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County commission won't take action on Israeli bus debate

The Sonoma County Human Rights Commission has refused to take actions called for by activists for Palestinian rights, who say the company that runs Sonoma County Transit buses is complicit in human rights violations by Israel.

The North Coast Coalition for Palestine this week lobbied commissioners to recommend that the county board of supervisors investigate whether Veolia Transportation violates international law by operating bus routes from Israel to Israeli settlements in the occupied West Bank.

The coalition wants the county to end its $7.35 million annual contract with Veolia when it comes up for renewal in 2014.

Commissioners differed about whether the matter was within their purview and, after a 4? hour meeting, voted 5-4 not to create a committee to examine that question further.

"I do not believe this is within the jurisdiction of the commission," said chairwoman Judy Rice, who, when the commissioners deadlocked 4-4, cast the tiebreaking vote.

Gail Jonas, the commissioner who moved that the committee be created, said Thursday the jurisdictional issue was not clear cut. "Even if it's ambiguous, the committee could resolve it by saying there's sufficient leeway. And I think there is."

She said she sympathizes with coalition aims.

"Veolia provides essential services to the illegal settlements and assists in their ability to continue to be there. I've done my own homework on that," she said.

Chicago-based Veolia, the subsidiary of a French conglomerate, issued a statement Thursday saying the "hearing was very important to unmask the true, anti-Israel intentions of the Boycott, Divest, Sanctions movement," known as BDS.

The North Coast coalition is aligned with BDS, which campaigns to isolate Israel economically to force it to change its policies toward Palestinians.

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