Most of you will know by now that our city council officially voted on Tuesday night (7-2) in favor of adopting the Palestinian city of Nablus as Boulder’s 8th sister city. The over packed council chamber was lively, animated and deeply divided, but mostly the discourse was civil and respectful. I have been part of the opposition since 2013, participated in dialogues over the summer sponsored by the city council to foster deeper understanding and I visited Nablus myself just a few weeks ago (here’s my blog). I spoke at the end of a very long night opposing the project once again; I was speaker number 76 in the public comments section. The essence of dissent for many of us who have been against this has been the essential political and divisive nature of public endorsement of an entirely one-sided narrative in a deeply complex, nuanced and painful conflict. I have been trying to avoid speaking from a place of fear, but I do have very real concerns that this can become a mouthpiece for demonization of Israel and, by implication, the Jews. Boulder Nablus Sister City Project and the council have given us their word that this will not happen and they sort of asked for our support in monitoring them. I am not sure that it is our job to do that, but there must be some accountability here after the painful process. A positive outcome of the summer dialogues was this Statement of Commitments issued by the group. Members of the council gave their assurance that antisemitism and Islamophobia would not be tolerated in our city. There are plenty of good people with very good intentions involved in and supporting this and indeed, some of the people-to-people exchanges that have happened are positive and important and should continue. The challenge of the night, from my perspective, came from council member Andrew Shoemaker who, along with Jan Burton, voted against the proposal.
Shoemaker spoke about all of the incredibly pressing and important issues locally in our community that demand time and resources and he questioned how Boulder could justify involving itself in the intractable, complicated, divisive and, yes, very political conflict in the Middle East. He even pointed out that the existing 7 sister cities have been somewhat neglected and now at least two of our enthusiastic city council members are going to throw themselves into this. Whether a proponent or opponent of this endeavor, it just seems plain dishonest to claim that it is non-political. Throughout this whole affair, there have been some pretty egregious comments and accusations to those of us in the Jewish community who have opposed, branding us as fear-mongering racists. To be really honest, that climate could have got considerably worse had the council rejected the proposal last night and the whole defeat would, without doubt, have blamed the Jews. Please do not misunderstand me here; I am not saying that, therefore, the outcome is good. It was a lose-lose situation in my view. I imagine some of you might have privately or publicly supported the project, which of course is your right and privilege and this is not about us all agreeing, just as with any political issue.
The real question is what happens next. I do not think it will be at all helpful at this stage to continue active opposition and the five “opponents” on the working group have sent a respectful letter of thanks to the city council. I want to find a way to remain positive and hopeful and I may choose to work with the group rather than against it, with an open mind to see how it all progresses. I do feel sad and concerned about the implications of all of this for this liberal City of Boulder, but, as always, we have to find ways to work together and to be strong and resilient. I care about my relationships with people in Boulder across boundaries of religion, race, gender and sexual identity and culture and will continue to find ways to build bridges. I am pleased that there is a new Boulder initiative for a local Muslim-Jewish Alliance in which I will be participating in an event this Sunday at 1:00 pm at Nevei Kodesh that I hope will bring some healing. Creating a microcosm of the Middle East conflict here in Boulder feels really unhelpful right now, but in this season of light and miracles, we need to find hope rather than give in to despair.