With the support of the Biden administration, Israel is committing genocide in Gaza. The racism used to justify its war has generated a wave of hate crimes against Palestinians, including in Burlington, where a white bigot shot three Palestinian students—Hisham Awartani, Kinnan Abdalhamid, and Tahseen Ahmed.
Rather than take a stand for peace and justice, Burlington’s Mayor Weinberger and his pro-war allies on the City Council blocked a resolution calling for a ceasefire. That put them at odds with the country’s majority who want an immediate end to the war.
As South Africa has documented in its case in the International Court of Justice, Israel’s intent, rhetoric, and prosecution of this war is genocidal. In a speech at the UN before the October 7th attack, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu held up a map of Greater Israel that annexed the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
He used the October attack as cover to implement this settler colonial project. Based on a plan for the ethnic cleansing of Gaza, he has promised to carry out the “voluntary migration” of Palestinians.
This is justified with genocidal rhetoric. Netanyahu labelled Palestinians “Amalek,” invoking scripture calling for the extermination of “men, women, children, and infants.” His Defense Minister described Palestinians as “human animals.”
With a spokesperson declaring “we’re focused on what causes maximum damage,” Israel has killed over 22,000 people and driven over 95 percent of Gazans—2 million people—from their homes. It has bombed schools, churches, mosques, hospitals, universities, and libraries, laying waste to most of Gaza. Amidst the rubble, infectious diseases and famine threaten those who survive the bombing.
This genocide has spurred mass resistance. In Vermont, the Coalition for Palestinian Liberation has united Vermonters for Justice in Palestine, Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace, and many other groups and unaffiliated individuals.
Our protests have compelled Representative Becca Balint and Senator Peter Welch to support a ceasefire. While Senator Sanders has called for restricting aid and a “humanitarian pause,” he opposes a permanent ceasefire and defends Israel’s so-called “right to defend itself”—its violent imposition of colonial rule over Palestine.
Disgracefully, none of them have endorsed Representative Cori Bush’s ceasefire resolution. While all issued statements against the hate crime, they and the rest of the political establishment have led a backlash against Palestinians and their rights.
In 2021, Weinberger and his allies blocked a resolution against Israeli apartheid, defaming its supporters, including those from Jewish Voice for Peace, as antisemitic. Zionists then whipped up a moral panic over antisemitism at UVM, brought an unsuccessful lawsuit, triggered a federal investigation, intimidated Palestinians, and drove Students for Justice in Palestine activists underground.
After October 7th, the Mayor, his allies, and representatives from the congressional delegation joined a pro-war rally in support of Israel. The UVM administration then canceled a lecture by Mohammed El-Kurd, claiming it could not guarantee security at the event.
Thus, the administration treated a Palestinian speaker as a threat to public safety. In this racist climate, it is tragically no surprise that a bigot shot three Palestinians.
With protests cresting, Councilors Ali Dieng, Joe Magee, and Gene Bergman introduced a resolution condemning the hate crime, calling for a ceasefire, and putting conditions on US aid to Israel. On December 11th, over three hundred rallied at City Hall before dozens testified in support of the resolution.
With the Mayor prepared to veto it, Councilors Joan Shannon, Ben Traverse, Timothy Doherty Jr., Sarah Carpenter, Mark Barlow, and Karen Paul voted as a bloc, locking the Council in a 6-6 tie, thereby scuttling the resolution. They and a handful of Zionist supporters trotted out a series of hackneyed justifications.
Most of these have been debunked before, but two of them demand new responses. First, they claimed the war was not a local issue. In reality, Vermont is thoroughly intertwined with Israel.
Vermont annually sends nearly six million in tax dollars to Israel’s military. Burlington’s International Airport hosts the Vermont Air Guard, which has been repeatedly deployed to the Middle East. And the war precipitated a racist hate crime in the city. Obviously, Israel’s genocide is a local issue.
Second, they attacked the resolution as antisemitic. This is contradicted by the resolution itself, which explicitly condemned antisemitism. It also conflates Jews with the state of Israel, ignores the tradition of Jewish anti-Zionism, and insults Jewish Councilor Bergman and the many Jews who spoke in favor of it.
Cynically, the Mayor and his allies proposed an alternative that took no position on the war, just condemned the shooting and expressed solidarity with the victims and their families. That resolution, which also failed to pass, wrongly separates cause and effect—the war and the hate crime.
Thus, the Mayor and his allies tarnished Burlington’s tradition of standing up for global justice, best exemplified by its divestment from apartheid South Africa. Palestine solidarity activists will uphold that tradition, escalate our protests for a ceasefire, and place a referendum on Burlington’s ballot this spring against Israeli apartheid, occupation, and war.
Ashley Smith, of Burlington, is a member of the Tempest Collective and the Vermont Coalition for Palestinian Liberation.