Dozens of Palestine supporters showed up Tuesday at the Birmingham City Council meeting to ask for a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza.

Some who waited for public participation at the end of the meeting also witnessed the council reading a proclamation making May 2024 Jewish American History Month.

Those who attended the meeting to accept the proclamation on behalf of the Jewish community sat in the front of the council chambers throughout the meeting. As the meeting continued, more and more pro-Palestine protesters moved forward, eventually surrounding them.

A man who said he was a Jewish American who was proud of the proclamation said he was also there on behalf of those who wanted a ceasefire resolution.

"I was also delighted to hear our reminders today about history of civil rights engagement and the fight for human rights that Jewish Americans were part of, which is also why I stand here today as part of a coalition of citizens that you see behind me working for a free Palestine," he said. "We include, among our numbers, many Jewish Americans like myself. To celebrate Jewish American history is also to take part and to take heart from the lessons of the 20th century."

Morgan Larson also spoke. He directed all of his comments to Councilwoman Crystal Smitherman, asking her to pass a ceasefire resolution in support of Palestine.

Birmingham City Council meeting May 14, 2024. Alabama News
Birmingham City Council meeting May 14, 2024. (screenshot)

"During the Civil Rights Movement, Birmingham was a battlefield," Larson said. "There are still people living in your district, Crystal, that remember bombs being thrown through windows, houses destroyed, and families being split apart. The Birmingham Police brutalized adults and children alike for demanding a better life outside of Jim Crow."

Larson compared Birmingham during the Civil Rights Movement to Israel now.

Councilman J.T. Moore asked Larson to address Smitherman in a respectful manner. He also asked the crowd to maintain decorum following an outburst of hollering and clapping.

"Makes you no better than Bull Connor," Larson continued. "Even if you refuse to watch as genocide unfolds, your children, grandchildren, nieces, and nephews will not. They will ask you what you did for the Palestinian people."

Chris Isler, who claimed to be a journalist, told the council that the issue was relevant to the city.

Journalist Alabama News
Chris Isler addresses council.

"[T]his is an issue that impacts everyone on the planet and impacts certainly everyone in the United States," said Isler. "As every dollar that we send to the United States government, a fraction of it is sent to the state of Israel."

There has been a nationwide push for local governments to pass resolutions calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Some city council meetings have become heated in debate, and protests have broken out in some cities.

Seattle and Chicago are among nearly 50 cities that have passed resolutions calling for a ceasefire. The resolutions do not take action and are merely symbolic.

Mayor Randall Woodfin was not at the meeting but approved the proclamation for Jewish Heritage Month in advance.

Jewish American History Month has been recognized every year since 2006 to honor those of Jewish ancestry who have contributed to society economically, civically and culturally.

"Jewish American Heritage Month is an opportunity to celebrate the vibrancy and importance of Birmingham's Jewish residents, Jewish residents, whose accomplishments and contributions continue to strengthen and enrich our culture, economy, education, and all aspects of community life in our city," the proclamation stated. "… We encourage the residents of Birmingham to commemorate and celebrate the essential contributions, sacrifices, and accomplishments that our Jewish brothers and sisters have made and continue to make in our city."

Danny Cohn, the CEO of the Birmingham Jewish Federation, thanked the council and shared some history from the Birmingham Jewish community.

"[O]ur Birmingham Jewish community ... can trace its beginnings to our city's founding in 1870," said Cohn. "The first synagogue, Temple Emanu-El, was established only 12 years later in 1882. Many great Jewish leaders helped build Birmingham, including Samuel Ullman, who arrived in 1884. He served as the president of the City Board of Education for 16 years."

Other Jewish leadership in Birmingham included the Pizitz family and the Steiner Brothers.

"The Steiner Brothers founded Steiner Bank in 1888," Cohn added. "It was their Steiner plan that helped keep Birmingham afloat during the financial panic of 1893. Lawyer Abe Berkowitz, during the Civil Rights Movement, was an outspoken piece of opposition to the violent and unjust laws and practices of Commissioner Bull Connor."

"While this made him a target for anti-civil rights extremists, he ultimately contributed to changing Birmingham's form of government and unseating Connor from his position of control," he continued. "... We as a community are proud of our rich heritage here in Birmingham and look forward to working alongside our civic and elected partners in coming years to make Birmingham the best it can be."

Woodfin tweeted support for Israel on Oct. 7, 2023, following the deadly attacks by Hamas, but later deleted the tweet after followers called him a Neo-Confederate.

Tuesday was also Israel's 76th anniversary of independence. While many are thankful for survival, others feel the pain from the terror attack is still too real to celebrate.

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