Save articles for later
Add articles to your saved list and come back to them any time.
Melbourne councils are wrestling with how to respond to the Israel-Hamas war, with councillors from at least two councils facing motions calling for a ceasefire, and others putting their name to an open letter condemning the attacks on Gaza.
While some councils have been criticised for public displays of support for communities affected by the conflict, such as illuminating council buildings in Israeli flag colours, others have been called out for pulling down pro-Israel posters.
Merri-bek councillor Sue Bolton at Coburg Town Hall.Credit: Penny Stephens
In the inner north council area of Merri-bek, councillor Sue Bolton from the Socialist Alliance political party has proposed a motion calling on the federal government to advocate for a ceasefire in Gaza.
The motion, for Wednesday night’s council meeting, also calls for the Palestinian flag to be flown at council chambers and a council boycott of any companies linked to Israel.
The motion reads: “Many people in Merri-bek come from war-torn countries, some have relatives in Gaza and in the region and some of them come from other countries which have experienced genocide.
“A sizeable part of the community are horrified as they watch the wholesale attack on civilians which is occurring in Gaza.”
Dvir Abramovich, chair of the Jewish-Australian community organisation the Anti-Defamation Commission, issued a statement on Tuesday describing Bolton’s motion as a “one-sided, hateful anti-Israel motion” and called on Merri-bek councillors not to support it.
Chairman of the Anti-Discrimination Commission, Dvir Abramovich.Credit: Justin McManus
“If this motion, which erases the October 7 atrocities from history is passed, it will represent a new low in Australian local politics and make it clear that Jewish lives do not matter,” he said.
”It is hard to believe that anyone with a shred of humanity and compassion could propose such a vicious, heartless draft … which spits on the memory of the Israeli victims and their families.”
But Lee Cohen, a representative of a Melbourne-based Jewish group supporting the Palestinian cause called the Loud Jew Collective, said the motion was “an important show of solidarity with Palestinians”.
“It is important to us as Jews – many of whom live in Merri-bek – and who are in solidarity with Palestinians, that this motion is passed,” Cohen said.
“Supporting Palestinians in this way, and pointing out that action needs to be taken to support their fight … is not antisemitic, and we reject the charge.”
Other Melbourne councils have also been drawn into the sensitive territory surrounding the war in the Middle East.
Stonnington council in Melbourne’s inner south-east recently said it would illuminate the Malvern Town Hall in the colours of the Israeli flag for three days, but was also criticised for removing pro-Israel posters about hostages from public areas. Glen Eira council was similarly criticised when its workers removed the same posters.
Palestinian and Israeli flags have each flown at Federation Square over recent weeks. Melbourne City Council has said it does not choose the flags that fly at Federation Square and on Monday, Federation Square management confirmed in a statement that community groups hire the flagpoles.
Tensions over the Israel-Hamas war are not isolated to councils in Melbourne. In Sydney, one council went as far as dumping its newly elected Greens deputy mayor for not supporting a motion about the Hamas attacks in Israel.
In Melbourne, Bolton’s party has helped organise pro-Palestinian rallies in the CBD which have attracted up to 20,000 people at a time on Sundays over the past month.
Bolton said Abramovich had taken her motion in bad faith and pointed to parts of the motion calling for the council to condemn “all attacks that target civilians” and the release of “all Palestinian and Israeli hostages”.
At least one Merri-bek councillor, independent Oscar Yildiz, has indicated he will not support the motion, while two others, Greens member Adam Pulford and former Greens member turned independent James Conlan, have indicated that they will support it.
A similar motion will be put before Maribyrnong council in Melbourne’s inner west later this month according to Victorian Socialists member and councillor Jorge Jorquera, who is drafting the motion.
This masthead has also sighted a statement circulating in Victorian local government circles titled “Local Government councillors against the genocide in Gaza”.
It has been endorsed so far by Jorquera, Bolton and Conlan – as well as Geelong councillor Sarah Hathway, Brimbank councillor Sarah Branton, Yarra City councillor Anab Mohamud and Merri-bek councillor Monica Harte.
A pro-Palestinian rally in Federation Square on October 27.Credit: Joe Armao
“As councillors, many of us live in cities similar in geography to Gaza. But we cannot imagine the ‘normal’ conditions of life there, let alone what it is like to be subject to mass bombing and a collective punishment dealing out death street by street,” the open letter states.
Council Watch, formerly known as the Ratepayers Association of Victoria, said it was best for local governments to stay out of commenting on the international conflict.
“What we are seeing in global events is truly upsetting for many. Councils need to be sensitive to all community members and the best way to do that is to stay out of international affairs,” vice-president Dean Hurlston said.
“Councils taking a stance in these matters simply reduce the credibility of councils to solve local problems and issues.”
A national survey of 1350 people published by Australian Catholic University earlier this year found that 69 per cent of people felt political parties should play a greater role in local government and that 83 per cent believed local government should be a place where national issues can be debated.
Bolton, who has previously attempted to pass motions on Palestine and the AUKUS nuclear submarine deal, said she felt morally compelled to use her platform as a councillor.
As of Tuesday, exactly one month after Hamas militants slaughtered more than 1400 Israelis and took more than 240 hostage in a surprise attack, Palestinian health authorities reported the death toll from Israeli strikes now exceeds 10,000 including more than 4100 children.
A spokesperson for Victoria’s Local Government Minister Melissa Horne said Bolton’s motion was a matter for Merri-bek council.
“What has unfolded in Israel and Gaza is deeply distressing for many in Victoria and it is important that we maintain respect for each other,” they said.
“Victoria stands together against hate speech and violent extremism, including antisemitism and Islamophobia.”
Get the day’s breaking news, entertainment ideas and a long read to enjoy. Sign up to receive our Evening Edition newsletter here.
Most Viewed in National
From our partners
Source: Read Full Article