West Orange Town Council Grapples with Anti-Semitism Resolution Amid Community Divide

In a recent West Orange Town Council meeting, a proposed resolution to condemn anti-Semitism became a focal point of a broader discussion on hate and bias within the community. The debate on the resolution revealed deep divisions among the council members and the public, with passionate arguments presented on both sides. Several residents voiced concerns that the resolution, aimed at combating anti-Semitism, did not sufficiently address or could potentially overshadow the needs of other communities, particularly the Palestinian, Arab, and Muslim residents.

The resolution, numbered 39-24, was challenged by multiple community members. Natana Creamer, a Jewish woman, stressed the need for a resolution that condemns all forms of racism, including Islamophobia. Similar sentiments were echoed by Rachel Cohen and Julia Greenberg, who called for a resolution that does not equate criticism of Israel with anti-Semitism. Jeremy Chatsky, a new resident, expressed his concern about the town’s attempt to silence voices by canceling a Palestinian flag-raising ceremony and opposed the resolution’s language.

The council meeting also saw Matt Dragon and Todd Doovi raise objections to the resolution and other matters related to professional service agreements, emphasizing the importance of avoiding conflicts of interest and prioritizing the safety and voices of all community members.

The debate on Resolution 39-24 was intense, with council members and residents expressing different perspectives on the need to explicitly address anti-Semitism or to create a more inclusive resolution against all forms of hate. Councilwoman Michelle Casalino shared concerns about statements made during a West Orange High School walkout, which she interpreted as a threat to the Jewish community. She argued for a clear distinction between criticism of Israel and anti-Semitism. Amy Gallon, another council member, urged the adoption of the resolution using the U.S. State Department’s definition to guide the council’s stance.

Resident Meish Kesi expressed fears for their safety and freedom of speech, with concerns that the resolution may put Palestinians, Arabs, and Muslims at risk by conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism. Ibraim and Tova also urged the council to consider the resolution’s potential to create hostility and division within the community.

Council President Bill Rutherford highlighted the importance of the resolution in combating the rise in anti-Semitism but acknowledged the need for a broader conversation that includes addressing Islamophobia and racism. A resident, identified as AR, warned that equating criticism of Israel to anti-Semitism could lead to a culture of fascism.

The council grappled with the challenge of creating a resolution that would make all residents feel safe and heard.

In administrative matters, Town Administrator John Sayers Abbott explained the rationale behind outsourcing expertise due to a reduced workforce, highlighting the demand for specialized skills and the efficiency of utilizing contractors for specific roles. The council addressed the need for additional inspectors and engineers, with concerns raised about the workload of the Planning and Zoning Director.

Furthermore, the council discussed the acquisition of 90 Acres of land and the ongoing legal dispute with the mayor over legal fees that escalated from $7,499 to over $42,000. Councilwoman Casalino questioned the lack of notification when the costs exceeded the initial amount, while Councilwoman Ghebremicael and Councilwoman Williams highlighted the impact of the lawsuit on the town’s budget.

The meeting also included debates on various other resolutions, such as the reappointment of Rosary Morelli to the Economic Development Commission and the nomination of individuals to the Older Adults Advisory Board. The council members voted in favor of the appointments after discussing the transparency and openness of the board’s practices.

Note: This meeting summary was generated by AI, which can occasionally misspell names, misattribute actions, and state inaccuracies. This summary is intended to be a starting point and you should review the meeting record linked above before acting on anything you read. If we got something wrong, let us know. We’re working every day to improve our process in pursuit of universal local government transparency.

Susan McCartney
City Council Officials:
Michelle Casalino, Asmeret Ghebremicael, Bill Rutherford, Susan Scarpa, Tammy Williams

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