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After a week-long hiatus for Presidents’ Day, last night’s City Council meeting seemed more like a session of the United Nations Security Council, falling into a spirited debate over the relevance of Israeli security training to the city of Cambridge.
Twenty-three residents addressed the Council in support of Policy Order #20, which asked City Manager Robert W. Healy to investigate a recent trip by municipal law enforcement officials to Israel.
The order was brought forth by Councilor Marjorie C. Decker in response to a trip by 16 Cambridge public safety officials to Israel for counterterrorism training, as reported in the Cambridge Chronicle this January.
The trip was funded by the Anti-Defamation League.
Those speaking on Policy Order #20, who were unanimously in favor of its adoption, included representatives of the American Friends Service Committee, Jews for a Just Peace, the Palestinian Solidarity Project, American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, and Jewish Voice for Peace.
Merrie Najimy, of the Massachusetts chapter of the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee, said that Israeli counter-terrorism training tactics could encourage racial profiling. “It makes for bad community relationships,” said Najimy.
The order cited 2009 testimony from Police Commissioner Robert C. Haas about a similar trip to Israel that had previously taken place.
He said in his testimony that it was “interesting, but in the end not very useful. The Israel government does a number of things that we would never do in this country.”
While all resident speakers used their time to opine on the nature of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, councilors were more concerned that they were not informed of the trip prior to its occurrence.
“My intent is pretty clear,” said Decker. “It is to gather information.”
The policy order also requested that the City Manager investigate “the role of private business in public policy.”
Decker and Councilor Kenneth E. Reeves ’72 both said that the City Manager should confer with the Council about such trips.
“It’s not because we haven’t asked for [the information],” Reeves said.
Councilor Timothy J. Toomey Jr. placed a hold on the item, delaying a possible vote until next week to allow for more public comment and information.
Councilor Craig A. Kelley also questioned how the City Manager’s Office’s responded to a “gun fight” on Clifton Street by not issuing a public alert.
Healy said that he had sent an e-mail about the incident to 50 local officials, including the City Council, at 1:36 a.m., shortly after hearing about the shooting.
The City Manager’s Office decided not to issue a public alert, he said, because the shooting was an isolated incident between two acquaintances.
But Kelley continued to pressure the City Manager to “take responsibility” for what he saw as inadequate communication.
“Councilor, you know that’s nonsense,” Healy said, raising his voice. “And you know I care much about this, so I chose not to respond.”
The City Council also passed resolutions calling for the resignation of Libyan dictator Muammar al-Gadaffi and supporting striking workers in Wisconsin.
—Staff Writer David H.A. LeBoeuf can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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