to one another. That’s what the sister-city movement is all about.”

Gail Rubin, a local representative for StandWithUs, presented a petition signed by 3,000 people in support of the resolution. “What you’ve heard tonight [from the opposition] is a smear campaign, lies the likes of which we haven’t heard since the Nazi era,” she said, drawing murmurs of disapproval from some in the crowd. She added that the Barzilai Medical Center in Ashkelon treats Israelis and Palestinian residents of Gaza, including “known terrorists” who have medical need.

Other speakers in support included representatives from Christians United for Israel, who said they organized their national network to email council members throughout the summer. A spokesman for the group said more than 22,000 messages had been sent by Aug. 13.

Council member Jay Schenirer, former president of Sacramento’s Congregation B’nai Israel, said he would work to make sure local Palestinians could be involved in a delegation to Ashkelon.

He also noted that studies have called Sacramento the most ethnically “integrated” city in the country. “As we move forward, we want Sacramento to be a great city,” he said. “We can choose to fight, we can choose to be divisive or we can choose to work together.”

When the nine-member council, minus an absent Mayor Kevin Johnson, voted unanimously to pass the resolution, the decision was met with a standing ovation and applause from more than half the room. The meeting ended shortly thereafter, around 8:30 p.m.

Taff wrote in an email the following morning that he was “delighted” with the outcome, but also “disturbed by the controversy and hateful rhetoric which is synonymous with the BDS movement.

“The baseless lies spewing forth from the mouths of the opponents (including a few Jews) of this benign initiative was shuddering,” he wrote. “Last night is a reminder that we Jews must always be prepared to stand up to bigotry, deception and remind the world of what happens when people allow hatred to guide them.”

Abby Okrent, a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, said she wasn’t surprised by the decision. She said the council “didn’t really listen to our stated concern about discrimination”  that Palestinian Sacramentans will face if and when they try to visit Israel.


Posted by Theresa
08/16/2012  at  02:54 PM
JVP was against the sister City Resolution

So JVP, who’s mantra is ‘Its about the “occupation’ spoke out against adopting Ashkelon as a sister city. Maybe someone should let the historically challenged members of the group know that Ashkelon- the ancient village where the story of Samson and Deliah took place, is well within the green line.  No ‘occupation’ here.

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Posted by sol rosenberg
08/16/2012  at  09:56 PM
the issue of "occupation" is

the issue of “occupation” is a side line matter at best. after all, how much of a bruhaha was it when jordan occupied the “West Bank” for 19 years with out making any attempt to establish a palestinian country? it seems that when arabs are occupying that area and using it to try and kill Jews it’s not a probblem. but when those Jews say they’ve had enough and remove their would be killers it now turns into a big international fuss that is now called an illegal occupation. the opposition to the city sister resolution is just another example of the ultimate agenda of the BDS bottom dwellers. it’s the same as hamas’s ultimate agenda. the only difference between hamas and anti-Israel useful idiots in the West is that hamas is honest about what they want.

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Posted by rodrigo
08/17/2012  at  12:37 PM
the project to associate sacramento

the project to associate sacramento to a city in israel is nothing more than another charade in hopes of shoring up eroding US public support for Israel and to keep US tax dollars flowing to Israel as without US tax dollars Israel would not last one day. Particularly Israels apparatus of terror and brutality which has been brutalizing the palestinian people for 70 years, today worse then ever.
I am not an arab a jew or a christian, but I am a human being, an american citizen, a tax payer and a voter and as such I will stand in solidarity with those in sacramento who do not want their community associated with a regime founded on ethnic cleansing, sustains itself on terror and brutality, holds itself above the law and has no concept or respect for human rights or the rule of law.

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Posted by sol rosenberg
08/17/2012  at  03:37 PM
aside from what just happened

aside from what just happened in Sac. Patrick Stewart (Capt. Picard from Star Trek) is currently in Israel working on a film film project. Guns N’ Roses has already played in Israel and the Red Hot Chili Peppers have already told the BDS crowd to go take a hike in regards to their Sept. Tel Aviv show. Lenny Kravitz will also play there in Oct. the world famuos Lollapalooza music festival is also en route to Israel and Cirque du Soliel is adding venue dates to their Israel tour. i know individuals like you with your warped perception on Israel are on an Israel bashing road with your car set to cruise control so there’s no sense really talking you. i just want you to know what a massive failure the BDS movement against Israel you support so vehemently. i would ask all you so called progressives and humanitarians to turn maybe just 2% of your attention north of Israel where there is actually mass killings and brutality going on at the hands of the assad regime. but i know human rights issues that would distract you from your obsession with Israel have never been high on your list of priorities. but considering the failure of your agenda it’s no wonder you people have resorted to demonizing Israel on the internet and vandalizing Trader Joes stores as well as public advertising. so guess what, outside of your little cult no one is listening to you.

