Richmond council postpones vote condemning flotilla raid
By Katherine Tam
Contra Costa Times
Posted: 06/15/2010 09:55:50 PM PDT
Updated: 06/15/2010 10:23:38 PM PDT
Jack Kessler, right, a pro-Israel supporter from El Cerrito, talks with a pro-Palistine...
RICHMOND — Passions flared Tuesday, and city leaders backed off a resolution condemning the recent Israeli raid on a Gaza-bound aid flotilla amid a growing public divide.
Mayor Gayle McLaughlin and Vice Mayor Jeff Ritterman withdrew their proposal from the council agenda, instead referring the matter to the Human Relations Commission.
"I know this has been a difficult issue for the community," Ritterman said. "It might be difficult for us to find common ground."
Other council members questioned whether the commission should even tackle an issue that stretches beyond Richmond.
"This Richmond City Council is associated with operating the city of Richmond, not the United States of America," Councilman Nat Bates said.
The nine-member Human Relations Commission is an advisory group that makes recommendations to the council. Ritterman said he would refer the matter with a request to find a project that would foster peace, rather than polarize the community. The commission would report back to the council in about six months.
The proposed resolution calls for supporting the U.N. Security Council's condemnation of the May 31 Israeli attack on a flotilla carrying supplies bound for Gaza, which ended with at least nine people dead and others — including a West Contra Costa man — wounded. The resolution also would call for safe, humane treatment of people delivering international aid.
Public debate began well before Tuesday's meeting, with council members, city staff and residents chiming in. Some felt the council should take a position on the matter. Others criticized city leaders for delving into complicated world affairs when Richmond has its own problems of crime, unemployment and economic development.
Dozens came to Tuesday's meeting to speak on both sides of the issue. The agenda item was withdrawn, but tensions were not so readily eased.
Outside the council chambers, locals crowded around flotilla survivor Paul Larudee, of Richmond, as he rallied the group not to give up hope. He said that Richmond should take a stand, and locals should work together to help city leaders understand that.
Supporters and opponents of the resolution verbally sparred several times. Police officers stepped in, standing between the two sides to prevent the yelling from escalating.
Opponents said they are relieved the City Council did not approve the resolution, and many added that they did not think it belonged on any city agenda. Susan Sommerville, of Oakland, who has taught in West County schools, said officials should focus on local issues rather than foreign policy.