CHICAGO: Pro-Israel members of the Chicago City Council on Wednesday introduced and approved a resolution commemorating the Holocaust and argued that another resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza was “inappropriate” and should be delayed.
Although Chicago City Council resolutions have no direct impact on foreign relations and policies, and are not laws, they do convey a moral expression on major public issues.
The Holocaust resolution, introduced by the council’s only Jewish member, Alderwoman Debra Silverstein (50th Ward), commemorates the 79th year since the liberation of the Auschwitz Nazi concentration camp. The 50th Ward has the largest concentration of Jewish Americans, she said.
Silverstein cited “sensitivity concerns” and convinced other council members to delay the Gaza ceasefire resolution as the two together would be “inappropriate.” The ceasefire resolution was introduced many weeks before the Holocaust resolution by Alderwoman Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez from the 33rd Ward which has a large Arab and Muslim population.
Pro-Palestine activists filled the council’s audience chamber and complained loudly during the meeting when Silverstein asserted that the rise in antisemitism was related to events in Gaza, and they were admonished to remain silent.
Despite the decision to delay the ceasefire resolution until next week’s Jan. 31 council meeting, several city officials including Mayor Brandon Johnson expressed support for both.
“I condemn the actions of Hamas, but at this point now we are looking at 25,000 Palestinians being killed during this war and the killing has to stop. So, yes, we need a ceasefire,” said Johnson, who is African American.
“But I can say from a very personal note I know that for black liberation that we have had to make statements that maybe not in the media that had an impact. But I am not mayor of the city of Chicago if people weren’t pushing the government to recognize people’s humanity and understand the value of what liberation, what it means for people, groups and nations. And so, in this instance, people should be liberated. And I hope that other people follow suit if the city council is in agreement with my particular position.”
Samir Khalil, the Palestinian founder of the Arab American Illinois Political Coalition (formerly the Arab American Democratic Club of Illinois), praised Johnson’s courage to “speak truth to justice” and to “not be afraid of the political pressure and lobbying we see in the heavily one-sided debate” in the mainstream news media.
“How does the Holocaust not have anything to do with urging an end to the killing of civilians in the Gaza Strip? The Holocaust was a great tragedy for the Jewish people involving the murder of Jewish civilians. The ceasefire would address a similar concern, that non-Jewish civilians have a right to life, and that their killing needs to stop,” said Khalil, adding that attempts by Silverstein to suggest the Gaza crisis was a part cause of “rising antisemitism” was “inappropriate.”
“Both resolutions could have and should have been passed together with the same message to protect the innocent.”
The Arab political organization has been vociferous for the past 40 years, founded with the support of leading African-American politicians. It has temporarily changed its name to protest President Joe Biden’s “failure” to prevent the massacre of Palestinian civilians. And his support through $14.3 billion in funds and providing munitions, bombs and missiles to Israel which is attacking civilian areas of the Gaza Strip.
Khalil noted some 15,000 Arab Americans including Palestinians, served in the US military during the Second World War fighting against the Nazis.
During the meeting pro-Palestinian members of the audience who expressed anger that the ceasefire resolution had been shelved to make way only for the consideration of the Holocaust resolution, were repeatedly told to be silent during the discussion by several council members.
In the face of those rebukes, several council members spoke out on the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza and criticized those who reprimanded pro-Palestine protestors who expressed anger when Silverstein suggested the Gaza war was fueling rising antisemitism.
Wearing a black-and-white Palestinian keffiyeh around his shoulders, Alderman Byron Sigcho-Lopez, 25th Ward, said he supported the Holocaust resolution but stressed he also supported the rights of Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Sigcho-Lopez criticized “the behavior of some members of the council” who appeared to suppress the concerns of Palestinians in the audience.
“When such atrocities and war crimes are committed, I do think that some members of the council should have more empathy, and more respect, and more focus on the history of the facts before making such remarks, especially when we see members of the audience who have seen family members killed, brutalized.
“So I wonder what is the decorum when we are watching genocide in front of us as it has happened in the past, so that it doesn’t happen in the future, and it doesn’t happen now,” said Sigcho-Lopez, who added some council members should have more empathy for the killings taking place today in the Gaza Strip.
“So today, to all our city council members, I hope we remember today, and the same words that have been used, to prevent atrocities, to prevent another Holocaust, to prevent genocide. It is not antisemitic to stand up for human rights, to remember what has happened in the past so we are not seeing these kind of comments in asking for decorum for the same behavior of some of the members of the council. It is appalling.
“So today, I not only rise in support of this resolution, but also making sure that some of the same members of the council who are talking about what has happened in the past that we don’t miss every step to prevent another atrocities just like the Holocaust and the thousands and millions of people who lost their lives ... so we honor them and remember them and so it doesn’t happen nowhere.”
If the ceasefire resolution is approved next week, Chicago would be the largest city in America to adopt such a resolution. Chicago is America’s third-largest city.
Similar ceasefire resolutions have been adopted by many municipalities around the country, but not in the nation’s two largest cities, New York and Los Angele