NewsMontana News


Ceasefire resolution tabled by Missoula City Council

A ceasefire resolution regarding the Israel-Hamas War was not on the agenda during Monday's Missoula City Council meeting
Posted at 9:46 PM, Feb 05, 2024
and last updated 2024-02-06 18:46:52-05

MISSOULA — A ceasefire resolution regarding the Israel-Hamas War was not on the agenda during Monday's Missoula City Council meeting after committee members tabled the proposal last week.

The decision came after hours of discussion over three separate meetings.

Councilwoman Kristen Jordan of Missoula’s Ward 6 brought the resolution to City Council in December of last year. Her constituents and members of Montanans for Palestine urged Jordan to support the resolution.

The first draft of the resolution brought forward on Dec. 27, read:

“A resolution calling on all governments around the world to facilitate de-escalation and a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict to prevent death and violence in all forms.
Whereas, All human life is precious, and the targeting of civilians, no matter their faith or ethnicity, is a violation of international humanitarian law; and
Whereas, Between October 7 and December 8, 2023, armed violence has claimed the lives of over 18,000 Palestinians and over 1,400 Israelis, and wounded thousands more; and
Whereas, Hundreds of thousands of lives are at imminent risk if a cease-fire is not achieved and humanitarian aid is not delivered without delay; and
Whereas, Governments around the world hold immense diplomatic power to save Israeli and Palestinian lives;
Now therefore be it resolved, That the City of Missoula
(1) Urges governments around the world to immediately call for and facilitate de-escalation and a ceasefire to urgently end the current violence; and
(2) Calls upon these governments to promptly send and facilitate the entry of humanitarian assistance to Gaza.”
Kristen Jordan draft resolution

The language of the first draft was deemed too one-sided by the City Council with president Amber Sherill — along with a few of her fellow council members — rewriting the resolution to remain more neutral.

The version presented during the committee meeting on Wednesday, January 24 and Wednesday, January 31, read:

“A resolution calling on all governments around the world to facilitate de-escalation and a ceasefire in all global conflicts.
Whereas, All human life is precious, and the targeting of civilians, no matter their faith or ethnicity, is a violation of international humanitarian law; and
Whereas, Hundreds of thousands of lives are at imminent risk if cease-fires are not achieved and humanitarian aid is not delivered; and
Whereas, Governments around the world hold immense diplomatic power to save lives;
Now therefore be it resolved, That the City of Missoula
(1) Urges governments around the world to immediately work towards de-escalation and ceasefire in all global conflicts.”
Kristen Jordan proposed ceasefire resolution
Kristen Jordan is in favor of a ceasefire resolution. Since her constituents asked her to present the resolution to city council in December, she has grown more passionate about the issue.

The discussion between the two Wednesday meetings lasted over two hours. Through the conversation, three main points emerged on both sides — whether local government has a role to play in international conflicts, if the resolution would cause further diversion and hatred within the Missoula community, and whether the city council understood the historical context of the conflict in Israel enough to be able to pass such a resolution.

Those against the resolution were of the opinion that the Missoula City Council should not weigh in on the Israel-Hamas war.

“I feel that it is not the role of local government, local agencies to comment on international affairs,” Rabbi Mark Kula says. “I think there is a lot of work that needs to be done locally, and I vote for my local representatives to deal with local affairs, not national or international affairs.”

Kula, who serves as the Rabbi at Har Shalom, as well as on the University of Montana campus, was frustrated the council spent so much time discussing the conflict overseas.

“It's going to have no impact in the international scene, whereas we could make decisions and impact change for the better in our local community,” he says.

There were several city council members who agreed with Kula’s perspective, including Councilwoman Sherill.

“None of us got hired to weigh in on international policy,” she says. “It doesn't mean that we can't, but that's not something that I think people expected me to do.”

The last time the Missoula City Council voted on a resolution regarding international affairs was in 2007 during the Iraq war.

Other community members — including those who first brought the resolution forward — pointed to the 70 other U.S cities that have passed a similar resolution, according to data from Reuters.

At least 48 of those resolutions called for a halt to Israel’s bombing of Gaza, six advocated for peace in a broader sense and at least 20 resolutions condemned the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel.

