Ann Arbor Councilor proposed a community forum on Palestinian human rights

ANN ARBOR, MI – A member of Ann Arbor City Council suggests that the city host “a community talk about the Palestinian people and Palestinian-Americans” in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“The International Criminal Court (ICC) is currently investigating Israel for crimes against the Palestinian people,” read a resolution on the Council’s agenda on May 3, sponsored by Councilor Kathy Griswold, D-2nd Ward.

The situation is extremely complex, diverse and slowly changing, says the resolution, calling on the city to hold a community forum by July 1st.

Other council members said they oppose it, arguing that it is an international issue that is outside the scope of the council and that the resolution is unlikely to be passed next week.

Taking up the issue unnecessarily divides the congregation, said councilor Julie Grand, who is Jewish.

There are other conversations in the community that the city should have, such as how to be less ruled out zoning the city, Grand, D-3rd Ward said.

Griswold’s resolution cites a recent Washington Post column saying the Israeli authorities are committing “the crimes against humanity of apartheid and persecution,” according to a new report by global advocacy group Human Rights Watch.

“This new HRW report raises critical concerns that should deeply concern both Israeli supporters and those interested in Palestinian rights,” said Jeremy Ben-Ami, president of a liberal pro-Israeli organization in Washington, in the column and resolution cited in Griswolds. “The fact that the occupation is inherently a threat to Israel’s future as a democratic home for the Jewish people and that it brings with it the systematic deprivation of Palestinian rights simply cannot be ignored.”

Ann Arbor City Council member Kathy Griswold, D-2nd Ward, listens to public comments during a meeting on Jan. 22, 2019. (Ben Allan Smith | MLive.com)Photos by Ben Allan Smith

Griswold said her resolution came after hearing anti-Israel protesters speak regularly at council meetings for years and expressing her anger at the council for not taking up the issue. It’s had a negative impact on meetings, she said.

“If people come to the Council angrily week after week, year after year, can we do anything to improve the situation?” She said. “So Palestine is across the Atlantic, but the people who come to us are parishioners.”

The council is being asked to approve a resolution against US military aid to Israel, Griswold noted.

Ann Arbor-based Mozhgan Savabieasfahani, one of the anti-Israel protesters, is behind Change.org’s petition, which has over 1,600 signatures.

“Ann Arbor City Council must side with human rights for all – including the Palestinian people – or human rights for anyone,” said Savabieasfahani.

Griswold said she did not know enough to take a position on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but she hoped to learn more.

“I just want to have a respectful community conversation where people can learn and share their positions,” she said. “And if we can’t make it in Ann Arbor, where can we do it?”

The Islamic and Jewish communities in Ann Arbor have a long history of mutual support and work well together. Griswold’s resolution on an international issue is detrimental to the community and divisive, said Mayor Christopher Taylor.

The council deals with issues that benefit and empower the community, and the fact that protesters have been coming to the council for years and advocating resolutions that do not meet this standard does not mean the council should take them up, said Taylor.

“This is not a problem we have a role in solving,” he said. “Our job is to improve and strengthen the Ann Arbor community. Examination of this resolution will have the opposite effect. “

Griswold said she had no other agenda than to provide a forum for respectful conversation. If the council does not support this, she stands ready to hold a forum as an individual, she said, adding that she would turn to experts from the University of Michigan and the office of US Representative Rashida Tlaib.

Griswold’s Resolution Notes The City Council recently approved another resolution, sponsored by Councilor Linh Song, condemning anti-Asian hate crimes.

Song, D-2nd Ward, said her resolution reflected what is happening in the United States and the concerns of Ann Arbor residents about racism here, so they saw no connection with what Griswold is suggesting. She does not support Griswold’s resolution as it is written and does not believe the city is responsible for international affairs, she said.

A community talk about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would be better facilitated by religious organizations, not the city, Song said, noting that there is a long-standing Arab-Jewish dialogue group in the city called Zeitouna.

Song said she would be interested to hear what the Palestinian-American community in Ann Arbor thinks and if the resolution is something they want.

Griswold said she did not speak or act on behalf of Palestinian Americans. She has spoken to many people on all sides of the topic and is a neutral observer who just believes there needs to be community dialogue, she said.

While it is an international problem, it has a negative impact on the quality of life of Palestinian Americans living here, she said.

Councilor Ali Ramlawi, who is of Palestinian descent, said he did not support Griswold’s resolution in its current form.

But it will obviously start a conversation, and hopefully it won’t create more compulsion and stress in a time already filled with it, he said.

“I have many personal positions on the matter and I just have to try to share my political position and my personal position,” said Ramlawi, D-5th Ward, noting that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict has been going on for 73 years.

“It’s a conflict that every part of the world knows about,” he said. “The UN has spent countless hours and countless resolutions passed over 73 years. I’m not sure what the city of Ann Arbor can do to get the needle moving. “

It is a burdened matter and the city has many other matters to attend to in order to be closer to home, Ramlawi said.

“This is a topic that interests many, but where is the intersection between that interest and the role of local government?” he said.

“I just don’t want it to interfere with the work that needs to be done. I mean, we’re going to be talking about our budget and we have a lot of other ambitious goals. “

The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is complex, but more people are open to learning about it and perceptions are changing, Griswold said. She definitely gives Savabieasfahani credit for influencing her resolve, she said.

“I think if someone comes to the Council for as many years as possible, it is respectful to have at least one conversation,” she said.

Councilors Elizabeth Nelson, D-4th Ward, and Travis Radina, D-3rd Ward, are members of the city’s Human Rights Commission. Nelson said she had no comment on Griswold’s proposal and Radina did not respond to a request for comment.

The commission decided not to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in 2019 after prosecutor Stephen Postema announced that it was outside of his mandate.

The city council can still vote on a resolution on the issue without recommendations from the commission, Postema said.

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