Nonprofits Debate Palestinian Independence at Philadelphia City Council

September 15, 2011; Source: Jewish Exponent | Does the United Nations (UN) care that the Philadelphia City Council voted to register its opposition to a possible UN vote for unilateral Palestinian independence? The Obama Administration has said that the UN vote would undermine the peace process and the U.S. Senate has already voted to curtail aid to the Palestinian Authority if it proceeds with the vote. Now the Philadelphia City Council has weighed in.

The august Philadelphia body may not be the global-affairs counterpart of the UN Security Council, but local Philly nonprofits and faith-based groups lined up to offer their yeas and nays on the question of Palestinian independence. A representative of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) of the Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia applauded Philadelphia’s vote to oppose the Palestinian effort, saying that “the UN resolution is not a productive path toward peace.” Another JCRC leader told the city officials that the UN vote would “repudiate the central principle of the peace process—that the solution to the conflict can only be the result of direct and bilateral negotiations between the Israelis and the Palestinians.”

A Presbyterian leader also spoke against the UN vote, an interesting phenomenon since a committee of the Presbyterian Church USA has proposed that the church divest itself from companies doing business with Israel, a list that includes Motorola, Hewlett-Packard, and Caterpillar, to name a few. This harkens back to the efforts years ago of advocacy groups to pressure public entities and nonprofits to divest from companies doing business with South Africa. (Pro-Israel nonprofits are displeased to say the least with the equation of Israel with apartheid-era South Africa.)

One Presbyterian minister rhetorically asked whether the City Council was the proper venue to debate Mideast politics. He answered yes, applauding the Council for taking on an issue that stood in contrast to “a lot of trivia in public debate.” However, a Jewish activist known for being critical of Israeli policies took the polar opposite position, asking, “Why is City Council reaching to get involved in supporting legislation that is divisive within the Muslim, Jewish, and Christian communities and has nothing to do with the City of Philadelphia?” The director of the Arab American Community Development Corporation also testified to say that if the City Council’s resolution condemns Palestinians for pushing the UN vote, it should also condemn Israelis for their continuing insistence on building settlements in the occupied territories.

We find it interesting to see so many nonprofits debating—civilly, mind you—an issue of global policy in a city council venue. Some of us who have worked for city governments that occasionally issued proclamations or resolutions on international relations shudder at the memories: There was often the odd sight of seeing some council members influenced by this interest group or that, while others drifted off into space while waiting to reach the next agenda item on street cleaning or stop signs. How do NPQ Newswire readers feel about local government units serving as venues for advocacy organizations and interest groups to push global-affairs issues?—Rick Cohen