A NUMBER of Yarra City ratepayers united at last week’s council meeting to push forward a resolution in response to, and apologising for, last month’s pro-Palestinian ‘Motion in Solidarity’, which they claimed had created “angst and divide” within the community.
The May 18 motion, proposed by Independent Socialist Councillor Stephen Jolly, had condemned the Israeli “occupation” but made no mention of Hamas terror, and had expressed solidarity with local Palestinians, while ignoring Jewish or Israeli constituents who may have been impacted the recent conflict.
In 2016, profile.id recorded 172 people who identified as Jewish living in Yarra and only 12 who identified as Palestinian.
Last week’s motion, proposed by Councillor Herschel Landes, stated council “acknowledges and regrets the distress and division that the motion headed ‘Motion of Solidarity’ has caused in the Yarra community”, and that council “opposes any violence”, “stand[s] in solidarity with members of our community who have been affected by violence”, and is “committed to promoting cultural, linguistic and religious diversity”.
After nine members of the public spoke in support of the motion, it was moved unanimously.
However, not every councillor voted for it. Jolly had left the meeting before the motion was announced, telling The AJN subsequently that he refused to support it as the first line acknowledging and regretting the distress and division showed that it was “clearly a very one-sided motion”.
“I don’t apologise for a single thing I’ve done or a single thing I’ve said,” Jolly insisted. “If I bent my knee to them, like the Greens did on Tuesday, they wouldn’t shake my hand and walk away, then they’d be saying, now we want you to condemn this and that.”
Reflecting on the motion being passed, Landes, said “It was just such a powerful moment,” adding, “It’s the first time I can recall a sense of a Jewish voice.”
Community member Michal Savicky, who spoke at the meeting, had said, “For a council that prides itself on inclusion and inclusiveness in every aspect of your ambition, you clearly didn’t show you practised what you preach … Two weeks ago you failed to acknowledge we existed.”
Meanwhile, Fitzroy resident Ted Lapkin had asked during the meeting, “How many more dead Jews do you need to satisfy your warped sense of equity?”
Lapkin later told The AJN that “By declaring on Sky News that he had ‘no interest in what they [pro-Israel Yarrans] have to say. They’re a small minority of sooks’, Jolly arguably violated Section 28 2 (a) of the Local Government Act 2020 (Vic) that requires councillors to: ‘consider the diversity of interests and needs of the municipal community’.”
Chairman of the Anti-Defamation Commission Dvir Abramovich, meanwhile, wrote in a letter to mayor Gabrielle de Vietri, that the ADC believes Jolly breached the Local Government Act, as well as the Councillor Standards of conduct.
Abramovich told de Vietri, “As mayor, you have an obligation to speak out and declare that Councillor Jolly’s divisive conduct does not reflect the values of the Yarra City Council.”
Jolly in turn accused Sky News of taking him “completely out of context”, a claim that Sky News vehemently denied. Reporter Caroline Marcus assured The AJN, “He couldn’t have been clearer.”
Speaking at the meeting, Abramovich had stated that the ADC had “never really seen anything quite like this before”.
“The council should have shown young people how respectful and inclusive debate happens, it could have stepped up and modelled moral leadership,” he added.
Community member Romy Zyngier, who has lived in Israel and witnessed the violence firsthand, said, “Local governments should focus on local issues. How about fixing our recycling?”
Zyngier had earlier sent an email to all seven councillors regarding Jolly’s motion but only received a reply from Landes.
Sasha Beitner, who spoke at both council meetings, said, “While we are pleased with the outcome of the motion, it is only a small step to begin the process of bridging the divide within our community.”
Jewish Community Council of Victoria (JCCV) president, Daniel Aghion, said while the JCCV was relieved to see the June 1 motion was successful, “the May 18 motion should never have been passed”.
The motion “excluded and marginalised Israelis and supporters of Israel, who live and work in the city of Yarra, and whose friends and family were the victims of a ceaseless and indiscriminate bombing campaign by Hamas”, insisted Aghion.
“It is unfortunate that the May 18 motion was passed in the first place. It is also highly disrespectful of the councillor who proposed the May 18 motion, that he logged off from council’s electronic meeting before the June 1 apology was debated by council.”
Aghion added, due to the “council’s recent expression of regret, the JCCV considers the matter closed”.