THE IMAGES FROM the Israel-Hamas war have ripped through social media, sparking arguments and proclamations on Facebook, Instagram, and the platform formerly known as Twitter.
Locally, the conflict has split the Massachusetts congressional delegation, and Harvard University leaders issued a second statement after the first one drew criticism for appearing to be a “word salad approved by committee,” as US Rep. Jake Auchincloss put it online.
Enter into the discourse the Boston City Council. The 13-member body has struggled in the last year with the prosaic task of redrawing political boundaries in Boston neighborhoods and bickered over the city’s annual budget, two of the legislative body’s key duties. That probably didn’t bode well for an effort to weigh in on the horrific developments in perhaps the most intractable geopolitical conflict of our time.
At their weekly meeting, councilors grappled with separate resolutions, one from Councilor Michael Flaherty condemning Hamas for its attacks against Israel, and the other from Councilor Tania Fernandes Anderson calling for an “immediate de-escalation and ceasefire” in “Israel and occupied Palestine.”
Fernandes Anderson’s resolution referred to Hamas’ attacks on communities in southern Israel as a “military operation,” which landed her on the front page of this morning’s Herald. “To call them a militant group that launched a massive military operation is completely absurd and disgusting,” Flaherty told the newspaper. “That wasn’t a military operation. That was a terrorist attack — and it was the worst barbaric aggression towards innocent Jewish people since the Holocaust.”
They didn’t get to a vote on either resolution, as two colleagues, City Councilors Gabriela Coletta and Sharon Durkan, sought to lower the temperature by objecting to votes on the same day the matters were introduced. The two resolutions were then kicked to a committee.
“This is so deeply entrenched and there are so many emotions,” Coletta said, pointing to the police presence outside of City Hall ahead of the council meeting. “To put support in one resolution, I don’t think it speaks to the complexities of the history here.”
Durkan noted that she had spoken to her predecessors in the seat, including Mike Ross, whose late father Steve Ross was a Holocaust survivor. She added that her grandfather, a Spanish Jew, was forced to convert to Catholicism under Francisco Franco’s regime. “This is very personal to me,” she said.
Two councilors appeared interested in pressing on with the debate: Frank Baker of Dorchester and Fernandes Anderson, who represents Roxbury and part of Dorchester, and had offered the ceasefire resolution.
That’s not a surprise to close watchers of City Hall. The two come from left and right wings of the council, and both have played roles in the body’s dysfunction. Fernandes Anderson served as chair of the budget committee as it wrestled with how to rewrite parts of Mayor Michelle Wu’s proposal, while Baker last year accused a colleague of being a Protestant biased against Irish Catholics.
Both became emotional during Wednesday’s debate. “Everyone wants a ceasefire,” but only after the hostages that Hamas has taken are returned, Baker said. Similar to Flaherty, he said Fernandes Anderson’s resolution was flawed because it did not refer to Hamas as a terrorist operation.
Fernandes Anderson, who noted that she is Muslim, said she was open to changing the language. “If you’re killing innocent children, I don’t care what ethnicity you are, what religion you are, no matter what, you’re a terrorist,” she said.
Addressing her colleagues as the resolutions headed to the committee, Fernandes Anderson said, “I pray that God forgives you for your cowardice.”
On the other side of City Hall’s fifth floor, there has been less of a focus on dramatic speeches and resolutions, and more on safety at houses of worship, among other places.
“On the ground here, there’s really a palpable sense of strong grief and mourning throughout the community, and also worry and anxiety about what that translates into, in terms of hateful incidents or backlash or worse,” Wu said during an appearance on WBUR’s “Radio Boston,” an hour before the City Council meeting got underway. “So we’ve been working very closely on the safety and security of our communities on the ground here. Boston is going to be a place where everyone is safe and all of our views and perspectives have the space to be in conversation without any tolerance for threats or hatred.”