Easton councilwoman says anti-Muslim rhetoric has increased after her call for Middle East cease-fire
- Easton City Councilwoman Taiba Sultana said she is experiencing increased incidents of anti-Muslim rhetoric after calling for an Israel-Hamas cease-fire
- Mayor Sal Panto Jr. has said he found Sultana's resolution to be divisive for the community
- Sultana said she will continue to call for a cease-fire in support of civilians of both Israeli and Palestinian origin
EASTON, Pa. — An Easton city councilwoman says she is facing backlash following her attempt to pass a resolution calling for a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war.
Following contentious altercations at the last Easton City Council meeting, Councilwoman Taiba Sultana has reported numerous incidents of “anti-Muslim hate” against her.
They include accusations of her “trying to take over” America, and calls for her to “Go back where you came from."
“This is not the first time I am facing anti-Muslim hate,” Sultana said.
However, since her attempt to introduce a resolution calling for a cease-fire in the Middle Eastern conflict — which was removed from the agenda following a motion introduced by Mayor Sal Panto Jr. — she said “anti-Muslim and Islamophobic rhetoric has risen.”'
“The resolution is a call to our leaders for a ceasefire to bring peace to the region. More than 9,000 Palestinians and 1,400 Israelis have been killed, most of whom were children. Over 200 Israelis are held hostage. Over one million Palestinians are displaced due to the mass destruction. Not calling for peace and ceasefire is supporting the violence. We cannot renounce our common humanity in times of challenge and darkness.”Easton City Councilmember Taiba Sultana
According to Sultana, and confirmed via several social media posts, several people have sent various bigoted comments to her, including the following statements.
Among them are calls says she doesn't "belong in public office. Maybe you should go crawl back to whatever sand hole you crawled out of”; saying that if "you support terrorists, you are a terrorist. Pathetic that you are even elected to office.”
Others say, “Her Loyalty is for Islam, not America, she aims to bring Shariya here,” "no human rights for Muzlims” and “you should cry about it as you get deported.”
Sultana said the comments are nothing new.
“Islamophobia and hateful speech have always been an issue, but some people in office have given these people a voice,” Sultana said.
“Normalizing bigotry and hate not only can jeopardize an individual's life but the lives of all Muslims. Every one of us feels unsafe.
"I have heard so many incidents across the Lehigh Valley. My children are hesitant to go to school after receiving ‘Muslim jokes’ from their classmates.”
Sultana has stood by her resolution and its core message calling for a cease-fire to protect civilians, both Palestinian and Israeli.
But across the nation, it appears there are several examples of increased Islamophobia following the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israelis.
Information from the Council on American-Islamic Relations appears to vindicate Sultana’s concern: The organization says it got 774 requests for help and reports of bias incidents from Muslims across the United States from Oct. 7 to Oct. 24.
That's a 182% jump from any given 16-day stretch last year.
Comparatively, during 16 days in 2022, the group saw an average of 274 complaints.
I'm “tired of her thinking I’m a racist, calling me a racist, and [saying I am] against a cease-fire, and she says it so often, that she convinces the people she invited to the meeting to agree with her.”Easton Mayor Sal Panto
Panto said he called for the removal of Sultana’s cease-fire resolution primarily because of the limited purview of the council. He noted that an international conflict has little to do with day-to-day operations in Easton.
However, a strong showing of support from the Lehigh Valley’s Muslim community and their allies raised questions about precisely why such a resolution was shot down.
According to Panto, that has led to conflict within the community.
“She's putting a big divide into a community that gets along very well, all races and all religions," Panto said. "I'm very upset about how she's bringing this dissension to the public.”
Panto said he “will probably say something at the council] meeting next week.”
Panto said he's “tired of her thinking I’m a racist, calling me a racist, and [saying I am] against a cease-fire, and she says it so often, that she convinces the people she invited to the meeting to agree with her.”
'Think we have differing opinions'
Panto said the main point of contention he found in Sultana’s resolution was “because it was divisive.”
It “took the side of the Palestinians… it never talked about Hamas invading Israel, killing innocents going to an outdoor festival and just firing on unarmed civilians,” he said.
He also said he felt Sultana’s resolution was written from the perspective of “the city of Easton,” a representation with which he didn't agree.
He said he would have preferred it was phrased to be the opinion of the city council.
"I think Mrs. Sultana likes to think we have different positions, and we don't. And if she was all in favor of the ceasefire and the resolution that Congress should pass, she should have amended her agenda."Easton Mayor Sal Panto
Panto said he had his own resolution prepared for the meeting last week, which he said is a more balanced approach acknowledging civilian casualties across the board.
"I talked to Palestinians, I talked to people who were against it, who came to the meeting and argued with me,” Panto said. “I verified and qualified my position.
"I think Mrs. Sultana likes to think we have different positions, and we don't. And if she was all in favor of the ceasefire and the resolution that Congress should pass, she should have amended her agenda.
"She knows that we had a problem with it. And I allowed her to put it on the agenda as chairman, because I've never stopped city council members from putting something on the agenda.”
Making another attempt
Both Sultana and Panto confirmed Sultana had proposed a special meeting before the council meeting to discuss her resolution.
But it would have required at least four board members to support the motion, and Panto said she likely lacked that support.
“Why do [the meeting] 48 hours in advance?” Panto said.
Sultana maintains her call for a cease-fire is to encourage upper levels of government to engage in that mission and show support for both Palestinian and Israeli civilians.
“I will not be silent in the face of hate. I am proud to stand in solidarity with Jewish voices for peace and others advocating for a cease-fire. Palestinians and those who support them are not pro-Hamas.”Easton Councilwoman Taiba Sultana
She said she will attempt to reintroduce the resolution, even if it requires a bit of revision.
“I will not be silent in the face of hate," she said. "I am proud to stand in solidarity with Jewish voices for peace and others advocating for a cease-fire. Palestinians and those who support them are not pro-Hamas.”
She said not all Jewish individuals support the actions of Israel.
“However, I believe my intent has been overly misinterpreted by the council intentionally or unintentionally,” Sultana said.
“The resolution is a call to our leaders for a cease-fire to bring peace to the region," she said.
"More than 9,000 Palestinians and 1,400 Israelis have been killed, most of whom were children. Over 200 Israelis are held hostage. Over one million Palestinians are displaced due to the mass destruction.
"Not calling for peace and cease-fire is supporting the violence. We cannot renounce our common humanity in times of challenge and darkness.”
Easton City Council’s next meeting is set for 6 p.m. Wednesday at City Hall, 123 S. 3rd St.