Activists defeat Amsterdam-Tel Aviv twinning plan

Veteran South African activist Farid Esack was one of many who objected to the plans. (Meraj Chhaya/Flickr)

After months of discussions, the City Council of Amsterdam decided earlier this month against a proposal that the city start officially cooperating with Tel Aviv. Instead it opted for individual or project-based cooperation.

Back in early 2013, Israel lobby figure Ronnie Naftaniel launched the idea of twinning Amsterdam and Tel Aviv. He did so soon after stepping down as director of pro-Israel lobby group Centrum Informatie en Documentatie Israël (or CIDI).

The City Council welcomed the idea later that year.

But many organizations and citizens campaigned against it. Activists protested in the Amsterdam City Hall, spoke against the twinning in council meetings, wrote letters to the council and the media and organized petitions.

As a result, the council decided against any official relationship with Tel Aviv. Instead, the council voted in favor of unofficial cooperation. Activities which directly or indirectly benefit Israel’s illegal settlements were explicitly excluded, as well as projects with counterparts linked to the Israeli army or the ministry of defense.

Blow against Israel lobby

Most Israeli companies, banks and institutions are, directly or indirectly, linked to the settlement enterprise or to the military. A huge responsibility now rests on the City Council and rights organizations to monitor whether the criteria for cooperation are met.

At the same time, Amsterdam’s decision is a blow against CIDI. Tel Aviv should totally reject this form of cooperation, CIDI said in a press statement.

The council further decided to allocate a significant part of the budget to human rights organizations based in present-day Israel, including Adalah, the Association for Civil Rights in Israel and Gisha.

Many people raised their voices against the twinning plan.

Thirty-seven celebrities from South Africa, the United States, the United Kingdom, Northern Ireland, Belgium, France, the Netherlands, Egypt, Palestine and Israel spoke out against cooperation with Tel Aviv in a petition.

Five veteran Dutch anti-apartheid activists reminded the mayor of the city’s strong stand against apartheid in South Africa. Amsterdam declared itself an anti-apartheid city in the 1980s and supported the African National Congress in establishing official representation in the city. The activists repeated what they said at the time of apartheid in South Africa: cooperation with a government that systematically violates basic rights and international law is unacceptable.

Jaap Hamburger, chairperson of A Different Jewish Voice, argued against twinning with Tel Aviv because the city is home to Israel’s Ministry of Defense. All the wars and invasions targeting the Lebanese and the Palestinians were masterminded there. Military campaigns with cynical names like “Peace for Galilee,” “Grapes of Wrath,” “Defensive Shield,” “Summer Rains,” “Just Reward,” “Cast Lead” and “Protective Edge” have led to tens of thousands people dead, injured or disabled for life.

“No to apartheid”

Farid Esack, a South African anti-apartheid veteran, wrote a moving open letter to mayor Van der Laan, calling on him to say “No to apartheid and occupation.” He wrote:

I have observed that the situation of the Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza is deteriorating. The illegal occupation and the blockade on Gaza have had a disastrous effect on the Palestinian economy and therefore on the lives of Palestinians.

Some of us [anti-apartheid veterans] have witnessed the situation first hand and came to the conclusion that the situation for the Palestinians living under Israeli occupation is worse than what we experienced under South African apartheid.

Palestinians living in present-day Israel are confronted with 50 laws which discriminate against them in many areas of their lives.

I am not unaware of the terrible crimes committed by many European countries against Jews, more particularly prior to and during the Second World War. Nor am I unaware of the contemptible increase in anti-Semitism in parts of Europe. Our “Never again!” however, must be extended to all people. “Never again, to any people.” Any elevation of a particular set of historical victims over another set of actual victims – in this case, the Palestinians – is another form of racism. Europe cannot compensate for its historical role in the demonization of Jews by turning a blind eye to the suffering and the dispossession of the Palestinians.

I want the Amsterdam and the Netherlands that provided refuge to Anne Frank and that provided comfort for the South African anti-apartheid activists. I do not want Holland to again be the Holland that supports and defends occupations. I want to remember you for your support for Mandela, not for exporting Hendrick Verwoerd to South Africa. I want to remember your support for our country’s liberation, not for its invasion and occupation.

What do you want the occupied Palestinians to know you for? Please tell us that your concern for the image of Amsterdam goes beyond what is politically expedient.

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Adri Nieuwhof

Adri Nieuwhof's picture

Adri Nieuwhof is a human rights advocate based in the Netherlands and former anti-apartheid activist at the Holland Committee on Southern Africa. Twitter: @steketeh