Baseball team urged to cut ties with settler organization

WASHINGTON (IPS) - A coalition of 11 US, Israeli and Palestinian groups are calling on the New York Mets baseball team to cancel a fundraiser by the “violent and racist” Israeli Hebron Fund which is scheduled to be held at the Mets’ stadium, Citi Field, on 21 November.

The Hebron Fund participates in “the raising of capital for the improvement of daily life for the residents of Hebron, Israel,” a city in the Israeli-occupied West Bank, according to its website, but the Fund has been accused of encouraging violence towards Palestinians and participating in illegal settlement expansion.

The coalition urges the Mets to reconsider their decision to rent space at the Casesar’s Club, an event space in Citi Field, on the basis that “The New York Mets will be facilitating activities that directly violate international law and the [Barack] Obama administration’s call for a freeze in settlement construction, and that actively promote racial discrimination, and the ethnic cleansing of Palestinians from their homes in Hebron.”

“By allowing the Hebron Fund to fundraise on its premises, the New York Mets will be directly aiding Hebron’s Jewish settlers, who are regularly described, both worldwide and among Israelis, as violent racists,” said a letter from Adalah-NY, on behalf of the coalition.

It was addressed to Fred Wilpon, chair of the board of the New York Mets and copied to Bud Selig, commissioner of Major League Baseball; US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton; Special Envoy for the Middle East George Mitchell; and Rachel Robinson, chair of the Jackie Robinson Foundation.

Adalah-NY has also been involved in the “boycott, divestment and sanctions” (BDS) campaign to bring indirect pressure on Israel to work towards a viable Palestinian state.

“[The Mets] can do the right thing very easily. I’m not blaming them for where they are now,” Sydney Levy, director of campaigns and chapters at Jewish Voice For Peace, one of the members of the coalition, told IPS. “[The Mets’] situation is totally reversible but this is not an issue which is going to die quietly.”

“Citi Field hosts a wide range of events that reflect the diversity of our hometown and the differing views and opinions of New Yorkers. The beliefs of organizations holding events at Citi Field do not necessarily reflect those of the New York Mets,” the Mets said in a prepared statement.

The occupation of Hebron has been an ongoing source of concern for human rights groups as the Israeli military has taken increasingly aggressive actions to secure the 700 Jewish settlers living among 150,000 Palestinians.

The US State Department called for a freeze in settlement expansion but has recently made clear that it should not be a precondition for a resumption of peace negotiations with the Palestinians.

Statements made by Hebron Fund Executive Director Yossi Baumol suggest the group supports the expansion of settlements even in areas where the Israeli government has evacuated settlers in accordance with international law.

In a December radio interview, Baumol said, “In the end we will come back to this building,” in reaction to the Israeli army’s evacuation of settlers from the Hebron settlement of Beit Hashalom.

Shortly after the evacuation, settlers went on a violent rampage in Hebron, leading to the shooting of three Palestinians and damaging and burning Palestinian property.

“As a Jew, I was ashamed at the scenes of Jews opening fire at innocent Arabs in Hebron. There is no other definition than the term ‘pogrom’ [a riot organized against a specific group] to describe what I have seen,” said Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Olmert after the violence erupted.

And in 2006 the Hebron Fund and the Jewish Community of Hebron called for the reestablishment of a settlement in the centrally located Palestinian market in Hebron from which the Israeli army had previously removed settlers.

“Help us move families back into the Shuk [market] and into other new areas!” said the Hebron Fund in a report.

“Please redouble your support of the Hebron Fund at this crucial time so you can be a partner in … The purchase and renovation of ancient Jewish homes, Construction of new housing,” the report went on to say.

“The Hebron Fund should not be eligible for tax-exempt status in the US because it is not organized and operated exclusively for charitable purposes, but rather promotes the anti-charitable values of violence, racism, and opposition to human rights. The settlement activity that the Hebron Fund supports is racially exclusive, discriminatory, contrary to United States policy and contrary to international law,” read the letter from the coalition calling for the Mets to cancel the event at Citi Field.

The letter goes on to document numerous other cases of settlement expansion, settler violence and Israeli military violence and closures in the center of Hebron which have lead to the closure of 76.6-percent of businesses and 41.9-percent of homes to go vacant.

“There are certain red lines that have to do with racism and sponsoring violence that you do not cross,” said Levy.

“The Hebron fund is there to support Jewish only settlements in Hebron. When you sponsor organizations that are involved in these sorts of activities you have to question what’s going on. At the end of the day this is a matter of people being aware of what’s happening there and what’s our responsibility is here,” Levy concluded.

The campaign also emphasizes that, “Allowing the Hebron Fund to fundraise at Citi Field contradicts New York Mets and Major League Baseball’s commitment to equal opportunity and non-discrimination, and is an insult to the legacy of Jackie Robinson.”

Jackie Robinson was the first African American Major League Baseball player and is honored at the Mets’ Citi Field stadium in the Jackie Robinson Rotunda.

The coalition of groups calling for the Mets to cancel the Hebron Fund event includes: Adalah-NY, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, Brooklyn For Peace, Coalition of Women for Peace (Israel), CODEPINK Women for Peace, Gush Shalom (Israel), Jews Against the Occupation-NYC, Jews for Racial and Economic Justice, Jews Say No!, Jewish Voice for Peace, Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions National Committee (Palestine), US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, and the WESPAC Foundation.

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