During the week of February 25, mayors of cities from around the world gathered in Israel for the International Mayor’s Conference. According to the Israel International Mayor’s Conference official website, the conference’s main goal is to join mayors from different countries with high-tech Israeli energy and cyber companies, along with urban development experts. These groups hope to share ideas that will allow cities to develop in safer, smarter, and more sustainable ways.
Mayor Ko Wen-Je of Taipei is one of the mayors taking advantage of the opportunities presented by the conference. According to the Taipei Times, Mayor Ko has big plans for his trip to Israel. His first reason for attending the conference is because, as he stated, Israel is famous for its robust venture and start-up corporations. Mayor Ko will be visiting an Israeli company involved in the development of automatic guided vehicles.
Mr. Ko’s second reason for attending the conference is Israel’s science and research credentials. He specifically said he would visit the Weizmann Institute of Science because he was impressed with the institute’s ability to foster Nobel Prize Laureates. Importantly, Mayor Ko also had a more serious issue for attending the conference. The Taipei City Government stated that he wished to meet with Israeli lawmakers familiar with national defense policies. Clearly, the security of Taipei is a key concern to the city’s mayor.
Nonetheless, the 33rd installment of this conference is not only about connecting cities and high-tech companies. In the wake of rising anti-Semitism worldwide, the conference has become an opportunity for global mayors to make a strong statement against such bigotry. According to CBS Pittsburgh, one of the 25 mayors that will be attending the conference will be the mayor of Pittsburgh, Bill Peduto. While in Israel, Mayor Peduto will honor the victims of the Tree of Life Synagogue shooting.
According to a New York Daily News opinion article written by Mayor Peduto and Jack Rosen, mayors serve on the front-line for confronting urban tragedies as they occur. They believe that this conference offers a platform to help cities develop, and to share the harsh lessons learned in Pittsburgh with cities from around the world.
Mayor Peduto and Mr. Rosen also believe that the gathering provides a platform to sound the international alarm that anti-Semitism is on the rise and that it is a threat to Jewish lives everywhere. According to their article, in 2017, there was a 37 percent increase in anti-Semitic hate crimes. This marks the third consecutive year that this statistic has risen. A poll in Europe revealed that one third of Europeans believe that Jews use the Holocaust to advance their own agendas.
The conference comes while Israel faces increased pressure for their aggressive policies in Gaza and the West Bank. According to Haaretz and National Public Radio, Airbnb has removed its listings from Israeli settlements in the West Bank over the past months.
As per Reuters, Israel is also accused of war crimes committed in Gaza, specifically for killing 189 Palestinians and wounding over 6,100 in protests along the Arab territory’s border, beginning in March of 2018. Israeli Defense Forces are also accused of attacking these civilians when they did not pose an imminent threat to Israeli citizens or service members. Reuters also reports that Amnesty International declared that, “those responsible for these deplorable crimes must not go unpunished.”
The Israel International Mayor’s Conference is clearly not happening in a vacuum. The messages mayors send by choosing to attend or not amidst the controversies surrounding Israel and rising anti-Semitism are certainly of extreme importance. Everything is a political statement, and attending this conference, despite its positively opportunistic public image, is no different.