Ashland Mayor’s Letter on Gaza Provokes War of Words at Council Meeting
Graham Letter on Gaza Provokes War of Words
By David Runkel
A letter drafted by Ashland Mayor Tonya Graham putting the City Council on record in favor of “a cessation of hostilities in Gaza” provoked a war of words at last night’s Council meeting.
Twenty six people spoke to the council and a standing-room-only crowd, many of whom turned out at the last minute after being alerted to the mayor’s draft yesterday afternoon.
Two-thirds of the speakers, including four who identified themselves as a rabbi, expressed outrage at the letter which they interpreted as calling for a cease fire, while the other third argued that the killing, which some termed genocide, must be stopped.
“Gaza started the war and Israel has a right to defend itself,” Rabbi Jackie Brodsky (Avi Zwlebul) told the councilors. “Gaza should surrender and release the hostages.” She urged that the draft letter not be approved by the Council and sent to Sen. Ron Wyden and Rep. Cliff Bentz as Graham proposed.
Other community Jewish members told Council that the letter should not go out on city letterhead because “it does not speak for me” or is “not in my name.”
Emily Simon urged Graham to send the letter as expressing her personal views, not those of the residents of Ashland. “Do it in your individual capacity, not officially. Mayor means something. Council means something.”
On the other side, Benjamin ben-Baruch, who identified himself as a Hebrew scholar, said he was “appalled” by some of the anti-letter comments made by community Jewish leaders. “They do not represent the majority of Jews. Genocide is taking place in Gaza,” he said.
Ryan Navickus, brother of former councilor Erie Navickus, urged Graham and the councilors to “put yourselves out there. There is unprecedented mass killing by Israel and our own government.”
After the hour of public comments, Graham asked the four councilors present – Gina DuQuenne, Eric Hansen, Paula Hyattt and Bob Kaplan – for their approval of the letter which she altered as a result of the testimony. No one moved to have the letter sent representing the city’s views but they were okay with her sending it on the Mayor’s stationery. They also praised those appearing for their courtesy to people with other views.
In defending the letter, Mayor Graham said it did not use the words “cease fire.” And, in addition to urging Wyden and Bentz to “do everything in your power to bring forward a cessation of hostilities” she asked them to work toward securing “release of all hostages and provide humanitarian aid necessary to ensure the survival of Palestinian civilians.”