The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project

Madison rejects proposal to make Rafah sister city


The Madison City Council narrowly rejected on Tuesday a proposal to establish a sister-city arrangement with Rafah in the Gaza Strip, after a heated debate that divided residents of the predominantly liberal Wisconsin college town.

The nonpartisan council voted 9-8 for the plan, but that fell short of the 11 votes needed to pass.

Proponents of the proposal, who hoped to create a cultural bridge and provide relief to Rafah, squared off against those who argued that it was an anti-Israeli initiative that could send money to support terrorism.

The vote was scheduled for July 6, but was delayed due to opposition by Madison´s 5,000 Jewish residents and others.

“For us, Rafah represented bad public policy,” said Steven Morrison, executive director of the Madison Jewish Community Council. “Due to the high number of terrorists in Rafah, there´s a good chance our donations could have wound up supporting terror.”

According to Barb Olson, a member of the Madison-Rafah sister-city project, which proposed the arrangement, “We know where the money goes, and document it. To say any of it could go to terror is silly.”

A day before the vote, Madison Mayor Dave Cieslewicz vowed to veto the proposal. “I don´t think the city council and I should be making a statement on Middle Eastern policies,” he said.

Rafah Deputy Mayor Ahmed Sha´at said, “I believe the mayor was pressured by the Jewish lobby and some of the 5,000 members of Madison´s Jewish community.”

Gerald Steinberg, editor of NGO Monitor, an on-line analysis of human rights NGOs involved in the Arab-Israeli conflict, said the council´s vote suggests a shift in Madison´s policy towards Israel.

“Because of Madison´s radicalism, and the visibility of this debate, the outcome could reflect a fundamental change in the general acceptability of anti-Israeli politics on US campuses, particularly with respect to the impact of Palestinian NGOs,” he said.

Madison has a $10,000 budget for its sister-city program, which allows it to share humanitarian and cultural exchanges with other cities. It already has nine sister cities, including ones in Cuba, Vietnam, El Salvador, Lithuania, and Italy. On Tuesday, the council easily passed a sister-city relationship with Cuzco, Peru.

The Associated Press contributed to this report. (© 1995-2004, The Jerusalem Post 07/22/04)