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City council passes Gaza ceasefire resolution, condemns antisemitic speech from public comment

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Editor’s Note: This story includes mention of potentially triggering situations, such as antisemitism and hate speech. 

The Bloomington City Council joined more than 70 cities across the country in calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas War. The council unanimously passed a resolution urging national leaders to work towards a ceasefire and provide more aid in the war. Later in the meeting the council condemned antisemitic and racist speech that occurred during public comment. 

The council’s vote comes after more than a month of conflicting pressure from residents regarding a ceasefire resolution. For the past three council meetings, public commenters have asked the council to introduce and pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire in the war, which began after Hamas killed about 1,200 people in Israel during their Oct. 7 attack. In response to this attack, Israel launched a ground offensive and airstrike campaign in Gaza, killing more than 32,000 Palestinians in Gaza and displacing 80% of Gaza’s population.  

However, other residents have urged the council to abstain from introducing any resolution, arguing the council should use its time and resources to address other local issues. The debate among public commenters at the council’s previous three meetings turned contentious at times, and Wednesday’s meeting was no exception.  

During public comment on the resolution, many community members said the legislation was inflammatory and divisive, while others said it did not go far enough to address the humanitarian crisis in Gaza.  

The resolution, sponsored by councilmembers Isabel Piedmont-Smith and Dave Rollo, asks national leaders to work toward a bilaterial ceasefire to allow more humanitarian aid in the war. It condemns Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israeli civilians and opposes “all violence that leads to the loss of innocent civilian lives and ongoing human suffering in both Palestine and Israel.” The resolution also calls for a “lasting” ceasefire and a “sustainable, peaceful solution to the conflict between Palestinians and the State of Israel.” 

Additionally, the resolution calls for the immediate release of all hostages taken by Hamas during their attack. Hamas took around 250 hostages Oct. 7 and has since released around 110 hostages. 

While the resolution condemns Hamas’ attack, it does not include a clause stating Hamas should be disarmed, a clause some community members wanted the council to include. The legislation also does not include the word “genocide” referring to the Israeli military’s campaign — another classification heavily debated during past council meetings. 

The International Court of Justice issued a preliminary ruling in January stating there was “plausible” evidence Israel was violating portions of the 1948 Genocide Convention. While the court ordered Israel to increase aid in Gaza and prevent acts of genocide, it did not order a ceasefire in the war. However, Israeli officials rejected these allegations and argued representatives from South Africa, who brought the case to the court, were “weaponizing” the international convention against genocide. 

The resolution directs City Clerk Nicole Bolden to send a copy of the legislation to the Indiana Congressional delegation and President Joe Biden.  

President Biden told Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu Thursday that future U.S. support for the war will depend on Israel taking steps to protect civilians and aid workers. According to the Associated Press, Biden urged the Israeli leader to reach an immediate ceasefire “without delay.”  

In a memo to the rest of the council, Piedmont-Smith and Rollo said they focused the resolution on humanitarian concerns instead of military or political causes.  

“We do not presume to know how to resolve the complicated, nuanced, long-standing conflict between the State of Israel and the Palestinian people,” they wrote. “What we intend is to speak out against the intolerable cruelty of children dying of hunger, women subjected to surgery without anesthetic and Gazans of all ages stricken by preventable disease due to unsafe drinking water.”  

Before the first public comment section, councilmember Sydney Zulich, the only Jewish member of the council, urged members of the public to be careful of using harmful language conflating being Jewish with supporting Israel’s actions. She also said there were comments at the March 27 public comment section equally hurtful to Palestinians.  

Councilmember Hopi Stosberg said she was disappointed with the behavior of audience members during the March 27 council last meeting, where some audience members booed and shouted “shame” at a speaker who said the council should avoid using “inflammatory language” and that claims Israel is committing genocide are unfounded. She said making noise while someone is at the podium means the council cannot hear what the speaker is trying to say.  

In response to Stosberg’s request that audience members not boo, clap or yell during public comment, one public commenter said it was the duty of those in the audience to boo to express their opposition to racism and hate.  

During the first public comment section, where members of the public can comment on issues not on the council’s agenda, several speakers on Zoom used racist and antisemitic rhetoric. Two speakers concluded their statements with “Hail Hitler.”  

During the public comment section on the ceasefire resolution later in the meeting, another speaker made antisemitic statements, including claims that Jewish people control media and government. 

Zulich pointed out that most of the antisemitic, anti-Palestinian and racist hate speech occurred over Zoom.  

“It’s easy to spew that kind of rhetoric without looking any of us in the eye,” Zulich said.  

Bloomington Mayor Kerry Thomson took to the podium, fighting back tears, to address these comments. She said she was disappointed and shocked by the comments and condemned the hate speech. She urged Bloomington residents to stand up to hate speech and threats.  

“You do not need to say something perfectly,” Thomson said. “Just stand up and say something.”  

At the council's meeting March 27, Thomson said she would not sign any resolutions addressing issues outside of city business. While she said this during the council’s debate on a resolution opposing a state-sponsored water pipeline, Deputy Mayor Gretchen Knapp confirmed to the Indiana Daily Student last week her statements also applied to the ceasefire resolution.  

Indiana Code requires Thomson to sign or veto resolutions that come to her desk. If she fails to sign the resolution, it is considered vetoed and would return to the council for another vote. Six of the nine councilmembers must vote to override her veto.  

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