From spring to summer of 2004 the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project attempted to win official sister city status from the City of Madison. We met with a majority of the 20-member Common Council to explain the issues and purposes involved. Many indicated their support, the Common Council’s Committee on Sister City Projects approved our application, and chances of success looked very good.
Then a very strong attack was launched by the Madison Jewish Community Council (MJCC), who characterized our project as anti-Semitic and accused a Rafah partner, Mayor Said Zoroub, of association with terrorist activity. An organized campaign by MJCC put heavy political pressure on the Alders. In a climactic vote, the majority of Alders present voted in favor of the project, but by Council rule the proposal lost by one vote. Mayor Dave Cieslewicz had announced in advance that he would veto the Council resolution if it approved our project, a rare occurrence in Madison government.
Although we lost this close vote, we felt that much was gained through discussion and public education. Our campaign was heavily covered by local media and appeared in the Christian Science Monitor, New York Times, Ha’aretz, Maariv, Jerusalem Post, Associated Press, Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, Minneapolis Star-Tribune, Voice of America and other outlets.
The Project gathered a broad range of community support reflected in the testimony on our behalf during six hours of council debate. We secured the endorsement of the Capital Times. The campaign solidified our ties with other Madison sister city groups and positioned us firmly within the local anti-war and progressive movements. It also decisively exploded the myth of a monolithic Jewish community in Madison.