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Michigan city supports Palestinian ‘right of self-determination,’ avoids mentioning Israel

“That must’ve been disappointing to various antisemitic folks who are pushing these resolutions,” Detroit rabbi and Jewish leader Asher Lopatin told JNS.

Hamtramck City Hall. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
Hamtramck City Hall. Credit: Wikimedia Commons.

The city council of Hamtramck, Mich., which is surrounded by Detroit and has a population of nearly 28,500, voted on March 2 to issue a statement on Middle East politics more than 6,000 miles away.

“The City of Hamtramck believes that the Palestinian People should enjoy the right of self-determination that comes with having a free, peaceful and secure homeland of their own,” it stated. “The City of Hamtramck stands against occupation of any country and supports the right of every occupied nation to gain freedom, sovereignty and independence.”

The council did not mention Israel “but appeared to criticize the country, drawing criticism from some residents and support from others during a council meeting,” reported the Detroit Free Press.

“It would have been better had Hamtramck not released any statement, or if the statement would have said basically, ‘We look forward to Israel and the Palestinians working together towards a peaceful and equitable solution to the challenges that they face,’ ” Asher Lopatin, an Orthodox rabbi and executive director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of metro Detroit/American Jewish Committee, told JNS.

“The tragedy of the Palestinian people has been their reluctance to work together with the State of Israel towards both people’s mutual benefit,” added Lopatin. “They have been plagued for decades and decades by terrible, exploitative leadership.”

Hamtramck has traditionally been a Polish enclave, but in recent years, the ethnic makeup has changed. About 25% of the city is of Arab descent, most of them Yemeni, and an additional 27% is of Asian ancestry, most of them Bangladeshi, according to 2019 census data.

Lopatin thinks it is significant that the city council did not mention Israel explicitly. “That must’ve been disappointing to various anti-Israel and antisemitic folks who are pushing these resolutions,” he said.

Many Israelis, and perhaps most U.S. Jews, support a two-state solution with national rights for Palestinians, “which was the key Palestinian point of the statement,” said the rabbi. “The vast majority of Israeli and American Jews are also against repressive regimes.”

“If the pro-Israel side, which, of course, includes my organization, would emphasize that for the benefit of both Palestinians and Israel, Jews and Palestinians need to work together towards building bridges and shared society, we might be able to outflank some of these negative anti-Israel, Israel-obsessive and frequently antisemitic voices that are even more harmful for Palestinians than for the State of Israel,” he explained.

Hamtramck has one of the highest percentages of Arab and Bangladeshi residents in the United States, and the mayor and entire city council are Muslim, “believed to be the only city in U.S. history with an all-Muslim council,” according to the Free Press.

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