Israel-Palestine War is the Subject of the Equity and Human Relations Commission

By Marshall Blesofsky

On November 1st, the Equity and Human Relations Commission (EHRC) discussed the impact of the Israel-Palestine War on human relations in the city of Long Beach. The commission was established in response to the social political upheaval stemming from the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and other People of Color killed by the police. Approved by the City Council in late 2021, the commission is part of the city’s response to the social unrest of the time, and the concern of the many residents of the City of Long Beach.

The main duty of the EHRC is, “To furnish the opportunity for the promotion and encouragement of positive human relations among community members, groups, and institutions and to consider, promote and develop programs for the reduction of tension, conflict, or violence which may arise from intolerance, prejudice and discrimination based upon race, religion, national origin, age, gender, sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability.”

Concerned for the Loss of Life

The chair of the commission, Eduardo Lara, a professor at California State University Long Beach, set the tone for the discussion. He said, “I stand firm ... that we protect one another against islamophobia and antisemitism and any form of discrimination.” He went on to say that we should all stand against human injustice. “We unequivocally condemn Hamas. And we also condemn the loss of life not only in Israel but in Palestine.”

Comments from the public were poignant. Sara Zaidi was eloquent in her comments, “Since October 7th, Representatives have rightfully condemned the killing of innocent civilians in Israel by Hamas. There have been countless calls for the immediate release of Israeli hostages held in Palestine, and legislation drafted to protect our Jewish community from antisemitism and hate. However, the world has witnessed a deafening silence from our local state and federal representatives regarding the killing of 8000 plus, and counting, innocent Palestinian civilians – half of whom were children – by the Israeli government, generously funded by U.S. government taxpayers.”

Demanding An End to Violence

Other speakers included Tarek Mohammed, the imam from the Long Beach Islamic Center who said, “The children of Palestine have no right to even dream like you and I. The Palestinian people are not terrorist people, they are fighting for their own land.” James Suazo is the executive director of Long Beach Forward, an advocacy group for low-income People of Color in Long Beach. He congratulated the EHRC for taking up this issue. He read from Long Beach Forward’s statement, “We call specifically on our US Representative Robert Garcia to sign onto a ceasefire now resolution and demand an end to violence in Israel and occupied Palestine.”

‘Watching Genocide from Our Own Social Media’

Shirin Senegal, a Palestinian refugee, spoke passionately about her experiences crossing Gaza as a child, with weapons pointed at her and her family. She said “Almost 5,000 of our children have been slaughtered. This is not complicated. Brothers and sisters, we are watching genocide from our social media, and we’re debating whether we should have a discussion on how to not offend our Jewish brothers and sisters? Antisemitism means that we do not like Jewish people because they’re Jewish. It does not mean we cannot criticize the Zionist government that is built on the backs and blood of Palestinians.”

After the public comment, commissioner Alicia Gutierrez who is Jewish, whose ancestors fled violence and oppression in Russia, and whose mother is both Black and Jewish, talked about the indiscriminate bombing of innocent Palestinian children. She said “I also want to say I’m sorry for all the families who lost loved ones on October 7th. I am horrified that there are still hostages being kept away from their families. I grieve the loss of safety that many of my Jewish brothers and sisters, and Muslim brothers and sisters are feeling right now.”

House Resolution 786

Ms. Gutierrez put forward a motion to ask our City Council to urge our Congressional Representatives, Robert Garcia and Nanette Barragan, to sign-on to Resolution HR 786 to demand an end to the violence in Israel and occupied Palestine immediately and allow humanitarian and medical supplies into Gaza.

Other commissioners recommended City Council identify local programs and services that desecrate islamophobia and antisemitism. And finally, commissioners recommended that City Council condemn all forms of hate, violence, apartheid, xenophobia, colonialism, genocide, and mass ethnic cleansing.

The Equity and Human Relations Commission will be translating their position into a letter, and their recommendations will be sent to the City Manager. The City Manager will then draft a memo to the City Council, and it will be up to the City Council to decide whether or not to agendize this issue. In our form of city government, the City Manager, Tom Modica, has a huge amount of discretion in sending recommendations to City Council from citizen advisory bodies.

EHRC Acting as Moral Compass

Many city, state, and national officials are making statements in favor of Israel, or are choosing to look the other way. They are willingly supporting, or blatantly ignoring the atrocities committed by the Israeli government, using U.S. taxpayer money. This includes our own Mayor, Rex Richardson, who has taken the side of supporting the government of Israel. Hopefully, the brave commissioners of the EHRC, and members of the public can bring this issue to the attention of the policy-makers in our city. Robert Garcia and Nanette Barragán need to hear from their constituents.

The recent censure of Rashida Tlaib, the only Palestinian member of Congress, demonstrates a violation of free speech and the fragility of our democracy. If this call for a ceasefire ever comes before City Council, there will be differing opinions and heightened emotions. We need to respect each other and listen carefully to each other. In the words of Jewish Voice for Peace, “We envision a world where all people – from the U.S. to Palestine – live in freedom, justice, equality, and dignity.”

 

Marshall Blesofsky is a long-time peace and social justice activist. He is a member of Long Beach Area Peace Network and Jewish Voice for Peace. The views expressed in this article do not represent the views of either organization, only those of the author.

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