Bridgeport City Council Backs Ceasefire Resolution After Heated Public Debate

Bridgeport City Council members voted on April 1, 2024, to uphold their Jan. 2 ceasefire resolution (CT Examiner).

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BRIDGEPORT — Amid a crowd of Palestinian and Jewish residents, the City Council voted on Monday to uphold a contentious ceasefire resolution following months of community debate.

On Jan. 2, Bridgeport joined the more than 70 U.S. cities adopting resolutions calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. While the City Council acknowledged that it alone cannot stop the ongoing conflict, the document urged the Biden administration to facilitate de-escalation efforts, send sufficient humanitarian assistance, aid in the release of “innocent Israeli hostages” and “Palestinian prisoners,” and negotiate a two-state solution. 

Though many residents stand by the original resolution, others, including leaders of the Jewish Federation of Greater Fairfield, have called for the document to be rescinded and rewritten with equitable input from all sides of the issue. Since the resolution’s adoption, supporters of Palestine and Israel alike have continuously attended City Council meetings to defend their positions.

Ahead of the Monday vote, the three-month dispute came to a head. Waving the flags of Palestine and Israel, holding up photos of children killed in the conflict and cheering for speakers, attendees packed into the council chambers to debate a motion to rescind the ceasefire resolution.

Councilwoman AmyMarie Vizzo-Paniccia –– one of the two members who opposed the resolution in January –– said the Jan. 2 decision has effectively split the city and should be rescinded.

“The City Council has become divided, the city has become divided and the groups in question have become divided,” she said. “And I think that’s not what the city of Bridgeport should be, or is, about.”

Several officials insisted that the resolution was carefully drafted with input from numerous religious leaders, but other members of the public claimed the document was quickly put to a vote with little consideration of the Jewish community.  

A backroom meeting

In a statement read to the council by resident Deborah Weiss, Rabbi Evan Schultz of Congregation B’nai Israel and Rabbi Shlame Landa of Chabad Lubavitch of Fairfield recounted their experiences working on the resolution.

According to Schultz and Landa, the two rabbis and five members of the Muslim community were called into a private room by city staff ahead of the January vote, where Mayor Joe Ganim, Council President Aidee Nieves and a number of council members asked them to review the final draft, which would be put to a vote later that day.

Before that last-minute meeting, Schultz and Landa said they were unaware of any incoming resolution.

“When asked if we were comfortable with the language of the proposed ceasefire resolution, we replied that the language was problematic, and the resolution was one-sided and flawed,” Weiss read. “We stressed the Jewish community’s lack of prior knowledge about the resolution, urging that it be tabled to allow for meaningful input.”

Despite their objections, Shultz and Landa claimed they were “vastly outnumbered” at the meeting and given just 15 minutes to provide input. But when they caved to the pressure and suggested changes, Weiss said, they were immediately shot down.

“This meeting was a manipulative scheme to enable the council members and push the resolution to claim that they work cooperatively with the Jewish community,” Weiss read. “Nothing could be further from the truth, and we urge all parties to stop making these false claims. You all know this was wrong. If you don’t fix it, you are complicit.”

Other speakers, however, claimed that Muslims, Jews and Christians had equitable input at the private meeting.

Khaled Elleithy, president of the Bridgeport Islamic Community Center, said the motion to rescind the resolution –– which was rejected by the council’s Miscellaneous Matters Committee on March 25 –– is based on false claims. According to Elleithy, the approved version of the resolution was approved by many Jewish leaders “word-by-word.” 

Along with opposing the resolution itself, some maintain it’s not within the council’s purview to take an official position on the conflict. Rather than adopting a resolution, some suggested the members should sign a letter calling for a ceasefire. But Elleithy argued otherwise.

“If the money spent by the U.S. government to support a genocide in Gaza is not our business, then whose business is it?” Elleithy asked.

Weighing the consequences

All of the council members who spoke agreed they would like a ceasefire in Gaza. They differed, however, over the resolution’s lasting impact on the city.

While Vizzo-Paniccia, who again voted to reject the resolution on Monday, said the ongoing debate split the city, others argued that the increased engagement in council meetings has outweighed the subsequent conflicts.

Councilwoman Maria Pereira argued at the Jan. 2 meeting that the resolution was outside of the council’s scope and should not have been drafted behind closed doors, stirring jeers from the crowd. After the vote, she sent an email to two city officials complaining about some of the attendees’ conduct, referring to them as “Palestinian thugs” and the police chief as “Porter the Pig.”

A few days later, council leadership called for Pereira’s resignation in a joint letter. The councilwoman refused, and the body instead voted to remove her from her committee assignments in February.

Sitting across from Pereira, who draped herself in the Israeli flag, Councilwoman Dasha Spell on Monday said it’s critical that the council responds to public concerns. 

“We have a lot of people from other countries that live here. We see you, we hear you, we want to support you,” Spell said. “At some point, the hostility that you’re talking about is the hostility that you’re projecting on this topic.”

Similarly, Councilwoman Mary McBride-Lee emphasized the importance for the council to adopt a position. Although she personally abstains from siding in the global dispute, McBride-Lee said everyone should desire an end to the war.

She added that the council must represent all of their constituents. 

“I don’t care who wrote the resolution. I don’t care who signed the resolution. I think that it’s a good thing,” McBride-Lee said.

The council ultimately upheld the resolution in a 13-5 vote.