Chicago recently became the biggest city to pass such a resolution.

Jewish Missoulian and pro-Palestinian activist, Robbie Liben, says the members of the Montanans for Palestine movement have been reaching out to state senators and representatives — including U.S. Senator Jon Tester and U.S. Senator Steve Daines — frequently, with little response.

“We recognize since our political leaders at the higher levels are not paying attention to us or ignoring us, Missoula City Council is our voice, our political voice for Missoula,” Liben says. “And so we want to convince City Council to speak up on our behalf to stop the genocide, stop arming genocide, to ceasefire now. The more and more cities around the country are standing up and saying this is important, the more likely it is that our political leaders will have to listen to us.”

It is debated whether or not the Israel-Hamas War should be coined a “genocide.” Rabbi Kula, for example, says it should not, but Liben argues it should be. The International Court of Justice has not yet ruled on the issue but did order Israel to prevent any acts of genocide.

On Wednesday, Nov. 9, Senator Tester spoke with Brendan Work, one of the organizers of Montanans for Palestine, over the phone.

"Senator Tester and his staff continue to regularly engage with Montana for Palestine members in-person, via phone, via email, and via mail," Harry Child, the senator's press secretary, said in an email to KPAX.

Liben started getting involved in pro-Palestinian activism immediately after the Hamas attack on Israel on Oct. 7. Since then, he has helped organize numerous pro-Palestinian events in Missoula.

“I'm Jewish, and some of my dearest relatives live in Israel, and I want what's best for them, but when I saw what Israel was doing in Gaza and know what they've done in Gaza before and the West Bank to Palestinians, I knew that this was going to be horrible and we needed to stop it as soon as possible,” he says.

Marilyn Marler, a state representative and Missoulian against the resolution, says even with the amended language, the text is one-sided.

“The baggage of this resolution, not just the words of the resolution itself, but the conversations around it and the rhetoric surrounding it are drastically oversimplified,” she said during the council meeting on Jan. 31. “Even though some people might say the words of the resolution itself are okay, there are things happening and being said in the community that are not okay. One of the many sides of this conflict, and I’ll be explicit– Israel– is being vilified throughout this conflict.”

Hallie Appel
Hallie Appel was asked to speak in favor of the ceasefire resolution in December by members of Montanans for Palestine.

For Hallie Appel, a Jewish Missoulian who spoke in favor of the resolution when it was first presented in December, the language in the revised resolution is not specific enough.

She was disappointed to hear the word “Palestine” was taken out of the text entirely.

“We all know why this resolution is passing, and I think Palestinians deserve the dignity of being named when we ask for them not to be killed,” she says. “If it’s going to fail, I’d like it to fail with the word Palestine in it so that the record shows what city council decided not to speak on.”

Appel studied history and archive management at Brandeis University, a Jewish-sponsored college. She believes anti-semitism will only grow through the continuation of the Israel-Hamas War and like Liben, she considers the war a genocide.

“Every time Israel starts attacking Gazans, it gets in the news, and that means Jews are more visible in general, and when we’re more visible, anti-semites are like, ‘Oh yeah, let’s go attack those people',” she says. “People didn’t stick up for Jews in World War II and look what happened to us. I don’t want it to happen to Palestinians. You know? Never again for anyone.”

Marler and Kula both believe the resolution will lead to increased anti-semitism and division between the Jewish and Islamic communities in Missoula.

“This is raising a banner to bring attention to the Jewish community with an offensive against the way Israel is acting,” Kula says. “And in this environment, it would raise more anti-semitism and hatred towards Jews, and I believe towards Muslims as well. Nobody benefits in this resolution.”

Kula dealt with an anti-semitic protest outside of Har Shalom in October. On the same day, the group also protested against the pro-Palestinian demonstration.

Har Shalom has had multiple bomb threats since October and has upgraded all security measures outside the synagogue.

The reaction within the Missoula community was a top concern for city council members and one of the driving factors for those who voted to table the resolution.

“I think our primary concern is for community safety, right? I mean, that's what we're tasked with,” Sherrill says. “Just making sure it wasn't driving more divisiveness in our community or putting anyone at risk. I mean, you know, anti-semitism is a thing.”

