By Royal Calkins
If you like political debate to be divided, heated and quite close to pointless, you should be sorry you missed Tuesday’s meeting of the Monterey County Board of Supervisors.
Board Chairman Luis Alejo, for reasons that probably only he understands, introduced and pushed for a resolution condemning Hamas for its recent and horrendous terrorism against Israel but without standing up at all for the rights of Palestinian civilians to live without retaliatory terrorism.
The resolution did call for peace in the Middle East — peace for all — but it essentially made Israel out to be a purely innocent victim of all that has gone wrong in the region.
With only fellow Supervisor Chris Lopez supporting his resolution, patterned after one approved by Congress within days of the Hamas attacks, Alejo described the hesitation of supervisors Mary Adams, Glenn Church and Wendy Root Askew as “shameful” and “bringing shame upon the entire board.”
Alejo, a former state legislator, promised that rejecting the resolution would prove embarrassing by subjecting the supervisors to national publicity.
Alejo, who often accuses political opponents of racism when he’s on the losing side of an issue, didn’t come right out and accuse the board majority of anti-Semitism, but he seemed to be edging that way.
Before the morning meeting, he had an Israeli flag installed at the front of the room and said he wanted it there until the conflict is over. Others said permanent display of the flag would likely prove insulting to those critical of the state of the Israeli and that, considering the depth of the conflict, permanent might actually mean permanent.
Each of the three supervisors opposing the resolution as written took pains to voice their support for Israel and their disdain for Hamas. They indicated that what particularly bothered them on this day was Alejo’s insistence that only the Israeli people’s suffering should be acknowledged and the resolution language calling the Hamas attacks of 10 days ago “unprovoked.” Supervisor Glenn Church noted that while Israel didn’t strike first, its entire existence and the strife between Israel and Palestine has dominated the region’s politics since Israel’s creation.
Left unanswered during board debate was precisely why Alejo and Lopez would push for such a resolution while more accomplished students of Middle Eastern strife are still debating the hows, whys and wherefores of the current and apparently growing conflict. Lopez mentioned that he had studied Middle Eastern issues when he was in college.
With each of the three-member board majority on the progressive side of the political spectrum, perhaps Alejo was simply hoping to put them in an awkward position in relation to Monterey County’s Jewish community, a large share of which is progressive in various ways. That is his style.
Most of the eight or nine speakers who addressed the issue denounced the resolution as hopelessly skewed against the Palestinian people. Among them were representatives of area Muslims and longstanding peace groups. Several speakers mentioned growing hostility against Muslims, including many who reject Hamas’s leadership.
In a failed effort to push the dialog in his direction, Alejo invited Cantor Margaret Bruner of Temple Beth El in Salinas to share her thoughts. They didn’t align with Alejo’s.
Bruner mentioned that her closest friend is a Muslim, and that she was raised Quaker, before arguing that any resolution should be in support of the entire human family, not one combatant or the other. She quoted a ranking Israeli soldier saying that “Israel has followed the path of war for too long.”
In the end, the board majority was able to push consideration of a resolution to a future meeting and to ask the county’s lawyers to craft a less divisive resolution.
Many Board of Supervisors meetings, like many city council meetings, open with long recitations of resolutions honoring everything from Mother’s Day to good weather. That’s a fine thing, but there is no reason to stretch that type of community-building into something clearly designed to create division and discord. Alejo paints himself as a civil rights activist but Tuesday’s meeting shows that that may just be an illusion.
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