Burlington City Council's Attempt to Manipulate Public Debate

Vermonters for Justice in Palestine
Vermonters for Justice in Palestine

The Burlington City Council recently published its agenda packet for the January 22 meeting, during which councilors will decide whether to include the Apartheid Free Burlington measure on the March 5th ballot.

Behaving more like disapproving parents than representatives of the people, the majority of the city council seems poised to vote against placing the measure on the ballot. In an attempt to obscure the widespread support of the petition (now signed by over 1600 Burlington voters), they included only one letter recieved in their agenda packet. Unsurprisingly, the letter urged them to vote "no".

We know council members have received thousands of emails from Burlington voters and across the country. To make only one of them public as part of the agenda packet - one favoring their own point of view - is a disgraceful and transparent attempt to manipulate public debate.

The letter itself, written by Mark Leopold, presents a misleading view that ignores hundreds of pages of credible human rights reports. He begins:

The proposed wording holds Israel to a double standard, demonizes Israel, and seeks to delegitimize Israel as a country.

Conspicuously absent from the letter is any explanation regarding how the petition's wording does any of this. Without such an explanation, we see no reason to respond to these assertions. Israel stands credibly accused of a crime, one that has been well-documented by multiple human rights groups, including within Israel itself. One can either respond to the evidence or not. But casting aspersions on our campaign and repeating tired Zionist slogans lacks intellectual rigor and does not constitute a valid defense.

Leopold continues:

Israel is a vibrant democracy. Palestinian Israelis vote alongside Jewish Israelis in all elections. Unlike in most Arab countries, women vote in Israel. Arabs are proportionately represented in the Israeli parliament and head all Arab municipalities, schools, and religious courts.

Regarding Israeli's "vibrant" democracy, let's turn to Israeli human rights group B'Tselem, which published a report literally called "Not a Vibrant Democracy. This is Apartheid":

The Israeli regime enacts in all the territory it controls (Israeli sovereign territory, East Jerusalem, the West Bank, and the Gaza Strip) an apartheid regime. One organizing principle lies at the base of a wide array of Israeli policies: advancing and perpetuating the supremacy of one group – Jews – over another – Palestinians.

B’Tselem rejects the perception of Israel as a democracy (inside the Green Line) that simultaneously upholds a temporary military occupation (beyond it). B’Tselem reached the conclusion that the bar for defining the Israeli regime as an apartheid regime has been met after considering the accumulation of policies and laws that Israel devised to entrench its control over Palestinians.

To take one example, over 350,000 Palestinians live in East Jerusalem, which Israel officially annexed in 1980 (unofficially since 1967). B'Tselem describes the reality:

Israel gives Palestinians living there... permanent residency status. This status, which does not confer a right to run or vote for Knesset, is usually given to immigrants entering the country.

Leopold abuptly concludes:

The apartheid accusation against Israel is false.

Human rights groups like B'Tselem, Amnesty International, and Human Rights Watch have painstakingly detailed why Israel is an apartheid state. Even the former head of Mossad, Tamir Pardo, has said that Israel enforces apartheid. Yet, instead of responding directly to any of the points made by these organizations, which we have consistently referenced, opponents to our petition offer only misleading rhetoric. This tactic, and the council's attempt to manipulate public opinion, will not succeed.

Burlington residents are well-informed and educated on this topic. And attempts to suppress this petition only strengthen our case.