Beit Shemesh protest 311.
(photo credit: (Marc Israel Sellem/The Jerusalem Post))
A Maryland county considering a partnership with Beit Shemesh is backing off
from their proposal due to sharp criticism of the recent violence by ultra-
Montgomery County, an affluent suburb of Washington,
DC, with almost a million residents, began the process of creating a sister city
relationship with Beit Shemesh last fall. But when constituents raised questions
of human rights violations in the city, Montgomery County officials decided to
put the plan on hold until critics of the partnership could present their
concerns, said Bruce Adams, director of the Office of Community Partnerships in
The county already has a sister city in Morazán, El
Salvador, and is creating a partnership with Gondar, Ethiopia. County
Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett, who occupies a position similar to that of city
mayor, launched the idea of creating sister cities in spring 2011. He helped
create a nonprofit called Montgomery Sister Cities, which operates separately
from the county government.
Montgomery County’s large Jewish population,
which includes the city of Silver Spring, Maryland, made Israel a natural choice
for partnership. Beit Shemesh is already a sister city of Washington through the
Jewish Agency's partnership program. Leggett visited the city in 2007, and Adams
said felt it was a “no brainer” for the county to partner with the Israeli city
that already had deep roots in the region.
But when a few residents
started raising concerns about the issues in Beit Shemesh, including haredi
extremists harassing young girls at the Orot Banot girls school and attacking a
woman hanging posters in the neighborhood, the city decided to put a “time out”
on the process until the residents could present their opinions, explained
“Montgomery County is a place of rich dialogue about controversial
issues, it is our culture to listen,” he said. He added that the county was not
ruling out a partnership with Beit Shemesh but would likely follow the advice of
the Jewish Federation of Greater Washington.
Adams added that residents
were not opposed to the idea of a sister city in Israel, but were concerned
about Beit Shemesh specifically due to the harassment of women. A meeting is set
for March 13 to examine these issues, and the decision to continue the
relationship with Beit Shemesh will be made after the meeting.
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