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Heated debates over the Israel-Hamas war have increased tensions within Victorian councils, with one banning calls for a ceasefire, another considering backflipping on a motion of solidarity with Gaza and, at another council, death threats have been made against a councillor.
A pro-Palestinian rally in Federation Square on October 27.Credit: Joe Armao
Maribyrnong City Council this week voted in favour of a motion by councillor Jorge Jorquera that the council “strongly condemn the war crimes being carried out by Israel against the Palestinians in Gaza.”
Jorquera, a member of the Victorian Socialists, also called for an immediate ceasefire in the motion and an “end to Israel’s indiscriminate bombing”, expressing distress at the number of children killed so far.
“Hundreds of schools destroyed, most hospitals gone, imagine everything you depend on in daily life gone,” Jorquera said at a council meeting this week.
The motion was passed by four votes to three, with Labor affiliated councillors opposing it.
Councillor Jorge Jorquera put the motion to Maribyrnong City Council this week.Credit: Paul Jeffers
But less than 24 hours later, Maribyrnong councillor Anthony Tran – who initially voted in favour of the motion and verbalised his support for it – was back-pedalling.
Tran put forward a new motion to immediately rescind support for the council’s Gaza decision, signed by Mayor Cuc Lam and Labor councillor Michael Clarke. It will be debated on December 12.
Tran, who is overseas, gave no reason for his change of heart. He did not respond to calls or emails from The Age.
Jorquera said he was disappointed by the backflip.
“I get very emotional about this,” Jorquera said. “I almost can’t fathom that something that is so obvious in terms of a humanitarian issue is being played with by other councillors.”
Merri-bek councillor Oscar Yildiz received death threats after voting against a ceasefire motion.
Meanwhile, Merri-bek councillor Oscar Yildiz revealed earlier this month he and his family had received death threats after he voted against a ceasefire motion that was passed this month by the inner Melbourne council.
Yildiz has said that while the war in the Middle East was “absolutely gut-wrenching”, it was not the role of councils to get involved in federal or international matters.
The City of Yarra and the Greater Dandenong Council will also debate similar motions next week.
At the City of Greater Geelong, councillor Sarah Hathway has accused the council’s chief executive Ali Wastie of gagging her and fellow councillor Jim Mason after they were barred from putting forward separate motions calling for a ceasefire in the Middle East conflict.
The motions were rejected on the grounds they could incite violence and put council staff at risk. But Hathway, a member of Socialist Alliance, said the council had an undeclared political agenda after it lit up the city hall in Ukrainian flag colours last year.
“At no time was there any suggestion that this would lead to community violence,” she said.
Geelong Mayor Trent Sullivan said in a statement the decision made by Wastie was based on the council’s governance rules, and he supported the move.
“We are all horrified by what is occurring in Israel and Palestine and want to see an end to the suffering as soon as possible,” he said. “There are other options being explored to acknowledge the devastation occurring in the Middle East.”
When asked earlier this week why the council lit up its city hall in the blue and yellow colours of the Ukrainian flag, but had blocked motions on the Israel-Hamas conflict, Sullivan told the ABC, the council was internally reviewing the matter.
Greater Dandenong Council will vote on a motion next week recognising the impact of the conflict on its community and calling for the federal government to back a ceasefire. The motion condemned any war crimes committed by Hamas and Israel and denounced all forms of antisemitism and Islamophobia.
Greens councillor Rhonda Garad, who supports the motion, said more than a third of all residents in the local government area were Muslim it was the council’s role was to “acknowledge the immense pain and suffering” in the community.
The council must also use its influence to advocate for the federal government to call for ceasefire, Garad said.
“This conflict greatly affects our community,” she said. “I’ve had many, many phone calls and messages from the community. People are so distressed and really upset, so we are standing in solidarity with our community.”
Garad, who also condemned the Hamas attacks on Israel on October 7, said the motion was calling for “an immediate stop to the slaughtering of children in Gaza”.
“There is never any justification for the slaughter of children,” she said.
The council has a majority of Labor members, and Garad was uncertain which way the vote would fall.
The rise in councils putting forward motions supporting Gaza has fuelled concern among some in the Jewish community.
Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-chief executive Alex Ryvchin described it as a “demonisation of Israel” and the broader Jewish community that was also playing out across society.
Executive Council of Australian Jewry co-CEO Alex Ryvchin.Credit: Nikki Short
“Well-organised activists are intent on mobilising every forum of influence to advance an extreme anti-Israel agenda,” Ryvchin said.
“This is contributing to the increasing ruptures in our society and the heightened insecurity of Jews in this country and fears that bleak days lie ahead.”
Ryvchin said councils were being “appropriated for narrow and extreme political purposes” which was causing community discord.
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