Appel and Liben do not expect hatred or division to come from the passed ceasefire resolution, despite the views of Rabbi Kula and Rep. Marler.

“I personally, as a Jew here in Missoula, I feel completely safe,” Liben says. “We should be talking to each other about it, but claiming that there's violence or threats of violence happening simply because we're supporting this Palestine resolution, I see no evidence for that.”

Another main factor deterring many council members from passing the resolution was the fear of oversimplifying the conflict.

Both Appel and Liben believe the situation is not too complicated to understand and say the death toll on both sides should be enough for the council to want to push for a ceasefire.

“That is how I heard some of the council members when they were talking about how complicated it was,” Liben says of the council not fully understanding the Israel-Palestine conflict. “They were talking that way because they really don’t know that much about it, and I'm not faulting them for that. It's like one of many, many issues that are going on in the world. And so that's why it's our goal, it's our job to talk to them and to help educate them about what's actually happening.”

Mark Kula
Mark Kula has lived in Missoula for five years and has been the Rabbi for Har Shalom since the summer of 2023.

The tensions between Israel and Palestine are centuries old, according to Kula, and he felt the nuances were lost on the council.

“The issue of the conflict in the Middle East is extremely complex, and to have a bumper sticker comment belittles the issues and does not allow the proper conversations to occur,” Kula says.

Public comment on January 24 and January 31, was fairly split between sides. Councilwoman Jordan, however, heard more support than opposition from her constituents. Out of over 100 emails sent to Jordan about the issue, 94 were in favor of passing the ceasefire resolution.

“I thought it was really clear about how Missoulians felt regarding this particular issue,” Jordan says.

The decision to table the ceasefire resolution was passed by a 7-5 vote.

Council members Stacie Anderson, Bob Campbell, Sierra Farmer, Gwen Jones, Eric Melson, Mike Nugent and Amber Sherill voted to table.

Council members Daniel Carlino, Mirtha Becerra, Kristen Jordan, Jennifer Savage and Sandra Vasecka voted against tabling the resolution.

“The decision to table things, in its purest sense, is a great way to say ‘we don't have all the information, and we want to park it so that we can take some time to think'," Jordan says. "It is also used as a tool on city council to park things that we don't want to go on the record to vote for. And I'm not sure how it was– under what condition it was tabled this time... It's harder to untable something, and I think it's a tool that's being used on council to not have difficult conversations and go on the record with our votes, and I find it frustrating that it gets used that way.”

Tabling prevents the Missoula City Council from discussing the issue for another six months unless voted back on the table by a two-thirds majority. The decision was a disappointment to Jordan and those who supported the resolution.

“The fact of the matter is, it’s controversial to be an ally to Palestinians, and I think that is what city council is afraid of doing,” Appel says. “I’m frustrated. I’m tired. I’m heartbroken. I just want this to stop. But also, I’m grateful that Palestinian resistance has inspired Jewish people to come together who don’t support what’s happening and kind of forming comfortable new communities.”

Liben, who considers the war in Gaza a genocide, sees the decision as a loss for the pro-Palestinian movement.

“Now six months, those numbers are rolling double or triple,” he says in regards to the death toll in Israel. “The mantra that I grew up with was never again, meaning never again we have genocide. And when we say never again, we don't just mean never again for Jews, we mean never again for everybody, that genocide is never acceptable.”

For those in opposition, on the other hand, a decision to table was a wise choice for a divided council.

“I'm actually comfortable with the tabling because it doesn't dismiss it,” Kula says. “I want to make sure we're hearing the different voices in our community.”

Both sides of the argument agreed that peace was necessary in Israel and Gaza. The true disagreement is whether the Missoula City Council should make a statement.

Liben and Appel are hopeful the Montanans for Palestine movement, as well as a new growth of Jewish Voices For Peace in Montana, will continue, and Kula is hopeful the dialogue surrounding the Israel-Hamas War will be civil and productive.

“I’m hopeful about Missoula as a town. Whatever city council does, this community is solid,” Appel says.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This article has been updated with information from Senator Jon Tester's office.