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Burlington City Councilors Postpone Action On Controversial Israel-Palestine Resolution

Burlington City Hall in early evening (file)
Pat Bradley/WAMC
Burlington, Vermont City Hall in early evening

The Burlington, Vermont City Council voted Monday to postpone action on a resolution calling for a boycott of Israel and expressing solidarity with the Palestinian people. It came after more than an hour of demonstrations disrupted City Hall proceedings and lengthy debate among councilors about whether action on the measure should be delayed.

The resolution expresses the Burlington City Council’s solidarity with the Palestinian people and endorses BDS, or Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, against Israel over its actions and policies toward Palestinians. It demands Israel end its military occupation of all Arab lands; recognize the rights of Arab-Palestinian citizens of Israel and allow Palestinian refugees to return home.

Before the council meeting started, a loud and raucous group of BDS supporters crowded into Contois Auditorium chanting and waving signs and the Palestinian flag.

The disruption continued for over an hour before Progressive City Council President Max Tracy gaveled the meeting into session. He immediately opened the public forum and for nearly two and a half hours, the resolution’s divisive powers were on display.

“Good evening. I’m Rabbi Jan Salzman of Ruach haMaqom. Did anybody check the calendar? Shame on you for scheduling this now.”

“My name is Anita Rapone. Burlington Friends Meeting supports this call for the state of Israel to live up to its obligations under international law.”

“Hi my name is Peach Kilroy. I’m urging you all to pass the resolution. Standing against oppression is simple.”

“I’m Jason Lorber. The BDS movement goes beyond protection for Palestinians. It calls for death to Israel.”

City Council President Max Tracy moderated the public comments. “Our next speaker is Jeff Wick.”

Wick told councilors, “If you want to be divisive and you want to bring hate and fear to our community you have done it.”

It was late in the evening when the resolution came before councilors. Sponsor and Ward 7 Independent Ali Dieng moved to withdraw it and return it to committee. He said while it went through the same process as all other proposals, based on feedback, he felt it was not ready for a final vote.

“Throughout this process now I found myself committed to do the right thing for both Jews and Arab. Doing it right will require real time, will require mutual understanding. We must create a safe space of dialogue, of understanding," said Dieng. "This resolution from my perspective is not ready for the city of Burlington to vote on it tonight.”

Ward 6 Democrat Karen Paul was among those who wanted an immediate vote on the proposal rather than delaying action by returning it to committee.

“I am concerned because a motion to withdraw doesn’t really mean anything. What it means is that tonight we’re not going to talk about this resolution. But what it also means is that at any time, make no mistake, at any time that resolution in its current form can come back.”

Ward 5 Democrat Chip Mason said he was appalled by what he saw when he entered the auditorium for the meeting.

“I walked into a room at 7 o’clock that I thought I would never see. There was yelling, chanting going back and forth. I was legitimately concerned that violence was going to erupt. No one was going to do anything to me. But I was, I was scared for those in this room. I looked out in the room. People were crying. People were shaking their heads make this stop!" describes Mason. "I appreciate that there are those who are pooh-poohing that. It’s very real. And I cannot support anything that carries that forward. This has already divided the community.”

Ward 3 Progressive Joe McGee felt the measure should be allowed to return to committee to be refined in order to acknowledge the concerns expressed on both sides while still supporting solidarity with the Palestinian people.

“I will be supporting withdrawal of this resolution in hopes that we can continue this conversation and really get to a place that meaningfully expresses solidarity with the Palestinian people and we can come together and express solidarity with oppressed people around the world.”

Councilors withdrew the resolution on a 6 to 5 vote and it will be returned to the Racial Equity Inclusion and Belonging committee.

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