Delegitimizing Gaza Conversation Misses the Point

A draft resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza has been introduced and will be taken up by the Minneapolis City Council at a committee meeting on January 24. Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw has responded, in an opinion published in the Star Tribune, calling it “dangerous” and “divisive” — without pointing to any particular language in the resolution. She accused one colleague of language “clearly meant to incite violence.” A serious enough charge that you’d expect her to specify what had been said — but she didn’t. And she’s set a record for the number of days into a new term that a council member pretends to be offended and demands an apology from the council president.*

I’ll resist trying to convince you that the concept of a ceasefire in Gaza is a good or bad idea. But I do think the arguments against even having this conversation, from Vetaw and others, are missing the point (maybe intentionally).

Vetaw argues it’s a waste of time. She asks, “what makes my colleagues think anyone in Israel or Gaza cares what they think?” But this isn’t really about sending a message to the Middle East. There are local, mostly Democratic leaders from across this country trying to influence the foreign policy of a Democratic president in the year he runs for reelection. Hundreds of individual elected officials have signed on to this letter calling for a ceasefire. On the list are 10 from Minneapolis and four from Saint Paul. Dozens of local governments have passed or proposed resolutions.

And if you were watching MSNBC last night, like mainstream moms everywhere, you’d have heard establishment pundits agreeing that Joe Biden is toast if he can’t figure out a way to get a ceasefire in Gaza. Local efforts to influence US foreign policy in an election year are actually relevant and meaningful. It may not work. You may not agree with it. But it’s certainly a realistic tactic.

Vetaw also argues Gaza is not a legitimate topic of conversation for local government: “this is not even close to our lane.” Mayor Frey has made a similar argument, saying this would be time better spent filling potholes. The current draft of the Gaza resolution is just two pages long, just printed words. It’s not a serious investment of time or money. And you could apply this “stay in your lane” argument to many of the resolutions frequently passed by the City Council — like the one recognizing International Migrants Day, passed at their previous meeting. City leaders could also just throw up their hands and say climate change is an intractable global problem beyond the scope of city government. But they don’t.

In the years after the 9/11 terrorist attacks, there was a period where it was seen as somehow anti-American to suggest the war on terror had exceeded its mandate and killed too many civilians. Eventually it became politically correct to ask: is what we’re doing actually making us safer? It might be better for Israel to get to that point faster than we did.

We’ve seen antisemitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Palestinian bigotry increase as a result of the October 7 terrorist attack on Israel and the subsequent months of bombing of Gaza. But delegitimizing conversations about peace, and our country’s significant role in facilitating an end to an unacceptable toll of suffering and violence, isn’t going to make it better.