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Posted by avrahambenhillel
08/17/2012  at  03:53 PM
YAY! from Allen in Sacramento

YAY! from Allen in Sacramento

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Posted by rodrigo
08/17/2012  at  07:47 PM
interesting how monotonously predictable responses

interesting how monotonously predictable responses to rational critique of israel can be, almost to the point of ridicule.
the name calling, israel basher or antisemite. or the next best thing always divert the argument to whats going on here and there or how horrible the arabs are, much like the rapist who when confronted with his crime, all he can say is why are you picking on me why look at all the horrible things going on!.
divertion and name calling will not change the fact that israel is an racist colonial aparthaid state in the hart of the arab world. It is now indisputable to most of rational humanity, and that is most of humanity with the exception of the US and that is rapidly changing, that Israel was founded on the ethnic cleansing of the indigenous people of historic palestine, and Israel in sustained by brutalizing millions of people including condeming to life imprisonment millions of children whose major crime was being born to an arab mother.
As mentioned earlier this is indisputable to most of rational humanity and but only one of the endless list of crimes commited by Israel. Incinerating children with white phosphorous comes to mind.
You might be ok with that and I am just fine with all the name calling but I will not lend my name or support to israels crimes anymore than I would have lent my name and support to NAZI Germany when they decided incinerate the jews in order to create a home land for the chosen people of that time.
as Sir Gerald Kaufman a british PM said to the brithish parlament, Israelies are not only criminals, they are fools.
Shame on you!!

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Posted by sol rosenberg
08/18/2012  at  02:53 AM
rodrigo a text bookl closet anti-Semite

check out this guy he gets all his information straight out of the hamas charter and those david duke youtube videos when it comes to Israel. Israel is a “racist colonial aparthaid state in the hart of the arab world” according to Rodrigo. the ancestral homeland of the Jewish people is not colonized by Jews. Jews lived in that land for over a 1000 years before islam or the arabs ever came to be. that’s a fact. that land is not the “heart of the arab” even though you wish it was. there’s a place called saudi arabia (operative word here arab-ia) that also happens to have the two first most holiest sites to muslims. and then of course there’s your equating Israel with nazi germany. which is ironic since there’s no shortage of historical evidence proving the arabs indeed collaborated with hitler. a simple “mufti hitler” word search will show that. as for all the human rights violations you claim Israel does, well that’s exactly what goes on in all the arab dictatorships around Israel especially in syria. but facts don’t matter to your kind.
you are a classic contemporary anti-Semite rodrigo that is playing the “i’m not anti-Semitic i’m just anti-Zionist” word play game. it almost makes me miss the official hates groups like the KKK and neo-nazis who just lay it on the line with what they’re really feeling. it’s time for you progressive Jew haters to get a new schtick. it’s really pathetic how you actually spend time coming to Jewish sites like this in order to peddle your history revisionist nonsense. as if you’re winning any one over here.

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Posted by rodrigo
08/18/2012  at  01:25 PM
Sol thank you for your

Sol thank you for your reply. Again monotonously predictable and yes I agree with you I will not waste my time and energy trying to reason with such narrow minds.
But in parting I would tell you ALL of my information comes from Jewish sources primarily Israeli at that but I realize that makes no difference to you. Those are the Jews I call ethical moral driven human beings while you know them as self hating Jews. My guess is you are an older man with a rigid well formed set of values really unreceptive to reason. As such I hope your children and grandchildren will not have to suffer the indignities you have inflicted on the Palestinian people and their children.
I’m am an atheist but if I’m wrong and there is a God I hope he or she will forgive you and have mercy on you as I am sure history or humanity will not be kind to you.

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Posted by sol rosenberg
08/18/2012  at  07:27 PM
rodrigo, i bet some of your best freinds are Jewish

. . saying all your anti-Israel rhetoric coming from Jewish sources is another common smoke screen ploy by leftist anti-Semites today in order to give their argument credibility. nothing new there. but you’re right about one thing. what you say makes no difference to me much like how your BDS agenda is not making any difference to Israel’s economy.

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Posted by Michael Harris
08/21/2012  at  08:18 PM
"rational critique"???

“interesting how monotonously predictable responses to rational critique of israel can be….
divertion and name calling will not change the fact that israel is an racist colonial aparthaid state.”

Regarding your definition of “rational discourse”:  as the line goes from The Princess Bride, “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

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