A routine Los Angeles City Hall meeting Wednesday showed how volatile Middle East politics can erupt in unexpected places and around the most seemingly mundane of issues — awarding a shuttle bus contract.
The five-year, $160-million agreement involved operating part of Los Angeles' popular DASH shuttle bus service.
A coalition of groups showed up at a rally and City Council transportation committee session to loudly denounce the recommended contractor, Veolia Transportation, a subsidiary of an international firm they say is responsible for discrimination against Palestinians. Veolia currently operates a number of DASH routes under a contract that expires next month.
"Veolia carries thousands of Angelenos to and from work and other destinations every day.... At the same time, Veolia has built and currently operates a transit system that is a lifeline for maintaining the Israeli occupation of Palestine," Eric Romann, an organizer with the Dump Veolia L.A. coalition, told about 30 supporters outside City Hall.
"As long as Veolia buses and trains carry Israelis between East Jerusalem and illegal settlements in the occupied West Bank, no Veolia bus should run down Temple, Spring, Grand, Crenshaw, Vermont or any other street here in L.A.," Romann said. He later said Veolia has been complicit in what he claims is Israel's violation of international law.
Judith Pardonnet, a representative of the firm, later said Veolia is a victim of false accusations by critics with "a very strong anti-Israel position."
The protesters were met at the hearing by an array of opponents and Veolia allies, including leaders of a Teamsters' union local that represents shuttle drivers, a Veolia lobbyist from a prominent Los Angeles firm, and several members of The Jewish Federation of Greater Los Angeles, who attacked the anti-Veolia coalition.
Federation members read a letter to the council panel expressing strong opposition to efforts to link the DASH contract to the Arab-Israeli conflict.
The letter said the anti-Veolia protesters are affiliated with a global movement to boycott Israeli business interests and "to isolate and delegitimize the State of Israel."
"Attacking Israel's legitimacy is contesting its very right to exist as a Jewish state," the letter read.
The Dump Veolia L.A. coalition found little support among lawmakers on the panel, including council members Tom LaBonge, Jose Huizar and Paul Koretz.
"It's no secret that I'm a supporter of Israel, but that's not before us," Koretz said.
The committee endorsed the Veolia contract and sent the matter to the full City Council for a later vote. Dump Veolia L.A. coalition members said they'll be at that meeting as well.