Alexandria Mayor Charles Beatley has finally received a reply to the letter he sent his counterpart in Dundee, Scotland, and that response may be more controversial than the issue that provoked it.
Dundee is the sister city of Alexandria. The Scottish town drew fire this summer from a group of local Jewish leaders when it acquired another sister -- the Palestinian city of Nablus, on the Israeli-occupied West Bank -- and began flying a flag alleged to be the symbol of the Palestine Liberation Organization in the Dundee city chambers.
In his letter, Dundee Lord Provost James Gowans acknowedged that the Nablus flag is the Palestine national flag, "which has been adopted by the PLO." He also wrote that while there has been graffiti, including swastikas, daubed on Dundee's buildings, not all of it has been anti-Semitic, and "there has been no direct intimidation of the Jewish community."
As far as Beatley is concerned, the relationship stays. "There's a limit to how much one city can go meddling around in another city's business," Beatley said. "I'd like to let the matter quietly fade."
But others aren't so sure.
"It's a very hypocritical letter," said Ed Levy, the director of the local office of the Anti-Defamation League. "There is a flavor of European anti-Semitism in it."
The controversy began last May when a small group of officials from the regional office of the Anti-Defamation League of B'Nai B'rith and Virginia State Del. Bernard S. Cohen (D-Alexandria) argued that Nablus was using Dundee as a public relations tool for the PLO.
Alexandria, the group argued, should end the association until Dundee's mayor, who had urged the tie with Nablus, took down the PLO flag. Beatley compromised and wrote Dundee asking for an explanation.
"He Gowans really misses the point," Cohen said yesterday. "He says that there was graffiti on public buildings all over Dundee. Somebody who doesn't understand the difference between painting a swastika on a synagogue and 'I love Judy' on a wall is obtuse."
"If the Jewish community wants us to disassociate," said Beatley, "they'll have to tell us that at city council."
Cohen isn't sure if the matter will get that far. "We wanted to make sure Alexandria wasn't abused . . . ." he said. "I think we've accomplished that."