Burlington’s Mayor Miro Weinberger and his pro-war faction on the City Council have trashed democracy to support Israel’s apartheid state and its genocidal war on Palestine.
On December 11th, they voted down a ceasefire resolution, putting Burlington’s government at odds with the majority of people in this city, country, and world who want an immediate end to the war.
Then, on January 22nd, in a 7 to 5 vote, they blocked the Apartheid Free City Referendum from appearing on our ballot in March. They violated the Council’s usual practice of rubber stamping voter-backed ballot measures, although we had met all their requirements, including collecting more than 1,600 certified signatures of registered voters in support of it.
In the debate at the City Council meeting, the Zionists repeated the same talking points they trotted out against the ceasefire resolution in December and three years earlier against a resolution for Burlington to adopt Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) against Israel.
They claimed that the Council should not address issues of foreign policy but instead stick to local concerns like our city’s multiple crises, from housing to poverty. This is at odds with Burlington’s long tradition of taking positions on international issues.
Moreover, Palestine is also a local issue. A white racist shot three Palestinians in our city for speaking Arabic and wearing a Keffiyeh. That hate crime was a direct result of the racism the US and local political establishment has whipped up in support of Israel’s genocidal war. That alone should be enough to prove the local nature of Palestine.
But there’s plenty more evidence. Vermont taxpayers send nearly $6 million a year to Israel, our airport hosts the Air Guard that has repeatedly deployed to the Middle East, and we are home to corporations like General Dynamics and Collins Aerospace that arm Israel’s military.
We should also reject the Zionist’s contention that it is impossible to address Palestine and other local crises at the same time. Supporters of the referendum do precisely that.
We organize as union members, migrant justice activists, anti-poverty organizers, housing advocates, and agitators on many other issues for all sorts of progressive reforms. Our ability to address these issues is not undermined by demanding justice for Palestine but complemented by it.
Imagine what we could do with all the money we saved if we cut off all aid to Israel and slashed the Pentagon budget. We could spend hundreds of billions of dollars on reparations for Palestine and better jobs, education, and housing here in Burlington and across the US.
Knowing that their political parochialism is unconvincing, the Zionists had no choice but to try and reject our case that Israel is an apartheid state carrying out genocide. They variously asserted that Jews are the land’s indigenous people, Israel is the only democracy in the region, and its government upholds equal rights for Palestinians. Some even argued that Jews have a divine right to the country.
Ignoring this last absurdity, let’s address their substantive but no less dubious propositions. Except for the small community of Jews that had lived in peace alongside Palestinians for hundreds of years, most Jews in Israel today emigrated from Europe. They are not indigenous.
With the support of first British and then US imperialism, these colonial settlers founded the state of Israel through terrorism, driving out more than 700,000 of the actual indigenous people, the Palestinians, from their homeland in 1948. After Israel’s illegal seizure of the West Bank and Gaza Strip in 1967, it has dramatically expanded its colonial settlements on Palestinian land.
The claim that Israel is a democracy that upholds equal rights for Palestinians is simply not tenable. Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza Strip have lived under occupation, siege, and repeated military assaults for decades. They have no democratic rights.
Moreover, B’Tselem, Human Rights Watch, and Amnesty International have each released major studies that document the apartheid nature of Israel not only in these territories but also inside its 1948 borders. It has over 65 laws that discriminate against Palestinians, including one that denies Palestinians the right to return to their stolen homes and land, a right it grants to Jews throughout the world.
That’s why South Africa’s Archbishop Desmond Tutu declared, “I know first-hand that Israel has created an apartheid reality within its borders and through its occupation. The parallels to my own beloved South Africa are painfully stark indeed.”
South Africa has also refuted the Zionists’ claim that Israel is not carrying out genocide. Its dossier submitted to the International Court of Justice (ICJ) documents in detail Israel’s intent and practice of genocide and ethnic cleansing in Gaza. And the ICJ ratified the legitimacy of their case, rejecting Israel’s request for it to be dismissed.
Israel has bombed the territory to smithereens, destroying homes, mosques, churches, and universities. It has also deliberately targeted civilians, killing over 26,000, wounding over 65,000, driving nearly 2 million from their homes, denying those in new tent cities delivery of food aid, and precipitating a famine.
