Local Politics and the Apartheid Free Campaign: Response to Criticism

Vermonters for Justice in Palestine
Vermonters for Justice in Palestine

In a December 30th post, Burlington BDS January 2024 Explainer, Joanna Grossman critiqued our Apartheid Free Burlington petition and its goal to put the issue of Palestinian rights on the March ballot. She argues that this petition, now signed by over 1,500 Burlington voters (nearly 5% of the voting population), is antisemitic and will have a “seriously negative impact on our community’s safety” (emphasis hers). According to her analysis, Burlington voters may have thought they were signing a petition to help the “suffering Palestinian people” but unwittingly signed up to support the antisemitic (she claims) Boycott, Sanctions and Divestment movement (BDS) instead. She also contends that devoting time on this petition takes the city council’s attention away from local issues like “housing, substance use, affordability, and climate action.”

Unfortunately, Grossman avoids dealing with the substance of the Apartheid Free Burlington petition, falsely claiming that the petition advocates for BDS. (The petition is, in fact, not about BDS and does not call for any of the BDS demands.) She also ignores the ways in which our taxpayer dollars fund Israeli apartheid instead of paying for and addressing important community issues.

The petition is straightforward. It affirms the rights of Palestinians and pledges to end support for Israel’s well-documented system of apartheid. The language of the petition was borrowed, word-for-word, from the American Friends Service Committee (AFSC) pledge, which has been signed by 219 faith groups, businesses, and other communities. This includes organizations like the African National Congress Veterans League (South Africa), Alliance Baptists, United Church of Christ, Jewish Voice for Peace, New Hampshire Veterans for Peace, Northeast Kingdom Quakers (VT)… to name a few.

The facts are these. Israel has a well-documented record of human rights abuses. Israeli human rights group B’Tselem has called Israel an apartheid state along with Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Yesh Din. A recent petition led by Omer Bartov (Professor of Holocaust and Genocide Studies at Brown University) and signed by two thousand other academics and clergy, bluntly stated:

“There cannot be democracy for Jews in Israel as long as Palestinians live under a regime of apartheid, as Israeli legal experts [Yesh Din] have described it... The problems did not start with the current radical government: Jewish supremacism has been growing for years and was enshrined in law by the 2018 Nation State Law.”

Even the former head of Israel’s Mossad intelligence agency, Tamir Pardo, has called Israel an apartheid state. As quoted by the AP on September 6, 2023:

“There is an apartheid state [in Israel]… In a territory where two people are judged under two legal systems, that is an apartheid state.”

This affects our local community because our federal tax dollars directly fund Israeli's apartheid regime, contributing at least $3.8 billion dollars annually. To break that down locally, Burlington residents pay $600,000 annually for this injustice; Vermonters, as a whole, pay over $5 million dollars – the majority of which goes straight back to the US arms industry. In Burlington, money going to Israeli apartheid could instead pay for 218 children to have low-cost or free health care, assist 74 households with public housing, or provide 1788 households with solar electricity. This is a local issue!

Burlington voters know exactly why they signed our petition. They are tired of being complicit in Israel’s crimes against humanity. And the Apartheid Free Burlington petition is one small step towards that goal.