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Whitaker: A different take

The homelessness task force and Ms. Ridpath perpetutate the self-delusions that have hog-tied Montpelier for years from making any real progress on these urgent, humanitarian and human rights issues.

A disingenuous expression of concern and the need for a compassionate response is evidenced more as a thinly veiled fear and contempt, resulting in arbitrary camping disallowed zones along the river and riverside parks and self-granting of permissions to intrusions by the “poop police” or prejudging every case of warranted camp invasion to be a mental health situation.

The false and erroneous statement, “all were moved to hotels,” is the basis for the same rationale that Montpelier, Berlin and Barre City like to pretend Good Samaritan Haven has it all managed, under control and in a manner where no city oversight is needed or allowed as they are not subject to public records laws despite the massive public funding. This necessary transparency should be a condition on funding.

The “Homelessness Task Force” has had two years to arrange lockers for secure day storage or personal effects, phone charging locations, showers, toilets and privacy protections for sensitive personal information scooped up into the state Homeless Management Information System, hosted in software developed in Iowa, with the data stored in Louisiana! What could possibly go wrong? They have accomplished none of this after two years.

Nor, as Ms. Ridpath writes, were all the concerning issues with the camping obstruction policy heard at the meeting held last Wednesday. Many were acknowledged by the chair, Ken Russell, as important and needing further examination and discussion, but that never happened before the rushed vote, motion made by Good Sam director Rich DeAngeles after sending a private text prior to the chair attempting to limit public input on the specifics. It was made public.

Similarly, the facilities issues of toilets and showers, which the Wednesday special meeting was specifically called to address, and which must be the foundation for a rational camping policy, were never discussed at all.

Ms. Ridpath’s comments reveal the underlying motivation and charade of the policy, and it has nothing to do with compassionate care of the unhoused individuals. It is to treat not the humans, but their possessions with dignity and care.

This policy is nothing more than a Cover Your Arse measure to attempt to minimize the chance of the city being sued. It is also designed to prevent or bluff potential campers into believing they have no rights under the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals decision to use of the most convenient and desirable campsites.

Campsites deemed abandoned or in a disallowed area may well be treated with dignity and care, just as Casey’s was gathered wet last year, stuffed in plastic bags and tossed in a dumpster by the Parks Department. That is more accurately this fair city’s expression of dignity and care for which no one has yet taken full responsibility and made Casey whole.

Nothing will change and no realistic plan for homeless support will be crafted until the vested interests and those carrying water for the disingenuous City Hall agenda are exposed and no longer manipulating the discussion in favor of status quo.

Stephen Whitaker lives in Montpelier.

Chilly response

Since news broke earlier this week that Ben & Jerry’s is going to stop selling its ice cream in Israeli-occupied territories, Vermont readers and leaders around the globe seem to be giving the company a very chilly reception.

Included in the strong reaction is Israel’s prime minister, Naftali Bennett, who vowed this week to “act aggressively” against the decision. The move gives a boost to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement which celebrated the news. The group Palestine Solidarity Campaign, a major BDS proponent, called it “huge” adding, “The tide of history is turning.”

Bennett’s office says it spoke with the chief executive of Ben & Jerry’s parent company, Unilever, and raised concern about what Bennett called a “clearly anti-Israel step.” He said the move would have “serious consequences, legal and otherwise,” and Israel “will act aggressively against all boycott actions directed against its citizens.”

The State Department noted the U.S. rejects the boycott movement against Israel, saying it “unfairly singles out” the country.

In Monday’s announcement, Ben & Jerry’s said it would stop selling ice cream in the occupied West Bank and contested east Jerusalem. The company, known for its social activism, said such sales were “inconsistent with our values.”

The statement was one of the strongest rebukes by a high-profile company of Israel’s settlement policies in the West Bank and east Jerusalem, which it has controlled for more than a half-century after capturing them in the 1967 Mideast war. The Palestinians, with broad international support, claim both areas as parts of a future independent state. Israeli settlements, now home to some 700,000 Israelis, are widely seen as illegal and obstacles to peace.

Israel annexed east Jerusalem after the 1967 war and considers the entire city its undivided capital, though the annexation is not internationally recognized. It says the West Bank is disputed territory and says its final status should be resolved in negotiations. The international community, however, widely considers both areas to be occupied territory.

In response, Israel’s ambassador to the United Nations and the United States, Gilad Erdan, sent letters to 35 governors whose states have laws against boycotting Israel asking that they consider speaking out against Ben & Jerry’s decision “and taking any other relevant steps, including in relation to your state laws and the commercial dealings between Ben & Jerry’s and your state.” (Vermont does not have anti-BDS laws in place. They do include Florida, Illinois, New York, New Jersey, California, Maryland and Texas.)

Erdan said Israel views the company’s decision as “the de-facto adoption of antisemitic practices and advancement of the de-legitimization of the Jewish state and the dehumanization of the Jewish people.”

That was the take from several letter-writers and commenters that reached out to The Times Argus and Rutland Herald. Ben & Jerry’s largest Vermont-based operation is located in Waterbury, just north of Montpelier.

The high-stakes battle comes against the backdrop of shifting U.S. attitudes toward Israel. Where Israel once enjoyed solid bipartisan support in the U.S., the country has turned into a divisive issue in recent years, with Republicans strongly supporting it and Democrats, especially young liberal voters, increasingly supporting the Palestinians. Several factors have fueled this trend, including former Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu’s close alliance with former President Donald Trump.

Pennsylvania state Rep. Aaron Kaufer, a Republican from Luzerne, said he spoke to the Israeli consulate and has called on state officials to invoke anti-BDS law. “Ben & Jerry’s is stoking the flames of antisemitism when they say ‘we’re not going to serve Jewish people in these areas,’” Kaufer said. “While Ben & Jerry’s surrendered to a continuous and aggressive campaign from extreme anti-Jewish and anti-Israel groups, doesn’t mean we should condone it. We must work together, enforce the law and stand with Israel.”

Obviously, this decision was not made in a vacuum. And the company, known for its social justice causes, knew what it was doing. This week’s backlash would suggest that global politics do not always make for good comfort food.