Cease-fire resolution in Easton: Controversy around Israel-Hamas war escalates in City Hall
- Easton City Councilwoman Taiba Sultana will introduce a revised version of resolution calling for an Israel-Hamas war cease-fire on Wednesday
- Mayor Sal Panto Jr. and the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley have criticized the resolution, saying it falls outside council responsibilities and fosters divisiveness
- Sultana said the resolution is important to Easton's Palestinian and Jewish communities, who are affected by the Mideast conflict
EASTON, Pa. — Issues surrounding an Easton City Council resolution calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war continue to escalate as the mayor and the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley have called for the measure’s removal, saying it falls outside the city’s purview.
With Councilwoman Taiba Sultana scheduled to reintroduce a resolution calling for a cease-fire and imploring state and federal government agencies to do so as well, tensions are rising across the board.
Sultana’s new resolution is a revised version of the resolution introduced at the last council meeting. That one was removed from the agenda following a call from Mayor Sal Panto Jr. to do so.
“The conflict between Palestine and Israel directly affects the lives of people living in our city. Therefore, advocating for a ceasefire is crucial to protect the lives and well-being of local residents."Easton City Councilmember Taiba Sultana
Sultana’s updated resolution is pared down from the original, and reads as follows:
“Whereas the recent escalation of violence and tensions between Israel and Palestine have brought this conflict to the forefront of global attention.
“Whereas the City of Easton values peace and human life.
“Now therefore let it be resolved Easton City Council urges Congresswoman Susan Wild, Governor Josh Shapiro, Senator John Fetterman, Senator Bob Casey, and the Biden administration to immediately call for and facilitate de-escalation and a cease-fire to urgently end the current violence.”
Panto argued the resolution was divisive and had no place in council business, as it is a foreign affair.
Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley weighs in
The mayor continues to stand by that position, as does the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley, which sent out an email calling on subscribers “urging [Easton City Council] not to pass resolutions that are not appropriate for the city council level.”
A sample message was included in the email, and said:
“Instead, I would like to propose that we consider a resolution aimed at supporting both the Jewish and Muslim communities, recognizing the challenges we currently face and emphasizing the importance of unity. Such a resolution could have a more positive impact on the daily life of our city.”
A link to submit the message to Easton City Council appeared below the text.
Hearing of the email, Sultana responded “First off, everyone needs to understand the difference between the resolution and the legislation.
“Resolutions are primarily used to express the council’s opinions or beliefs, while legislation is used to create or modify laws and regulations with legal consequences. So saying that it’s not in our jurisdiction is pointless,” a statement issued by Sultana reads.
“The resolution is a calling on Congresswoman Susan Wild and the Senate for a cease-fire between Palestine and Israel. It’s a local issue due to its immediate impact on local communities, humanitarian concerns, economic implications, political representation, and participation in international solidarity movements.”
Panto said Sultana was trying to “stir the pot,” citing examples of civil demonstrations and protests — George Floyd and Black Lives Matter, in particular — which he said “had no problems,” adding, “I’m hearing from a lot of people of the Jewish faith, and they’re not happy.”
“She has political aspirations for a higher office, and she's just using this for name recognition. She's been the chairman of the planning commission, but she's never been to a planning commission meeting, she's never been zoning board meeting, she's never been to a historic district commission meeting.”Mayor Sal Panto Jr.
Mayor cites lack of 'balance'
Besides the conflict occurring “outside the scope” of Easton, Panto said he found Sultana’s resolution lacked “balance,” and questioned Israel’s ability to defend itself.
“What I don't like at these meetings is when someone from authority, like her, continuously says we're anti-humanitarian, we don't care about children being slaughtered. The public believes her, and she said that about 10 times during the last meeting, and the audience came up and started saying the same thing,” Panto said.
But the core of the issue is what the mayor perceives as Sultana’s intent with the resolution itself.