With their argument in shambles, the Zionists fell back on their old saw that Palestine solidarity activists are “singling out Israel” for special criticism when other states practice equally atrocious policies. Before challenging this, it is worth noting that the Zionists are, perhaps without recognizing the irony, conceding that Israel is guilty of atrocities.
They just don’t want it singled out from the rest. We insist on doing this because the US does single out Israel for a “special relationship” as its regional watchdog in the Middle East, providing it with nearly $4 billion in US military aid every year for decades. Indeed, without US political, economic, and military support, Israel could not carry out its decades-long reign of state terror and current genocidal war against Palestinians.
And, far from being hypocritical, we as principled internationalists, oppose all other states’ crimes against humanity, from Washington’s endless imperialist wars to Russia’s brutal invasion of Ukraine and China’s cultural genocide in Xinjiang. We stand with the oppressed rising up against their oppressors without exception.
Knowing their case is fundamentally flawed, the Zionists retreated to the cynical and groundless charge that the referendum is antisemitic. In fact, the referendum explicitly opposes antisemitism as well as all other forms of racism.
The Zionists dismiss that fact by charging that any criticism of the state of Israel is antisemitic. Such an equation of Jews with Israel is groundless. Just like every group of people, Jews are not a monolith but have many classes, ethnicities, religious and political currents, and positions on Israel.
Most Jews have historically opposed Zionism, as the book Revolutionary Yiddishland documents, and today a growing, large minority of young Jews explicitly oppose the state of Israel. Just look at the mass antiwar protests organized by Jewish Voice for Peace.
Moreover, associating all Jews with Israel is actually dangerous. The worst thing you could do in our collective fight against antisemitism is equate Jews with a violent, apartheid state carrying out genocide.
Finally, the Zionists argued for the Council to block the referendum from the ballot because it “sows division.” Of course, there is a division. It’s actually a hierarchy that oppresses Palestinians throughout their historic homeland and right here in the US, Vermont, and Burlington.
Again, three Palestinians were shot in our town. And across the country, in what can only be called a Racist New McCarthyism, corporations and institutions are canceling Palestinian speakers (like UVM did with Mohammed El-Kurd), suspending chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, rescinding job offers to students, and firing workers who speak out for Palestinian rights.
By blocking the resolution, the Mayor and his pro-war faction have joined in this New McCarthyism, enforced the racist hierarchy against Palestinians, and denied Palestinians their right to challenge apartheid and call for justice and equality. They have thereby sowed greater division and more racism in our city and state.
In the process, the Mayor and his pro-war faction ran roughshod over our democratic right to petition, place referendums on the ballot, and vote on them. On their own terms, this makes no rational sense.
If the Apartheid Free City Referendum reflects division on a crucial local question, the best thing to do is place it on the ballot and allow everyone the democratic right to discuss, debate, and vote on it. That’s how democracy works.
But the Zionists, the Mayor, and his pro-war, pro-apartheid faction fear democracy. They rightly worried they would lose the vote, just as they are losing throughout this country and the world. And for good reason: 75 percent of Democrats support a ceasefire and 50 percent of Biden voters think Israel is committing genocide.
To protect Israel, the city’s political establishment and its minority of hardened Zionist backers blocked the referendum. In doing so, they made a mockery of the City Council President Karen Paul’s repeated calls for civility and decorum so that children watching the government’s proceeding could learn about the democratic process.
Before the eyes of those children, the Mayor and his faction trampled our democratic rights and fronted for Israel’s genocidal war and its apartheid state. No one should vote for Mayor Miro Weinberger and Councilors Joan Shannon, Karen Paul, Sarah Carpenter, Timothy Doherty, Mark Barlow, Ben Traverse, and Hannah King in any election ever.
Burlington, especially our Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim residents, deserve political leadership that opposes war and racism and that supports democracy. That is something the people of this city must fight for. And we will.
Anyone in the Mayor’s faction who thinks their violation of our democratic rights will deter us is fooling themselves. We are only just beginning to build the movement against Israeli apartheid and genocide in Burlington, throughout the state, and across the country. Free, Free Palestine!
Ashley Smith, of Burlington, is a member of the Tempest Collective and the Vermont Coalition for Palestinian Liberation.