Durham’s city council is preparing a new three-year strategic plan based on “how Durham is transforming to meet the needs of the growing, diverse and inclusive community that we strive to be.” One of the five “refreshed” goals is “connected, engaged and diverse communities.”
However, as far as the council and Mayor Steve Schewel are concerned Israelis are unwelcome – at least that’s the impression I have following their statement against training with foreign police or military that mentions only Israel by name.
It’s no wonder a group of my fellow Jewish residents have asked Durham’s Human Relations Commission to label the statement as governmental discrimination and rabbis in the Triangle as well as Mayor Schewel’s synagogue president have authored a commentary asking “council members to increase their outreach to foster meaningful relationships and restore trust between the Jewish community and the city of Durham.”
Considering the amount of publicity the council’s statement has received in the Israeli and American Jewish press – publicity that harms the Bull City’s reputation and sends a message Durham is NOT an inclusive community – the council should do some serious reflection on its action. If I were an Israeli citizen or the CEO of an Israeli company looking to locate in the United States, the council’s message says “Stay away. You are not welcome.”
I acknowledge the impassioned sentiment of many letter writers with the opposing viewpoint who legitimately criticize Israeli government policy concerning the West Bank and Gaza; however, as a former newspaper reporter who covered several political campaigns I also view the council’s acceptance of a petition from the DemilitarizeFromDurham2Palestine group and its supporters as defiance of the Trump Administration’s decision to recognize Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and move the United States embassy into Jerusalem from Tel Aviv.
The statement also placed Police Chief Cerelyn Davis in an uncomfortable position because Mayor Schewel, who authored the statement on the council’s behalf, did not mention Davis’ statement to City Manager Tom Bonfield that her “training experience in Israel had nothing to do with terrorism tactics, military tactics, or the use of or exposure to military equipment.” Her visit to Israel while with the Atlanta Police Department concerned “the challenges experienced with building community and police relations with the growing homeless population in the U.S. comparable to the Sudanese populations in Israel.”
Mayor Schewel and I belong to Judea Reform Congregation which strongly advocates the Jewish tradition of social justice and where the majority of its membership would be uncomfortable supporting either President Trump or the Israeli government. However, there are two important questions many at Judea Reform as well as those opposing current Israeli policy regarding the West Bank and Gaza should consider: what if Democrats do not regain a majority in Congress in November and what if President Trump wins re-election in 2020? Undoubtedly the continued strong support of Israel’s government would continue unabated and those who do not like either Trump or Israel must find a way to live with the results. That should involve extensive discussions with those of us who are strongly pro Israel so Durham can once again become an “inclusive community.”
Mark G. Rodin lives in Durham.