Chicago City Council Condemns Attack on Israel by Hamas After Fractious Debate

Chicago City Hall. (Michael Izquierdo / WTTW News)Chicago City Hall. (Michael Izquierdo / WTTW News)

The Chicago City Council on Friday condemned Hamas’ attack on Israel at a special City Council meeting that spilled out of control, forcing Mayor Brandon Johnson to clear the main public gallery in the Council Chambers in a nearly unprecedented move.

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Hamas’ attack, which began in the early morning hours of Saturday, has killed more than 1,300 Israeli civilians and soldiers, with the fate of more than 100 hostages, including a mother and daughter from Evanston, unclear, according to the Associated Press.

The attack prompted Israel to launch a full-scale retaliatory bombing campaign in the Gaza Strip, killing more than 1,500 people, including an estimated 500 children, and another 6,600 have been wounded, according to Gaza’s Health Ministry.

As the City Council debated the resolution introduced by Ald. Debra Silverstein (50th Ward), Israel’s military ordered the evacuation of more than 1 million Palestinians from the northern Gaza Strip over the objections of the United Nations, whose leaders warned the order could trigger a humanitarian catastrophe.

Silverstein is the only Jewish member of the City Council, and urged her colleagues to stand with Israel as it grapples with what is likely the deadliest attack on Jewish people since the Holocaust.

“I urge my colleagues to be on the right side of history,” Silverstein said, likening the attacks to those on America on Sept. 11, 2001, and urging her colleagues to “unequivocally support the state of Israel.”

As she spoke, Silverstein was repeatedly interrupted with chants of “Free Palestine,” prompting Johnson to take the nearly unprecedented step of ordering the Council Chambers’ second floor gallery cleared, requiring a recess. Members of the public remained in the third-floor gallery, where their chants, cheers and jeers were muffled by a glass partiton.

Silverstein’s resolution does not have the force of law but expresses the collective will of the City Council.

Silverstein, whose Far North Side ward includes the West Ridge neighborhood, rejected a request from Ald. Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez (33rd Ward) who asked Silverstein via email earlier this week to amend the resolution to recognize “the history of oppression, occupation and violence that Palestinians have endured.”

Silverstein declined that request, and urged her colleagues to stand with Israel. However, Silverstein agreed to make other changes to the resolution.

Silverstein removed a reference to the assault as “unprovoked.” In addition, a reference to “Israel’s right to defend itself” was replaced with a provision that declares that “Israel, like any other sovereign nation, has the right and the obligation to protect its citizens against terrorism and attack by hostile foreign powers.”  

In addition, the original resolution included a clause that expressed the City Council’s “deepest sorrow for the innocent Israelis’ murder.” The version approved by the City Council expresses the city’s “deepest sorrow for all innocent civilians.”

Rodriguez Sanchez said she condemned the attacks by Hamas, but said she could not stand in support for Israel while it forces Palestinians to flee while bombing the Gaza Strip. Rodriguez Sanchez likened that to “genocide.”

“Chicago is always going to be a sanctuary for Jewish people and we are going to work towards that always,” Rodriguez Sanchez said. “But that cannot be at the expense of the lives of Palestinian people. The name of Chicago should not be signed on to commit genocide.”

Rodriguez Sanchez was the only alderperson to ask to be recorded as voting no as part of the voice vote that approved the symbolic resolution, which survived an attempt by other opponents to prevent a vote at Friday’s special meeting.

Contact Heather Cherone: @HeatherCherone | (773) 569-1863 | [email protected]

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