Surfside mayor proposes ‘sister city’ pact with Israeli settlements in West Bank

·3 min read

Surfside Mayor Shlomo Danzinger is proposing that the small beach town that was rocked last year by the Champlain Towers South collapse establish a “sister city” relationship with a region consisting of Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

Danzinger placed a resolution on the Town Commission’s Sept. 28 meeting agenda recommending that Surfside enter into a partnership with the region of Shomron — which includes about three dozen Israeli settlements in the northern West Bank — and honor Shomron Regional Council Chairman Yossi Dagan with a ceremonial key to the town.

In explaining the proposal, Danzinger, who was elected as Surfside’s first Orthodox Jewish mayor in March, suggested the sister city agreement would allow Surfside to “show our appreciation and support to the people and the state of Israel” in light of an Israeli search and rescue team’s efforts after the building collapse that killed 98 people last June.

“In this gesture, the Town of Surfside can show its appreciation to Israel, who was here for us in our darkest hour,” Danzinger’s resolution reads.

Sister city relationships can involve cultural exchanges and visits by elected leaders, though they are often largely symbolic. Still, Danzinger’s proposal drew concern from local activists after it became public Wednesday.

Israeli settlements, defined as communities of Israeli citizens built in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories of the West Bank and Gaza, are highly controversial and considered illegal under international law, which Israel’s government disputes.

“The settlements in the territories are a controversial topic even in Israel,” said Eliana Salzhauer, a former Surfside commissioner who is Jewish and whose father was Israeli. “For Surfside to suddenly impose its own view on it, or to take a side or declare solidarity, I don’t see how that’s appropriate.”

Asked if his proposal may be divisive among residents with differing views, Danzinger said there is “nothing controversial about standing with Israel.”

“I am representing my constituents by taking steps to further enhance our relationship with one of America’s closest allies in the world,” he said.

Danzinger’s resolution notes that Israeli citizens in the Shomron region have been victims of attacks by Palestinians, suggesting Surfside residents can relate to their situation.

“Israelis living in Shomron have remained strong because of their resiliency and the region continues to flourish,” Danzinger told the Miami Herald in an email. “This is something that we can understand after the devastating collapse in Surfside.”

A member of the Israeli search-and-rescue team salutes during a prayer ceremony in front of the rubble left by the collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside.
A member of the Israeli search-and-rescue team salutes during a prayer ceremony in front of the rubble left by the collapse of Champlain Towers South in Surfside.

Danzinger said he met with Dagan when the Shomron council chairman paid a recent visit to Miami. The mayor said he had already been hoping to partner with a city in Israel after the Champlain rescue efforts, and that “the idea just clicked” as he was speaking with Dagan.

“I could have easily chosen a city in Israel with a beach or something more touristy, but this connection has real substance,” Danzinger said.

Surfside wouldn’t be the first local government to enter into a sister city agreement with the Shomron Regional Council. Nassau County, located on the western part of Long Island, New York, signed a similar agreement earlier this year, six years after the county’s largest town, Hempstead, had done the same.

Surfside has a large Orthodox Jewish population and is home to several synagogues, including The Shul and Young Israel.

The town became the subject of controversy in June when Danzinger and other elected officials voted not to fly an LGBTQ Pride flag at Town Hall, citing concerns about possibly being forced to fly other flags requested by outside groups.

Danzinger said in June that he was reluctant to have the town make symbolic gestures for causes that don’t relate to town business.