ISRAEL AT WAR - DAY 148

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From Mideast to Midwest'Debate over resolution has fanned flames of antisemitism'

Chicago adopts Gaza ceasefire resolution after mayor casts tie-breaking vote

Democrat Brandon Johnson splits with party leader Biden, making Chicago the largest US city to pass symbolic measure that also calls for hostages’ release but doesn’t condemn Hamas

Jacob Magid is The Times of Israel's US bureau chief

The Chicago City Council debates a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza on January 31, 2024. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)
The Chicago City Council debates a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza on January 31, 2024. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

CHICAGO — The Chicago City Council on Wednesday narrowly adopted a resolution calling for ceasefire in Gaza, becoming the largest municipal body in the US to pass such a measure.

The council was split with 23 votes in favor and 23 against, leading Democratic Mayor Brandon Johnson to cast a tie-breaking vote in support of the resolution.

The motion is completely symbolic, but its advocates say it sends a message to the Biden administration from one of the most prominent, Democratic-majority cities in the US and host of the Democratic National Convention this summer. The White House has pushed back against such calls for an immediate, permanent ceasefire in favor of extended humanitarian pauses during which hostages held by Hamas can be released.

The nearly four-hour debate on the resolution was heated, with several hundred pro-Palestinian activists — many wearing keffiyeh scarves — sitting in the audience and shouting down speakers against the resolution, leading Johnson to clear the ground-floor gallery mid-way through.

Several dozen activists were allowed to remain in the glass-covered, upper-level gallery for the remainder of the hearing, and they erupted in cheers after Johnson cast his tie-breaking vote.

The city council resolution was modeled after the measure adopted by the United Nations General Assembly last month, which also has had no tangible impact in bringing about a ceasefire, but has been used by advocates to argue that support for the measure is widespread.

Chicago Mayor Brandon Johnson delivers his inaugural address after taking the oath of office, May 15, 2023, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast, File)

Nearly 50 other city councils across the US have passed resolutions calling for a ceasefire in the Gaza Strip. Another of them was Minneapolis, where Mayor Jacob Frey vetoed the resolution on Wednesday, though the city council there still has the votes to override his veto.

In addition to urging an immediate ceasefire in Gaza, the Chicago City Council resolution also calls for the unconditional release of the hostages, the entry of humanitarian aid into the Strip and “the creation of plans to protect civilian populations in the region.”

The measure also highlights that the Chicago metropolitan area is home to the largest Palestinian population in the US and the fifth-largest Jewish population in the world, seemingly implying that its backers believed their constituents wanted the council to weigh in on the war in the Middle East.

Some 1,200 Israelis, mostly civilians, were brutally murdered when thousands of terrorists led by Hamas burst through the border and infiltrated dozens of towns on October 7, dragging 253 people back into Gaza as hostages.

The IDF subsequently launched a massive offensive aimed at removing Hamas from power, which has resulted in the deaths of nearly 27,000 Palestinians, according to Gaza’s Hamas-run health ministry. This figure cannot be independently verified and is believed to include roughly 10,000 Hamas terrorists Israel says it has killed in battle. Israel also says it killed some 1,000 gunmen inside Israel on October 7.

Before Wednesday’s hearing began, chants of “ceasefire now” echoed throughout the chamber, and several pro-Palestinian activists could be heard shouting, “Deb, are you cleaning war crimes out of your desk? Are you using all the Zionist money?”

The tropes were directed at Debra Silverstein, the city council’s only Jewish member, who led the legislative effort against the resolution passed Wednesday.

Jane Charney, who serves as assistant vice president for local government affairs at the Jewish United Fund of Metropolitan Chicago, said the debate around the resolution “has fanned the flames of antisemitism” in the city.

“We have seen a Chicago in which antisemitic tropes are taken for truths; the binaries of oppressor-oppressed have become the key talking point; and Jews are harassed, our businesses and institutions are vandalized and our heritage is denied and denigrated,” Charney told The Times of Israel.

Toward the beginning of the session, Johnson welcomed civil rights leader Rev. Jesse Jackson, who was on site advocating in favor of the resolution.

Next, the floor was opened to the public to weigh in on the resolution, with a majority of the roughly dozen community members speaking in favor.

One of the lone individuals to voice opposition was Pam Scheinman, who detailed the atrocities committed by Hamas on October 7 and read passages of the terror group’s charter as the largely pro-Palestinian audience shouted “liar” and “ceasefire now.”

Johnson warned the activists against continued outbursts, but lost his patience when the interruptions continued during remarks by council members.

The heckling intensified during Silverstein’s remarks, with one member of the audience shouting, “Wadea was killed because of your lies,” — a reference to the six-year-old Palestinian American boy who was killed last year in a Chicago suburb in what authorities say was an anti-Palestinian hate crime.

