City Hall Has Heated Meeting Over Israel Proposal - The Reykjavik Grapevine

City Hall Has Heated Meeting Over Israel Proposal

Published September 23, 2015

Photos by
Gúndi

The proposal to ban products from Israel is officially dead, but not before a heated and often emotional debate took place last night in City Hall.

Vísir reports that last week’s City Hall proposal to stop buying products from Israel was officially voted rescinded. In addition, a proposed amended version – which would only prohibit buying Israeli products from occupied Palestinian territories – will not be submitted.

However, this comes at the end of a long, public city council meeting that featured some strong statements from all sides of this issue.

RÚV reports that members of the city council opposition have called for Mayor Dagur B. Eggertsson to resign over the matter. Independence Party councilperson Kjartan Magnússon in particular harshly criticised the mayor, saying that Dagur was not only wrong but also gave no forewarning to the opposition about the proposal. “This is why the mayor needs to minimise the damage and this is why the mayor needs to resign,” he said.

Another Independence Party councilperson, Áslaug Friðriksdóttir, kicked things up a notch by calling the proposal “populism of the worst sort”. She added that it tarnished the image of Icelanders, making us look racist, and that import bans on countries are unethical.

“Let’s say the Nazis came to power and they decided to put a ban on specific things,” she said. “You are actually doing that, but you don’t consider yourselves Nazis because you’re the good guys.”

Áslaug would later apologise for her remarks, while contending that she was not comparing anyone to Nazis.

Progressive councilperson Sveinbjörg Birna Sveinbjörnsdóttir also added her input, citing an e-mail forwarded to Dagur from Arion Bank CEO Höskuldur H. Ólafsson which was originally penned by Eggert Dagbjartsson, one of the investors behind the building of a Marriott hotel next to the Harpa Concert Hall.

In the e-mail, which was written in English, Eggert expressed his concerns about what effect the proposal would have on his own projects. The following is an excerpt from that e-mail (the entire version can be read at the above link):

“The fact is that many of the key people who are ultimately going to be responsible for making this a success are Jewish Americans. Both Ian Schrager and Dick Friedman are jewish. Many of the top people at Marriott are jewish as well. Furthermore, most major US Hotel Companies – such as Starwood, Lowes, etc. are either owned or controlled by jewish Americans.

While American jews are by no means a unified group, they are generally strongly supportive of the State of Israel and sensitive to boycotts or banning of Israeli related products or services. This is a real “hot button” issue.

The message that the City of Reykjavik has just sent, whether it meant to or not, is this: ‘if you are jewish – your not welcome here’.”

Sveinbjörg cited this correspondence as an example of how the proposal could have been damaging to Icelandic interests and “directly affecting revenue for the City of Reykjavík.”

While no member of the city council majority said that the proposal should have stayed, Social Democrat councilperson Hjálmar Sveinsson rebutted Sveinbjörg by pointing out that neither her nor anyone else has been able to demonstrate that any damage had been done by the proposal.

Bright Future councilperson Björn Blöndal added that he felt that mayor had responded to the backlash “with humility” and that calling for his resignation was “overreaching”. In addition, he put the proposal in the context of similar foreign policy actions taken by Iceland – namely, the city’s criticism of China’s treatment of dissenters, and cutting ties with Moscow over anti-LGBT legislation.

Independence Party councilperson Halldór Halldórsson countered that the Israel proposal was nonetheless “not in harmony with Iceland’s foreign policy” towards Israel on a national level.

In point of fact, on Monday opposition members of parliament submitted their own proposal, calling for Israeli products made in occupied Palestinian territories to be labeled as such, while encouraging the Palestinian Authority to take advantage of its free trade agreement with EFTA.

In the meantime, an open letter from Israeli citizens who support boycott, divestment and sanction actions against Israel urged Reykjavík city council to stand by their original proposal, saying in part:

We, as Israeli citizens, are very limited in our ability to create change in the current political climate. In recent years, Israel has taken many legislative steps to criminalize human rights activities, such as providing information about the occupation and calling for boycott of the state and war-profiteering corporations. Merely writing this letter to you is an illegal act under Israeli civil torts law and we hereby proudly violate this law.

We therefore ask you, first and foremost, to support the indigenous Palestinian people whose very existence has been curtailed and criminalized under a colonial supremacist regime. Secondly, we ourselves ask for your support, since our mere and symbolic opposition to such inhumane policies has been deemed illegal.

Please stand courageously by your initial city council decision.


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