Monday, March 23, 2009

Santa Cruz, city key for Palestinian Ambassador arouses storm

This is a Sentinel article about a small delegation that went to see Mayor Cynthia Mathews after she awarded the key to the City to Afif Safieh, the PLO ambassador who had called Israel "a belligerent player in the region" and at the event said that "Hezbollah is an amateur at terrorism compared to Israel." Note that Shanna calls me a "Jewish leader." I am neither. She printed a retraction the next day. ---Becky

by Shanna McCord
Santa Cruz Sentinel
August 30, 2006

Santa Cruz local Jewish leaders, upset with Mayor Cynthia Mathews for giving the Palestinian Ambassador a key to the city last month, want the mayor to publicly apologize for the symbolic gesture. Mathews said she has no plans to do so.

Mathews introduced Palestinian Ambassador Afif Safieh to an audience at the Veterans Memorial Building, and said Tuesday that the city key was part of `a ceremonial welcome.` At the time she called it a rare honor.

Safieh, invited by the Resource Center for Nonviolence, spoke in Santa Cruz about failed diplomacy in the Middle East and laced his speech with remarks such as `Hezbollah is an amateur in terrorism compared with Israel,` a quote repeated in a Sentinel article after the event.

`I was disturbed that the ambassador was quoted in the Sentinel as saying that Hezbollah were minor terrorists compared to Israel while Hezbollah was launching thousands of rockets purposely against civilian targets in Israel,` Rabbi Rick Litvak of Temple Beth El said Tuesday. `With statements like this, I felt this was not the kind of person we should be honoring.`

Litvak and other Jewish leaders - Ilan Benjamin, Becky Johnson, Gil Stein and Susan Karon - met with Mathews Aug. 16 at City Hall to express their disappointment and seek an apology.

Mathews said Tuesday it was a private meeting to explain that presenting Safieh a key to the city was a decision she made on her own as mayor, not requiring City Council approval.

The gesture, she said, was not meant to take sides or endorse Palestinian politics, but rather to show support for Safieh`s desire for peace and a two-state solution between Israelis and Palestinians over Gaza Strip and the West Bank.

`I acted on Safieh`s work to encourage communication and peaceful resolution to the conflict,` Mathews said Tuesday, `which is something I think we would all like to see.`

She said she did not plan to offer an apology, and that the same gesture would be made for a visiting Israeli dignitary.

As vice mayor in 1996, Mathews gave keys to the city to author Howard Zinn; Dr. Quentin Young, a Chicago physician and advocate for a single-payer national health insurance; and pediatrician Dr. Thomas Berry Brazelton.

Litvak and other Israel supporters followed their meeting with Mathews with a letter Aug. 18 that incorrectly identified Safieh as a representative of the militant Hamas government of the Palestinian Authority.

The letter strongly encouraged Mathews to submit a letter to the editor to the Sentinel apologizing and clarifying that she acted as an individual and not on behalf of the city when she bestowed the key.

Safieh is a longtime member of the Palestinian Liberation Organization, formerly led by the late Yasser Arafat, which was defeated in recent elections. But Litvak and other Israel supporters say the Palestinian Liberation Organization is made up of various groups, including the Al Aksa Martyrs Brigade, whose members would like to `wipe Israel off the map of the world.`

`Both entities represent violence and terror,` Litvak said. `We still believe a key to the city for Safieh does not advance the cause of peace.`

Scott Kennedy, a member of the Resource Center for Nonviolence and a former city mayor, wrote to Litvak saying that understanding the distinction between Safieh`s position with the PLO and the violence carried out by Hamas is critical to ending the decades-long fighting.

`Those Palestinian parties that are prepared to live alongside Israel reflect a majority opinion of Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza, of Jewish people in Israel, of the U.S. public in general, and of American Jews,` Kennedy wrote. `Ambassador Afif Safieh has consistently, outspokenly and sincerely supported a two-state solution for more than two decades.`

Contact Shanna McCord at

1 comment:

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