The Madison-Rafah Sister City Project


Editorial, The Capital Times, May 17, 2004

Madison, it is said, is one of the few American cities with its own foreign policy. Few communities have more consistently taken stances on everything from South Africa’s apartheid system to Burmese trade policy to the war in Iraq, and few American towns have forged more international sister city relationships than this one.

It’s a good thing that Madison chooses to engage with the rest of the world, especially at a time when federal officials seem to be hellbent on ruining America’s relations with other countries. But the feel-good nature of these initiatives has been strained by a proposal to formalize a sister city connection between Madison and the Palestinian community of Rafah on the Gaza Strip.

Unlike most proposed sister city relationships, the plan to forge a link with Rafah has drawn spirited opposition from Madisonians who object to a proposal that expressly states that one goal of the linkage will be exposing “the daily effects of Israel’s occupation of Rafah and Palestine, and opposing U.S. support for those Israeli policies that have created a growing humanitarian catastrophe for the Palestinians.”

This newspaper has long been critical of Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip. We believe that both Israel and an independent Palestinian state have rights to exist. And we are convinced that the hard-line stances of Israel’s right-wing government have undermined that country’s security and future.

We side with Israeli peace activists, such as former Israeli cabinet minister Yossi Beilin, and their Palestinian allies, who argue that the only way to achieve a lasting peace is to end the occupation and embrace a genuine two-state solution. And it is our view that Madison can, and should, consider developing sister city relationships that will aid the process of seeking Mideast peace.

As such, we have been troubled by the discussion about the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project, which is expected to face its first test Tuesday when it is considered by the City Council’s Organizational Committee.

We are particularly concerned that:

A letter from Steve Morrison, executive director of the Madison Jewish Community Council, suggested, “The proposal is nothing more than a thinly veiled mechanism to bash the state of Israel. That it is also about anti-Semitism only makes it more offensive.” We hold Morrison in high esteem, but this statement is inappropriate. While they are critical of the policies of the current Israeli government, many of the prime movers behind the Madison-Rafah Sister City Project are Jews with personal and family ties to Israel. Like members of the Israeli peace camp, they genuinely believe that forging relations with Palestinians and their communities will help to achieve a peace that will be good for both Palestinians and Israel.

Mayor Dave Cieslewicz has said that neither he nor the City Council is prepared to debate Middle East issues and that sistering with Rafah might create a controversy that would threaten the whole sister city program. The mayor should rethink his stance. Madison has a history of addressing complex and controversial issues, and this is just one more. Marc Rosenthal, a supporter of the Rafah proposal, got it right when he said, “In today’s globalized world, there are no issues that are purely Madison.”

There has been resistance to suggestions that the Rafah sister city proposal might be linked to a plan to develop sister city relations with an Israeli community. We think that forging a relationship with Rafah and with an Israeli community that has displayed a commitment to improving relations with Palestinians would help Madison play a real role in fostering the peace process.

Amid so much controversy, there will be pressure on council members to dismiss the Rafah proposal Tuesday. That would be the wrong move. There should be honest and appropriate debate about this plan’s weaknesses and strengths. That process is best fostered by keeping this proposal in play, seriously examining it, and entertaining alterations and expansions that would best allow Madison to use its sister city relationships to promote peace in the Middle East.

Cite this article

“SISTERING FOR PEACE.(EDITORIAL)(Editorial).” The Capital Times. Capital Newspapers. 2004. Retrieved November 15, 2009 from HighBeam Research:

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