A MOTION passed by Yarra City Council last week has provoked further division in the community as council members commit their support to Palestine – leaving Jewish and Israeli constituents feeling ostracised.
The original motion, shared by Independent Socialist Councillor Stephen Jolly on Facebook, accused Israel of using “genocidal tactics” and referred to “the one-sided nature of the violence against Palestinians, including military actions, missile attacks and street lynchings”.
The motion was amended by Greens council members before the general meeting on Tuesday last week, but any mention of the violence perpetrated by Hamas or the Israeli victims of the conflict still remained absent.
Before noting that “Yarra is home to many diverse residents,” the motion states, “We express solidarity with Yarra-based Palestinians,” making no mention of Jewish or Israeli constituents that may have been affected by the recent conflict. Continuing, the motion explains that the Israeli “occupation” of Palestine “makes it impossible for Palestinians and Israelis to ever live in peace and security”.
At the meeting, three members of the public spoke, all opposing the motion, including Sasha Beitner, who told the council that it had “caused significant distress, unrest and concern for myself and my family”.
“It is simply biased,” she added. It has caused “unnecessary angst and divide in our community.”
“Do you want to make a statement that has polarising aspects?” community member Kedem Levy asked, stating he was very angry seeing the statement on Facebook and wished a debate on the issue had been organised before the motion was passed.
A third speaker, Adam Promnitz, also condemned the motion. “This isn’t arguing about a bicycle lane … this is important,” he said. “I’m not Jewish, I’m not Israeli, I support a full de-escalation. I’m not interested in who is right and who’s wrong,” he added, but “this isn’t a footy match, this is real people’s lives that are affected.”
“What I have seen here today is some deep distress and some unnecessary angst caused among the community,” Promnitz continued. “It’s completely inappropriate that an emergency motion is raised and the community has no ability to provide feedback.”
“Even if it’s 25/75, that’s 25 per cent of the community that is deeply offended.”
After the meeting, Independent Councillor Herschel Landes, who is Jewish, took to Facebook, calling Jolly’s motion, “completely partisan and inflammatory”.
“For this council to adopt such a divisive proposition beyond its remit was insensitive and completely against the grain of the ethos of Yarra,” he added.
Last Thursday, Landes’ proposal to rescind the motion was rejected by the council who deemed the expression of solidarity a “policy position” that was not able to be rescinded.
Landes and Greens councillor Edward Crossland were the only two council members to vote against the motion, with the five remaining councillors at the meeting voting it through.
Jolly, who moved the motion, split from the Victorian Socialist Party in 2019. He was elected to the council for the fifth time late last year.
This week, The AJN asked Jolly a series of questions about the motion, including: should the motion have recognised Hamas and its violence towards Israel, recognition of the Israelis that have also been killed or affected and a display of solidarity with Yarra-based Jews? Answering “no”, to all questions, he added, “In opposing apartheid in the past, it was unnecessary to amend motions on that issue with acknowledgements to the white minority.”
When asked if he would condemn the rise in antisemitism seen in Melbourne, Jolly said, “Council opposes all racism and that includes antisemitism.”
Jolly told The AJN he received about 120 emails, calls and texts about the matter, “with about three to one in favour of the motion”.
The council is made up of five Greens, two Socialists and two Independents.
“Everyone knows that Greens and Socialists are opposed to the illegal settlements on the West Bank, which triggered the recent situation,” said Jolly, “No one locally is surprised by our stance and they overwhelmingly endorse it.”
“Palestinians have a right to self-defence,” stated Jolly, “the biggest recruitment agency for Hamas is the Israeli government.”
Chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission Dvir Abramovich, who is fighting to submit a new, balanced motion said, “This divisive resolution will only push apart local communities and send a painful message to Jews living in the area that they cannot count on some councillors to stand up for them and represent their concerns.”