Dear Mayor Bevilacqua – Is “twinning” your municipality with the Israeli city of Ramla a good way to fight anti-Semitism?

Fighting anti-Semitism deserves to be on the agenda of every Canadian city. And for Mayor Maurizio Bevilacqua of Vaughan, (centre) signing a memorandum of understanding with the mayor of a city in Israel, might appear to be a good way to do so. But the Israeli city of Ramla has a dark past, and a troubling racist present. Is “twinning” with Ramla a good way to fight anti-Semitism? Read more….

Maurizio Bevilaqua, mayor of Vaughan, Ontario, which is home to one of the largest Jewish communities in Canada, has made the fight against anti-Semitism one of his priorities. He has twinned Vaughan with the Israeli city of Ramla. He also announced last week that he will serve as chair of the Ontario Municipal Leaders’ Summit on Antisemitism Jan. 21. The summit is hosted by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) a pro-Israel lobby group (which curiously is inviting attendees using the website of the Ontario Association of Police Services Board.)

Opposing racism in all its forms, including anti-Semitism, anti-Black, and Islamophobia is the official policy of the Canadian government and has wide support in the Canadian population.

But the Mayor’s choice of Ramla as a partner for Vaughan raises questions about whether he is more focussed on fighting anti-Semitism or on developing closer ties to Israel.

Ramla’s troubled history of racism and ethnic cleansing

Palestinian citizens of Israel (or “Arab Israelis”) make up about 20% of today’s Israel. As non-Jews living in a state that defines itself as ‘Jewish’, they face intense discrimination. A recent report by Human Rights Watch, “A threshhold crossed” demonstrated that Israel practices apartheid NOT ONLY in the Occupied Territories, but everywhere Israeli rule extends, including inside Israel itself in its treatment of its own non Jewish citizens. In the words of Human Rights Watch, “it is a regime of Jewish Supremacy” everywhere from the river to the sea.

Ramla is located about 30 km south east of Tel Aviv. According to the UN partition plan, it was to be part of the new Arab State. Israel took it over in 1948

Nowhere is this more evident than in Ramla (pop. 70,000), a small municipality located about 20 miles from Tel Aviv. Today Ramla is predominantly a Jewish town, but about 25% of Ramla’s population is Palestinian, mostly impoverished, and mostly confined to a kind of ghetto.

They are the descendants of those who avoided being expelled by Jewish forces in 1947/48 when the State of Israel was created. And according to the New York Times, they are facing increasing threats from religious Jewish nationalists today, who want to make Ramla and other Israeli cities more “Jewish” by forcing the Palestinians out.

Ramla (pictured in 1895) was founded by Sulayman at the start of the 8th century and became the capital of his caliphate

Ramla is a more than thousand year old Arab town, strategically located at the crossroads of the north-south route from Syria to Cairo, and east-west from the Mediterranean coast to Jerusalem.

By the 1947 UN Partition Plan, the predominantly Arab town of Ramla was to be part of the new “Arab state”. However, because of that strategic position, Jewish militia groups wanted to incorporate it into the new Jewish state and began to drive out the Palestinians.

The Jewish militia group Irgun set off a bomb in the Ramla market on February 18, 1948, killing 7 residents and injuring 45 Palestinians. Many fled in terror. This was three months BEFORE the State of Israel was declared.

The Palestinian resistance surrendered on July 12, and most of the remaining inhabitants were driven out. Their homes were confiscated (in violation of the UN partition document) and given to Jewish immigrants arriving from Europe. Israeli researchers have recently uncovered documentary evidence in official Israeli archives, confirming the ethnic cleansing on which the Israeli town is now built.

Ramla continues to be a site of racist violence today

The modern Israeli town of Ramla, with whom Mayor Bevilacqua has signed an agreement of “global cooperation”, was created in 1948 through ethnic cleansing in violation of the UN partition plan and it continues to be the site of racist anti-Palestinian violence.

Last May, when tensions rose in Israel over the attempted expulsion of Palestinian families from the Sheikh Jarrah neighbourhood of East Jerusalem, right wing Jewish gangs descended on so called Arab/Jewish towns like Ramla and its twin sister town of Lod, attacking Palestinians, smashing shops and torching cars. When Palestinians fought back, the Israeli government responded by arresting hundreds of them in a “campaign of intimidation and terror”.

A better way to fight anti-Semitism in Canada

If Mayor Bevilaqua is really interested in fighting anti-Semitism (and hopefully other kinds of racism as well) there are better ways than by linking Vaughan to a city in Israel with a racist past which continues into the present.

Progressive Jewish organizations and individuals around the world, including Canada, the United States and Europe have signed a document called “Five Principles for dismantling anti-Semitism”.

The five principles are:

  • Do not isolate antisemitism from other forms of oppression.
  • Challenge political ideologies that foment racism, hate, and fear.
  • Create environments that affirm and celebrate all expressions of cultural and religious life.
  • Make undoing all forms of racism and bigotry both policy and daily practice.
  • Practice safety through solidarity, not law enforcement.

Twinning Canadian cities with Israeli ones built on the ethnic cleansing of their original Palestinian residents, where today right wing Jewish fanatics attack its oppressed Arab minority, is not on this list.

Canada Talks Israel Palestine (CTIP) is the weekly newsletter of Peter Larson, Chair of the Ottawa Forum on Israel/Palestine (OFIP). It aims to promote a serious discussion in Canada about Canada’s response to the complicated and emotional Israel/Palestine issue with a focus on the truth, clear analysis and human rights for all. Readers with different points of view are invited to make comment.

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  1. My fear is that instead of reducing anti-Semitism, this action will increase it. If the Mayor wants to combat racism (a great idea), he must not be (nor appear to be) on the side of an Apartheid state.

  2. Perhaps the mayor wishes to contribute to the further isolation and land theft of Palestinians by the Israeli state as did Stephen Harper. Could that be his purpose? I hope not.

  3. As the founder of Human Rights Watch has declared that the current CEO and the organization itself has an incipient antisemitic mindset, anything it says against Israel will reflect its antisemitic mindset.

    1. Any disagreements that might have existed between the (late) founder of Human Rights Watch and that organization is irrelevant to the issue raised in this column.The issue raised by Mr. Larson is whether or not “twinning” with an Israeli city with a racist past (and present) is a good way to combat antisemitism. Because antisemitism is just one variety of racism, aligning with any racist group while claiming to be fighting antisemitism would appear hypocritical to any who thought about it. The column outlines five principles for fighting antisemitism, I would be interested in knowing your opinion of those five principles. That would be very relevant.

    2. Unclear what illegal occupation and two tier rights have to do with the “CEO” of Human rights Watch, it feels like a diversion from the issue of occupation, land theft and the arrests of children. Any repressive government invites critique.

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