A guest post by AKUS
On February 11th, 2012, the Washington Post published an article titled:
“Montgomery” refers to Montgomery County, Maryland, which borders on Washington DC, and is one of the most affluent counties in America, recently lauded for having the highest percentage of citizens with post-graduate degrees. The National Institutes of Health, the Bethesda Naval Hospital and numerous Federal government agencies are found in the county. It is a region rich in technology start-ups. The I-270 interstate from Bethesda to Frederick is known as one of the centers of biotechnology research in the world, with companies ranging from start-ups to large global companies like Human Genome Sciences and Medimune having their campuses along its length.
Some rather lengthy background is needed to understand what lies behind this cryptic headline and the truly global conspiracy that has created the controversy and a carefully coordinated attack on Israel in this county.
Montgomery County has embarked on a program of creating “sister-city” agreements with at least five cities across the world with which different ethnic or national constituencies in the County feel a connection.
At Montgomery County – Our Sister Cities you will find that the county has plans for agreements with three cities and a desire to find appropriate additional sister-cities in China and Ukraine (click on the links below for details):
The agreement with Morazan was signed in July 2011. Montgomery County has a large population of immigrants from El Salvador and a large African-American population (County Chief Executive Isaiah (Ike) Leggett is African-American, for example) so the selection of Morazan and Gondar would recognize the connections of those communities to their heritages and their political heft.
But Montgomery County also has very large Jewish population, many of whom are firm supporters of Israel and very active in local and national politics. The selection of a town in Israel as a candidate for a county-city “sister relationship” reflects the existence of this large community. In addition, although Bet Shemesh is far from affluent, Montgomery County has been actively trying to encourage Israeli companies to open facilities in the area to bring high-value-added high-tech companies to the wealthy county, though less successfully so than competing and equally wealthy Northern Virginia, located across the Potomac River.
According to the article, Montgomery County’s Chief Executive, Isaiah Leggett, visited the Israeli town of Bet Shemesh in 2007 and talks began about the possibility of creating a county-city “sister relationship” with Bet Shemesh.
Bet Shemesh was intended to be the County’s second sister-city. “But now”, according to the article, “Montgomery Sister Cities, the nonprofit group that was set up by Leggett after his 2007 visit to coordinate the partnerships, is turning its attention elsewhere and looking to the historic Ethiopian city of Gondar as the county’s next prospective sister city.” The basis for the change is an attempt by a local pro-Palestinian activist, Susan Kerin, to leverage the treatment of women in Bet Shemesh by ultra-Orthodox Jews as a way to prevent the agreement.
Before continuing, it is important to note in light of the Bet Shemesh controversy that in 2009 UNICEF published a report cited here (and there are many other reports available online) that stated that:
According to the 2007 UN Secretary General’s report on violence against children, Ethiopia is still one of the countries with the highest rates of Female Genital Cutting in Africa. The 2005 Ethiopia Demographic Health Survey (DHS) shows that the rate of FGM declined only 6% from 80% in 2000 to 74% in 2005.
This atrocious practice is so prevalent in the area that Israeli doctors were surprised to find that Ethiopian Jewish (Falasha) women who had been spirited out of Ethiopia and now live in Israel also practiced FGM, and apparently some still secretly continue to do so.
There has been no criticism of the prevalence of FGM in Ethiopia, or a suggestion that treatment of women in any of the other candidate cities or countries should be a basis not to form a sister-city alliance.
Only in the case of Bet Shemesh, as much as any sensible person condemns what happened there, has the treatment of women been raised as an obstacle to the sister-city relationship.