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Israel-Hamas War Prompts Heated Debate At Red Bank Council Meeting

The tensions surrounding the Israel-Hamas war boiled over during a heated meeting of the Red Bank Council as supporters for and against the conflict made their feelings known during an emotional hearing.

The Feb. 22 meeting drew a large crowd, some of whom were apparently under the impression that a resolution calling for a ceasefire would be on the agenda because of a fake resolution on official-looking letterhead that had been circulating on the internet.

Mayor William Portman made it clear from the outset that no member of the governing body would comment on anything said during the public comment portion of the meeting.

At one point he interrupted an opponent of a ceasefire resolution, explaining: “Just to be clear, we’re not calling for a ceasefire. We don’t have a resolution for a ceasefire before us. We’re not presenting a resolution. We are not voting on a resolution. That is not happening at all. It’s not on the agenda. We’ve had other residents that you’ve heard come up and ask the council to discuss a ceasefire, but it’s not something we’ve chosen to do.”

The growing support for a ceasefire and anti-Israel sentiment has become an issue in the area, fueled by an organization called monmouthcountynj4palestine, which posts through an Instagram account. It held a march and rally on Saturday from Shrewsbury to Red Bank.

Dan Rozett, the director of community relations and Israel engagement for the Jewish Federation in the Heart of New Jersey, which includes Middlesex and Monmouth counties, said the Federation generally has a policy of not engaging in these controversies because it just gives them additional publicity. However, the issue has generated such community concern that Rabbi Douglas Sagal of Rumson Jewish Center-Congregation B’nai Israel, the Monmouth County interfaith chair of Federation’s Jewish community relations council, was asked to speak on its behalf. Rozett and Rabbi Dovid Harrison of Congregation Beth Shalom in Red Bank also addressed the council, and talking points were provided to other community members. The meeting was also attended by Federation Executive Director Susan Antman, Chief Communications Officer Lisa Karasic and numerous lay leaders.

Rabbi Sagal later said he was “enormously proud” of community members who spoke “eloquently and forcefully” against the proposal.

“The handful of pro-Palestinian activists claimed to care for innocents on both sides and yet promptly accused Israel of deliberately murdering civilians, targeting women and children, ethnic cleansing, genocide, etc.,” he noted. “Many of them dressed in keffiyehs and face masks, apparently trying to emulate their heroic freedom fighters.”

He criticized their lack of sincerity by refusing to acknowledge that Hamas leadership is killing its own people and that innocent Palestinians are being abused by both their leadership and the other Arab nations.

Many of those who spoke said they were affiliated with or supporters of Amnesty International, which Rabbi Sagal said if true “shows itself to be another organization disgraced by its affinity to Hamas.”

The organization is dedicated to defending human rights, but has been accused in the past of being antisemitic. Several of its young supporters wore surgical masks when testifying.

Georgina Shanley, a Red Bank resident and president of the organization’s south Jersey chapter, said: “I think there’s a very big difference between being a Zionist and supporting Benjamin Netanyahu.

“I think just because someone doesn’t support the government’s policies doesn’t make that person antisemitic,” she said, adding that although the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas was “unspeakable” and “was a terrorist attack, no question about it,” she called for a ceasefire because of Israel’s response.

“It’s not even a war,” said Shanley. “It’s a massacre…how can we watch while innocent people starve to death or die from disease?”

Shanley, like some other speakers, called for an end to supporting Israel with taxpayer money and claimed, “Netanyahu said he is not going to end this until there are no Palestinians left,” which brought a burst of disapproval from the audience.

Rabbi Sagal had told the gathering that “I and the organizations I represent fervently believe in and encourage peace-minded people of good faith and goodwill affirm the suffering of all innocent people, Israelis, Palestinians alike, must be addressed by the community nations and that the perpetrators of this horror is Hamas.”

He also pointed out that “on Oct. 6 there was a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas in Gaza and on Oct. 7, a holy day in Israel when many were at prayer, Hamas violated the ceasefire and attacked Israel massacring over 1,200 Israelis, raping countless women, carrying out hundreds of executions, beheadings and burnings of people while still alive.”

“The world should demand in one voice that Hamas release the hostages it is holding,” said Rabbi Sagal.

Rabbi Harrison told those gathered that the Torah teaches that human life is paramount and that “every human alive, every human person was created in the image of the Divine.”

“In the words of the Mishnah one who saves a life is like saving an entire world,” he said. “Peace is also an important Jewish value. In the Amidah, which we recite three times a day, we conclude by asking God who makes peace in the higher realms make peace among all of us here. However, when an army of Hamas terrorists, heavily armed, come in and attack innocents as they did on that fateful day when we were in the synagogue just two blocks away, it was trauma.”

In response to the “unimaginable atrocities,” Rabbi Harrison noted: “It is the job of any government, it is the job of the Israeli government, that it must act to remove those people from power and to prevent them from ever doing it again and that is what they’re doing now. They’re trying to create a true ceasefire and that means getting rid of these people who are shooting missiles and rockets at innocent people, murdering and raping and holding people in dungeons. It didn’t start on Oct. 7. It’s been going on for many years since Israel pulled out of Gaza, albeit on a lesser scale.”


Debra Rubin has had a long career in journalism writing for secular weekly and daily newspapers and Jewish publications. She most recently served as Middlesex/Monmouth bureau chief for the New Jersey Jewish News. She also worked with the media at several nonprofits, including serving as assistant public relations director of HIAS and assistant director of media relations at Yeshiva University.

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