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California city council meetings stir up heated debate over calls for Gaza cease-fire

Hannah Fry and Hannah Wiley, Los Angeles Times on

Published in News & Features

In the last month, the Irvine City Council has focused on the mundane, everyday decisions that typify local government.

Officials took steps to relocate a children’s museum to the Great Park and considered expanding transit options in the city, Orange County’s third largest. They agreed to put stop signs at a busy intersection near a neighborhood school, fulfilling a desire many residents have voiced for years.

But they’ve also grappled with an issue playing out more than 7,000 miles away: the Israel-Hamas war. The conflict has prompted an outpouring of concern from residents and a push for city leaders — more accustomed to weighing local budgets than international policy — to take action.

In the last few months, pro-Palestinian activists have packed city council meetings in Irvine and across California, urging elected officials in hours-long, often emotional and sometimes disruptive and chaotic testimony to call for a cease-fire between Israel and the militant group Hamas.

“We have reached the point of no return on this issue,” Hajar Yapici wrote in a letter to the Irvine City Council. “As our representative, you have a duty to keep us all safe. In times of crisis, that requires public statements and resolutions that reiterate the values that make Irvine one of California’s greatest cities and affirm that Irvine will always be a champion for peace and understanding.”

Public meetings across the state have become a focus for heated debate since Hamas militants attacked and killed more than 1,100 people in Israel and took about 250 hostages on Oct. 7. More than 30,000 people have been killed in Israel’s subsequent retaliatory military campaign in the Gaza Strip, according to health authorities there, many of them women and children.

 

“The local repercussions of this war are just bigger than we’ve seen in the history of the conflict,” said Alon Burstein, a visiting professor of political science at UC Irvine. “We’ve always seen ricochets and rise of antisemitism and Islamophobia when these cycles erupt, but never anything on the scale we’re seeing now.”

Irvine Councilmember Tammy Kim said she’s never seen residents so divided.

While pro-Palestinian organizations and their allies have led the push for local leaders in Irvine and elsewhere to take a stance, many members of the Jewish community and other residents have also appeared at meetings, urging they focus on running the city.

“I’m trying to do the work of the city,” Kim said during a meeting in February where a resolution was discussed. “I want to make it extremely clear that my heart goes out to everyone. Every single human being in this room craves for peace. While my desire to end the war is unwavering, I do understand my limitations as an individual to do so.”

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