Pam Scheinman addresses a Chicago City Council hearing on a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza on January 31, 2024. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Shortly thereafter, Johnson ordered that the main chamber be cleared of members of the public.

When Silverstein resumed speaking, she chastised the mayor for failing to broker a compromise on the resolution.

“He could have stepped in and been a unifier, which he didn’t do by taking a position on this,” Silverstein told The Times of Israel after the vote.

The council member said she would have been prepared to back a ceasefire resolution if it had included a condemnation of Hamas, a call for the terror group to disarm and did not mirror the UNGA initiative that the US government opposed.

Silverstein said she tried to engage with Johnson’s office on this but never received a response and suggested that the mayor pressured alderpeople to ensure that the resolution was adopted. Johnson’s office did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the allegation.

Speaking after Silverstein was Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez, who passed out fliers ahead of the hearing questioning The New York Times reporting on the systematic sexual assault that took place during the October 7 onslaught.

Pro-Palestinian activists line up to enter Chicago City Hall for a meeting on a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza on January 31, 2024. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

“Allegations are being presented as facts. Propaganda is being presented as evidence,” Lopez said in his remarks, citing reporting from the Greyzone, a far-left new site that has been regularly accused of espousing conspiracy theories.

Explaining his decision to support the resolution, Ald. James Gardner recalled an experience backpacking in the Arab world and being driven by a hospitable farmer.

“I remember as I left him saying ‘al-hamdulillah,'” Gardner said, referring to the Arabic phrase that means “praise God.”

“Praise God in the best of times, but most importantly in the worst of times,” Gardner continued.

He went on to suggest that he was influenced to support the resolution in order to provide a voice to communities that aren’t represented on the city council

“We are blessed to have Ald. Silverstein be a representative for the Jewish community… I don’t know if we’ve ever had a Muslim person on the city council. We definitely haven’t had a Palestinian member in the city council, and I think it’s very important to let people in that community know that even though you are not physically represented on this floor, there are people who hear your voices,” Gardner said.

Other supporters of the resolution made more nuanced arguments, with Ald. Nicole Lee acknowledging that she didn’t back all of the resolution’s language and saying she watched the JUF’s screening of the IDF’s compilation of footage from the October 7 attacks before making up her mind.

“I’ve never seen hate like that in my entire life. The footage was harrowing, and it’s going to stay with me for the rest of my days.”

“[But] the question I could not stop asking myself during that viewing was ‘How will this end? How will we interrupt this cycle of violence and enter a path forward toward sustainable and just peace in that region so that nothing like this ever happens again, so that Jews all over the world can be safe and protected once and for all?” Lee continued. “I believe that a durable peace begins with a ceasefire.”

Pro-Palestinian activists celebrate after a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza passes the Chicago City Council on January 31, 2024. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Some council members explained that they supported a ceasefire in principle but could not support the resolution presented on Wednesday.

The initiative “has become a flashpoint for division,” Ald. Tim Knudsen said, adding that while the resolution itself didn’t cause the uptick in antisemitism seen in his ward, “the way in which these conversations have continually been conducted have left many feeling unsafe and alienated.”

Donning a pin with the flags of the US and Israel, Ald. Nicholas Sposato was more blunt in his opposition to the measure. “I don’t think us passing a resolution is going to change the mind of Netanyahu or Ismail Hanayayah (sic)… or whatever his name, the leader of Hamas,” he said referring to Haniyeh.

Speaking to reporters after the vote, the resolution’s sponsor Ald. Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez argued the measure is in line with where a majority of Democrats stand on the issue.

“The president has to get with the program. He needs to understand that this is what voters want,” she said.

Rodriguez-Sanchez acknowledged that the impact of the resolution might be limited. “But we also know that what we say here in Chicago, that taking this on as a council also legitimizes the struggle of people who are desperate to see the bombing stopped.”

Pro-Palestinian activists protest outside Chicago City Hall on January 31, 2024. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

Even though the resolution passed, the Israeli Consul General to the Midwest Yinam Cohen asserted it was a “major failure for the progressive camp, which for weeks engaged in a public pressure campaign that included threatening public officials to support the resolution.”

“I’m happy to see that common sense won the day and that the council showed that it is completely divided on this issue,” Cohen said, while lamenting Johnson’s decision to push the measure through. “He should’ve worked to build a consensus, rather than support this divisive resolution.”

Outside the City Council building, several hundred pro-Palestinian activists gathered for a rally celebrating the decision.

Pro-Palestinian activists protest outside Chicago City Hall on January 31, 2024. (Jacob Magid/Times of Israel)

At least two waved Palestinian flags featuring a photo of Hamas’s spokesman.

Demonstrators chanted, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” which critics say amounts to urging the destruction of Israel.

“Black liberation is not possible without Palestinian liberation,” one of the speakers shouted amid cheers from the crowd.

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