Erie City Council votes in favor of cease-fire
Israel at warResolution passed 4-3

Erie City Council votes in favor of cease-fire

Thirty-three people spoke at the public meeting. Fewer than 10 shared sympathy for Israel.

Erie City Council president Jasmine Flores speaks about a ceasefire resolution. (Screenshot)
Erie City Council president Jasmine Flores speaks about a ceasefire resolution. (Screenshot)

With pro-Israel sentiments serving as the minority, Erie City Council in northwest Pennsylvania passed a ceasefire resolution in a 4-3 vote at its Feb. 22 meeting.

Council president Jasmine Flores opened the floor to public comment, with each person having up to five minutes to speak. Of the 33 people who spoke, fewer than 10 shared sympathy for Israeli, while the remainder were pro-Palestine or were not in favor of war at all.

Eric Pinski, chair of the community relations committee of the Erie Jewish Community Center, said he strongly opposes the ceasefire resolution.

“We consider this resolution to be anti-Israel at best and encouraging an unfolding of antisemitism at its worst,” Pinski said. “How can you attempt to make one group happy in the name of diversification, while at the same time encouraging haters of another group?

Pinski, along with many others at the event, regardless of which side they were on, said Hamas has a “long history” of breaking ceasefire agreements, including Oct. 7, 2023, when 1,200 Israelis were killed and more than 240 people taken hostage.

“The city council never called for the ceasefire in the two years of Ukraine battling Russian invasion, when Pearl Harbor was attacked in 1941 or even after 9/11,” Pinski said. “Such empty resolutions would have been absurd and meaningless in a municipal body such as city council.”

Erie, Pa., City Council hears from speakers about a cease-fire resolution.
A few people said while they believe a ceasefire resolution in Erie wouldn’t have any “material impact,” it would be a symbolic measure that has meaning and purpose. A number of residents also said when they mention Israel in their sentiments, they’re not referring to the people of Israel, but the Israeli government.

“Both sides are suffering,” Erie holistic therapist Reem Al-Misky said. “The only way to establish peace is through diplomacy, understanding and love in our hearts. As a Muslim woman, you need to understand, we’ve lived in peace with Jewish (and) Christian citizens. I am saddened by what’s going on with my friends (in the Middle East).”

Melissa Romero, a Fairview resident and corporate compliance and privacy officer at University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, said she opposes the resolution.

“It fails to address the complex realities of the situation and risks undermining the security of the people of Israel and the Jewish community,” Romero said. “I understand there is pressure demanding a ceasefire, but I urge you to take caution.”

Romero also said — as well as many others — Hamas has no plans of stopping until “the destruction of Israel and the annihilation of the Jewish people,” ceasefire in place or not.

Rabbi Rob Morais, senior rabbi for Temple Anshe Hesed in Erie, said the war has been a “nightmare” and any singular loss — on either side — of life is “tragic and can’t be condoned.”

“There are 120 different conflicts around the world,” Morais said. “120 places around the world that people are dying, people are suffering and yet we are here talking about this single one and only this one. That engenders an antisemitic response by many people.”

Erie Jewish artist Brad Ford said one of the “worst parts of humanity” is the propensity for violence.

“No resolution will stop the war, nor the killings,” Ford said. “But locally, it can put my daughters and my fellow Erie Jews in danger, and give others more justification for antisemitism.”

Ford said he’s thankful for the amendments because the original version was “a vote for the oven and gas chamber jokes” his daughters regularly hear at school. He said he understands not everyone will agree with him, and it is their right to do so.

“I also urge you to find a concrete, non-performative way that will actually benefit the Palestinian people,” Ford said. “Donate your time, your money, start a protest (or) make art. But to write and support words in a resolution that could be used against the Jewish minority in the city is irresponsible and dangerous.”

After listening to sentiments from all sides for over two hours, council members were divided in their discussion before voting.

Councilman Chuck Nelson said he’s pretty sure he “will actually disappoint everyone” based on the comments from the public.

“Last meeting, I made it clear that I did not intend to sponsor such a resolution,” Nelson said. “By bringing this here today, as we read a resolution asking to bring peace into the world, we gave a platform for the expression of anger tonight. We did not bring peace into our community with this.”

While Nelson offered amendments to the original resolution, he said the public comments at the meeting was “not healthy” for the city of Erie.

About 100 miles from Cleveland and about 128 miles from Pittsburgh, Erie is a city of about 94,000 according to the 2020 U.S. Census. The city has two synagogues and a Chabad, which opened in 2020.

Erie was once home to 3,000 Jews and three synagogues, but by 2007, the Jewish population had decreased to 700, and by 2013, it was 480, according to the Pittsburgh Jewish Chronicle.

Councilman Ed Brzezinski said the resolution is “emotionally-packed” and not something a city council should deal with.

“If I thought (the resolution) belonged here, I’d be all for it,” Brzezinski said. “I love the outpouring of love that so many folks gave today. I wish everybody understood that it’s not that simple. If the guys around the world can’t get together and solve this thing, all we’re going to do is drive a wedge into that.”

Councilman Mel Witherspoon said he is also against the resolution because he doesn’t see “where (the war) is going to stop.”

On the other hand, councilman Tyler Titus originally brought forward the resolution, and is still in support after being called antisemitic and accused of “trying to put on a show.”

“We can stay silent and we could not pass (the resolution), but that makes us complicit,” Titus said. “It makes us part of the problem because problems don’t just go away when we don’t name them.”
Councilwoman Kathy Schaaf said her “heart is breaking” and wants peace.

Councilman Mo Troop had no comment and Flores, who sponsored Titus’ resolution, said she hopes people have “enough compassion and understanding” to realize the city can’t sit back just because it’s not directly involved.

Flores, Nelson and Titus voted in favor of the resolution, while Brzezinski, Troop and Witherspoon voted against. PJC

Kaitlyn Finchler writes for the Cleveland Jewish News, where this first appeared.

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