Council Nixes ‘Evenhanded’ Measure

Council Nixes ‘Evenhanded’ Measure

A resolution calling on the City Council to accept Palestinian statehood while acting as “facilitators of peace” was rejected by a committee Friday, ending a sometimes raucous round of Mideast politics at City Hall.
Initiated by Councilman Charles Barron of Brooklyn and cosponsored by five others — all of whom represent heavily African-American districts — the resolution called for an “evenhanded policy in the Middle East” and a halt to “the killing of innocent Palestinians and Israelis.” The Council should support both Israel’s right to exist in safety and security and the creation of a Palestinian state, the measure said.
The committee on Cultural Affairs, Libraries and International Intergroup Relations voted 3-2 to kill the resolution, preventing a vote before the full Council.
“Politics will not allow my colleagues to be morally courageous,” said Barron before the vote.
Barron said he was under no illusion that the measure would pass, and noted that a Council delegation that went to Israel last month, led by Speaker Gifford Miller, made no attempt to hear the Palestinian side of the conflict. He suggested some of those colleagues had calculated that supporting Palestinian rights would impede their bids for higher office.
“There’s a lot of pressure in New York when you want to say you want to see a Palestinian not killed,” said Barron, speaking from the chair normally occupied by Public Advocate Betsy Gotbaum, who presides over meetings of the full Council.
As Barron spoke, Councilman Simcha Felder of Borough Park — sitting just below Barron — held up a poster featuring a Palestinian child dressed in a mock suicide bomber costume. The poster read “Grow Up — Don’t Blow Up.”
Barron drafted his resolution in response to a spate of pro-Israel resolutions by Jewish Council members written as violence between Israelis and Palestinians worsened. During one hearing, Palestinian supporters engaged Zionists in a stormy debate more reminiscent of the United Nations General Assembly than the municipal Legislature.
But on the same day a diverse group of 12 Council members returned from their solidarity visit to Israel, the Cultural Affairs committee, and later the full Council, approved with a single vote a handful of resolutions condemning suicide bombers, calling for the closure of Palestinian offices here and condemning European anti-Semitism.
Miller refused to allow Barron’s measure to be included in that vote, and the Cultural Affairs committee — chaired by Jose Serrano Jr. of the Bronx — scheduled the vote for Friday.
Three other measures — calling for the recognition of Filipino American veterans, support for a Lutheran priest who was disciplined for taking part in an ecumenical 9-11 memorial service, and an end to Navy bombing on Vieques — were passed by the committee without debate.
Before the vote, Serrano said he opposed Barron’s measure because it was too late to say that the Council would not take sides in the Mideast debate.
“We have taken a stand already,” said Serrano, who took part in the Israel trip last month.
Standing on the steps of City Hall, Serrano told The Jewish Week he “believes in the sanctity and security of the State of Israel,” and that the resolution “flies in the face of everything I believe in … It draws an equivalence between two different styles, one of which I wholeheartedly disagree with, and that is terrorism.”
Opponents of the measure had claimed the “evenhanded” resolution, by calling for a halt to the killing of both Palestinians and Israelis, fails to make a distinction between those killed by Israel in the course of prevention of and retaliation for terrorism, and those murdered in bombings and other acts of violence directed at civilians.
“Nowhere in my resolution does it say that,” Barron insisted.
The full text of the resolution calls for “an evenhanded policy in the Middle East and a halt to the killings of innocent Palestinians and Israelis; calling upon the City Council to serve as facilitators of peace and not to appear to take sides in the conflict; recognizes that just as the Council supports Israel’s right to exist with safe and secure boundaries, so too must the Council support Palestinian self-determination and the creation of a Palestinian state; and emphatically states that only through dialogue and peaceful negotiation can these historic conflicts be resolved.”
The measure was cosponsored by Barron, Al Vann and Yvette Clarke of Brooklyn, Helen Foster and Larry Seabrook of the Bronx, and Phil Reed of Manhattan. Clarke, whose district includes Crown Heights, is the only member to support the measure who represents a large Jewish community. All six members are Democrats.
The American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee lobbied for the measure, calling on supporters to contact members of the Cultural Affairs committee to urge a yes vote.
But the group did not testify at the hearing, and only a single representative appeared to be present, distributing a background sheet to reporters.
“Previous resolutions on this issue have ignored the suffering and human rights of the Palestinians,” the background sheet charged.
Although Barron and Felder’s disagreement on the measure was apparent, they are known to have a cordial relationship, and Felder was seen informing Barron before the hearing of his plan to display the poster. The two then shook hands.
Earlier in the month Barron invited President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe to City Hall.
Notably, Barron did not call for an evenhanded approach to the volatile dispute with white farmers over land in that south African nation.

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