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October 7, 2021 12:26 pm
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BDS Will Be Back in Burlington, Vermont

avatar by Dexter Van Zile

Opinion

A pro-BDS demonstration. Photo: Wikimedia Commons.

Last month, the City Council of Burlington, Vermont, voted — after a long discussion — to withdraw an anti-Israel BDS resolution from its agenda, prompting pro-Israel groups to declare victory and praise Councilor Ali Dieng for his role in making the withdrawal happen.

Given that Dieng was the councilor who sponsored the resolution in the first place, his motion to withdraw seemed to bring a decisive end to the controversy, and he seemed to deserve praise for his actions.

But if you listen to what Dieng and other city councilors actually said during the September 13, 2021, meeting, you’ll discover otherwise.

Dieng and his allies made it perfectly clear that while they supported the withdrawal of the resolution on September 13, their intent is to bring BDS back for discussion and a vote at a future date. It’s all right there in this video.

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Even as he admitted his resolution wasn’t “ready,” was “one-sided,” and didn’t deal effectively with the issue of antisemitism, Dieng declared his intention to make the Israel-Palestinian conflict a “standing item” on the agenda of the Racial Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee (REIBC), which itself is a creation of the Burlington City Council. (It was this ironically named committee that vetted and sent the BDS resolution to the City Council for approval.)

By making the Israeli-Palestinian conflict a “standing item” on the REIBC, Djieng wants to turn Burlington city government into an annex of the United Nations Human Rights Council, which puts the Jewish state on permanent trial with “Item Seven.” Item Seven is a standing agenda item titled “Human rights situation in Palestine and other occupied Arab territories.” It gives Israel’s enemies on the council leave to demonize the Jewish state while ignoring human rights abuses elsewhere in the world.

This is exactly what Dieng’s constituents want in Burlington — a witch trial venue where they can regularly inveigh against Israel and put Israel’s supporters in Vermont on the defensive.

Even as he moved to have it withdrawn from the agenda, Dieng defended the BDS resolution, declaring, “This resolution was supported also by so many different local organizations. There are at least 27 of them. Many community members, including Jews and those who are not Jews, showed up to speak in support on two different occasions about this specific resolution. In support.”

Later, Dieng declared that he wanted to return the resolution to the REIBC for more “dialogue and conversation,” and “bring it back.” Here, Dieng seemed to be responding to council member Karen Paul, who in her eloquent take-down of the BDS resolution declared she had no idea what Dieng was going to do with the resolution before the meeting.

“He talks about referring, he talks about withdrawing, bringing it forward, having the votes to pass the resolution. It is a very confusing and constantly evolving situation,” Paul said.

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

After Paul spoke, other city councilors indicated that they hope to see BDS come back before the body in a more palatable form.

Councilor Jack Hanson said he supported withdrawing the motion with the goal of “having a better conversation about” BDS in the future. His colleague, Zoraya Hightower, made a similar statement, declaring that she would support withdrawal of the BDS resolution so more work could be done on getting a better text before the council.

Councilor Jane Stromberg said that while she supported withdrawal, she also hoped for a resolution that could be used by other municipalities “as a model.” Councilor Joe Magee said that while he was worried about the rise of antisemitism, he supported withdrawal of the BDS resolution “in hopes that we can continue this conversation and really get to a place that meaningfully expresses solidarity with the Palestinian people and acknowledges the fact that our own government has provided military aid that has contributed” to their suffering.

These statements prompted councilor Joan Shannon to declare that in light of what she heard, the motion to withdraw the resolution sounded more like a motion to defer the BDS resolution. She declared that she would not vote to withdraw the resolution “only to continue the discussion and pain [it caused to Burlington’s Jewish community].”

“Our job is to govern this city, to provide services that our community needs. We are unable to provide basic public safety in our community right now. We are certainly not fit to resolve the Israeli-Palestinian dispute,” she said. “This needs to end tonight.”

People are overdosing and defecating in the city’s downtown. The last thing the city’s residents need is to see Burlington City Hall handed over to a constituency that seeks to legitimize rocket attacks on Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, while Burlington goes down the tubes. And a few councilors seem to get that.

“I don’t think [the City Council] is the right place to be deliberating on this,” said Councilor Mark Barlow. “We have a lot of problems here in Burlington. We have a growing public safety crisis that many choose to ignore. We have a housing crisis that clearly, we are not doing enough to solve. We have a school crisis. … We don’t have a plan to pay for a high school that is unaffordable to taxpayers. We have a downtown to put back together and to make Burlington an inviting place for business[es] to locate. We have a lot of problems right here in Burlington without looking halfway across the world to solve those problems.”

This is good to hear, but don’t be fooled. The fight over BDS in Burlington is not over. Not by a long shot.

It’s coming back.

Dexter Van Zile is Shillman Research Fellow for the Committee for Accuracy in Middle East Reporting and Analysis.

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