“She has political aspirations for a higher office, and she's just using this for name recognition,” Panto said. “She's been the chairman of the planning commission, but she's never been to a planning commission meeting, she's never been to a zoning board meeting, she's never been to a historic district commission meeting.”
In her written statement, Sultana said it is customary for a municipal government to communicate with the federal government, “just like we reach out to the federal government for grants and assistance to address the other local issues.”
“The conflict between Palestine and Israel directly affects the lives of people living in our city. Therefore, advocating for a cease-fire is crucial to protect the lives and well-being of local residents,” the statement reads.
Panto said he does not care if Sultana were to pursue letter-writing campaigns or other methods to push federal politicians to take a stance on Israel and Hamas, even if she utilizes her office title. Attempting to run the resolution through council, though, is inappropriate, according to the mayor.
“I have no control over her and I don't care if she's doing it individually, but to do it collectively is beyond the scope of city council,” Panto said.
Councilwoman says crisis demands local action
Sultana contested that idea and said the connection between local people and family and friends in the Middle East necessitates some form of action.
“The conflict is leading to a humanitarian crisis, with civilians suffering the most. We have Palestinian Americans in the Lehigh Valley whose families are not only trapped in Gaza but they are losing their families. This is directly affecting the lives of our local residents whose tax dollars are funding the killing of their loved ones,” Sultana said. “I believe their concern should be addressed.”
“If councilwoman Sultana wanted to have a conversation about any of these issues, there are places for civil discourse. And I don't believe that this is on the city council level, and I don't think that she's actually looking for civil discourse. So all in all, it just takes away from the importance of any kind of unity or consideration. It’s from a negative approach."Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley Executive Director Jeri Zimmerman
She said the conflict also has impacts on the local economy, “hindering development and prosperity,” adding “The only way we can prevent Islamophobia and antisemitism is by calling for a cease-fire.”
“Businesses suffer from disruptions and boycotts. A cease-fire would allow for economic recovery and growth, benefiting local businesses and livelihoods,” Sultana’s statement reads.
“My original drafted resolution has been widely shared among the cities throughout the USA. In fact The Providence City Council in Rhode Island has passed a resolution following my drafted model and some council members in different cities are drafting theirs as well.”
Concerns about division
The Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley concurred with Panto’s sentiments on the matter.
“If councilwoman Sultana wanted to have a conversation about any of these issues, there are places for civil discourse," said Jeri Zimmerman, executive director of the Jewish Federation of the Lehigh Valley. "And I don't believe that this is on the city council level, and I don't think that she's actually looking for civil discourse. So all in all, it just takes away from the importance of any kind of unity or consideration. It’s from a negative approach.”
Zimmerman said such actions could result in further divides among the Jewish and Palestinian communities across the Lehigh Valley, citing Anti-Defamation League Director and CEO Jonathan Greenblatt, who said that there has been a 388% increase in antisemitism in America since Oct. 7, when Hamas attacked Israel.
According to Zimmerman, the Jewish Federation has worked extensively to combat Islamophobia and hatred throughout the Lehigh Valley in the past and will continue to do so going forward.
In short, the issue with Sultana’s resolution has nothing to do with religious differences, but with the arena in which the matter has been introduced, Zimmerman said.
“We've worked with the interfaith community here, including Muslims, and Sikhs, and Hindus and so forth, to help them secure their places, too,” Zimmerman said. “And so, where this note alludes to supporting both Jewish and Muslim communities, we have always been for that. And we also make a big distinction in what's going on in Israel between Hamas and Palestinian civilians — the fact that Hamas hides behind its civilian population is unthinkable to us, too. That's just not OK.”
As for the idea of the resolution fostering divisiveness, Sultana contested the idea.
“Siding with one or other groups can be found divisive but calling for a cease-fire is a call for peace and unity,” Sultana’s statement reads.
“Advocating for a cease-fire will help maintain social cohesion and stability, preventing divisions and conflicts within local communities. It is the duty of local leaders to advocate for their constituents' well-being.”
Easton City Council’s next meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Nov. 8, at Easton City Hall.