Seattle Councilwoman’s Gaza letter met with swift opposition from community, council

Seattle Councilwoman’s Gaza letter met with swift opposition from community, council

By Emily K. Alhadeff, Associate Editor, The Jewish Sound

Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant’s letter to President Obama and Congress to denounce “Israel’s siege and blockade of Gaza and the occupation of the West Bank” and to end “all U.S. government and military aid for Israel” was met with staunch opposition.

Kshama Sawant

Seattle City Councilwoman Kshama Sawant.

Sawant read the draft of her letter at a City Council meeting Aug. 4 and asked her fellow council members to sign on to it. She invited feedback and amendments to the letter from the public through Aug. 11.

Upon learning about Sawant’s proposed letter, the Jewish Federation of Greater Seattle issued an action alert. According to president and CEO Keith Dvorchik, 1,025 unique individuals sent a standardized letter of opposition to either Sawant or the entire council, resulting in 8,226 letters altogether.

At a City Council meeting on Aug. 11, Sawant received negative responses from Councilmembers Tom Rasmussen, Sally Clark, Sally Bagshaw, and Jean Godden. Mike O’Brien, Bruce Harrell, and Tim Burgess were absent. Nick Licata sympathized with Sawant, but is writing his own letter.

After being delivered defeat, Sawant concluded that she would send the letter herself.

“It was very clear to the City Council that there were a lot of people who did not want them to send the letter,” said Dvorchik. “I think it had a strong impact on the decision not to sign the letter.”

Dvorchik said the Federation has reached out in the past to Sawant to discuss the Jewish community’s concerns regarding Israel, but Sawant has not responded.

Opposition also came from KIRO radio host Jason Rantz, who challenged Sawant on “The Jason Rantz Show” Aug. 6. “Do you acknowledge Hamas wants to kill Jews?” Rantz asked, before reading an excerpt from the Hamas charter.

Sawant sidestepped the question.

“This is a stalemate,” she said a few minutes later. “The only way out is to put in place a meaningful situation of peace. For that we can’t rely on the Israeli state we need working people on both sides.”

“I totally agree,” said Rantz. “I would just argue that you can’t do that with a group like Hamas in power.”

Later on during the three-hour show, U.S. ambassador to Israel Ron Dermer called in to discuss the situation and to address Sawant’s position.

“Anyone who would put such a resolution forward is either doing something out of some ideology or simply doesn’t know the facts,” he said.

“When all the facts are known,” he added, “people who rush to judgment against Israel frankly I think will be embarrassed, and they’re going to have to retract a lot of what they said.”

In a letter to the council he shared with the Jewish Sound, Seattle resident David Shayne stated that Sawant’s letter displayed “a profound lack of understanding of the causes of the violence” and said that it would not be “a good use of public revenues and your time to engage this issue.”

Though Shayne clarifies that his points are his own, he goes on to say, “I know my sentiments are shared by hundreds if not thousands of voting Seattle residents. We are paying close attention and we will remember next election time how each Councilmember acts on this issue.”

Sawant will be running for reelection in 2015.