Mayor Hoped Marrickville's Twinning With Bethlehem Would Not Be Controversial
Marrickville Council thought creating a sister city relationship with Bethlehem would lead to a better understanding of the problems Christians face in the Middle East, in the midst of an Israeli occupation and surrounded by violent anti-occupation groups like Hamas and Fatah.
But the decision, unanimously popular with councillers and locals, has been stained by a campaign of "outrage" fermented by the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies and accusations by the board's chief executive that Marrickville will be supporting terrorism by opening an international relationship with the Christian-dominated council of Bethlehem.
From news.com.au :
Marrickville Council, in Sydney's inner west, has had an in-principle agreement since 2001 with the Palestinian city believed by some Christian scholars to have been the birthplace of Jesus Christ.
Councillor Sam Iskandar said the city had been chosen as a symbol of love, peace and harmony, but the Jewish community says it is anything but.
NSW Jewish Board of Deputies chief executive Vic Alhadeff said Bethlehem Council was controlled by members of the terrorist organisations Hamas and Islamic Jihad, which support the killing of Jews.
In late August, Bethlehem Council will send a delegation to Sydney to meet with Marrickville Council and officially sign the sister city agreement.
This news sent Vic Alhadeff into meltdown. Forget the Christians, he announced in a wave of media releases and interviews, we could see Hamas militants being given a stage in Sydney spread anti-Jewish propaganda.
"This means an international guest could address a public meeting hosted by this council and call for the destruction of Israel and death to the Jews."
Mr Alhadeff was given another opportunity to ramp up the extreme rhetoric in the Sydney Morning Herald :
"Their raison d'etre, as clearly expressed in Hamas's charter, is the destruction of Israel and, worse than that, to kill every Jew."
Haskell Musry attended the council meeting last week where the sister city plan was unanimously passed. As a Jew, Musry didn't think Alhadeff's claims to be protesting on behalf of Sydney's Jewish community were accurate.
Mr Musry told the Herald : "I think most of the Jewish community would be unconcerned..."
Perhaps Mr Alhadeff is more concerned by the opportunity provided through the sister city deal for Bethlehem councillors, and the Catholic mayor, to address the media when they visit Sydney in late August. The Bethlehem delegation will no doubt be asked to explain what it is like to live as a Christian under Israeli occupation and to have had their city divided by the deeply unpopular separation wall Israel is using to carve up historical Palestine.
Mr Alhadeff seems most upset that his 'alternative plan' wasn't followed by Marrickville Council, or that they didn't bow to his claims that the Jewish community was "outraged" by the sister city plan.
He said the council should choose a politically neutral middle-eastern city to foster relations with.
"If councils like Marrickville wanted to get involved and promote peace and reconciliation why not choose an Arab-Israeli town, so it's not a partisan position?" Mr Alhadeff said.
According to this story, the choosing of Bethlehem to be Marrickville's sister city was made by locals, and passed by the council by a vote of 11 to 1. Marrickville Councillor Sam Iskander said Bethlehem was chosen because :
"...it was the city which symbolised love and peace and harmony," he said.
"We look at this relationship between Marrickville and Bethlehem to be a very good relationship between the two communities, and we want to send a message that people can work with people and they can have good relations ... and that is the spirit of the sister city movement."
From the Sydney Morning Herald :
A delegation from Bethlehem led by (Mayor and practising Catholic) Dr Batarseh will visit Australia for a fortnight in August. Marrickville plans to present the delegates with gifts, host two dinners and hold a reception for the signing of a sister cities agreement.
Bethlehem already has sister city arrangements with 39 cities.
Marrickville's deputy mayor, Peter Olive, said he did not think Hamas controlled Bethlehem. "I have heard concerns there's a dwindling number of Christians but I think that's attributable to things like the whacking great wall the Israelis have built around the city," Cr Olive said. "So one could ultimately say the council is controlled by Israel."
Mr Olive told AAP :
Or people who want to keep the Christian perspective of life under Israeli occupation as far away from getting a direct audience with the Sydney media, and community, as possible.
"It is my clear understanding that there isn't a Hamas domination on the Bethlehem council, that the mayor is in fact not a member of Hamas - he's a Christian, for what that is worth," Mr Olive told AAP.
"I also understand that eight out of the 15 councillors are fellow Christians.
Mr Olive also accused the NSW Jewish Board of Deputies of being "out of step" with the broader community, saying the sister-city move would promote cross cultural understanding, and that money would not change hands.
"I would have liked it not to have been such a controversial issue but you get some people who want to play global politics."