Spokane council suspends meeting over comment flap with Palestinian supporters

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(The Center Square) – The Spokane City Council suspended its meeting Monday evening during a public comment period after a handful of pro-Palestinian supporters disregarded rules against singling out individual council members.

The speakers were upset over an Oct. 9 resolution unanimously approved by the council that expressed support for the State of Israel and that nation’s right to defend itself following a deadly attack by Hamas forces two days earlier.

Last night, council president Lori Kinnear repeatedly asked the Palestinian supporters to direct all comments to her. Four initial speakers eventually complied or ended their remarks. But a fifth speaker pointedly refused, citing his free-speech right and continuing to mention councilmen Jonathan Bingle and Michael Cathcart by name despite their “point-of-order” objections and requests from Kinnear to adhere to the council’s rules.

With little advance notice, Bingle had introduced the Oct. 9 resolution, seconded by Cathcart, that condemned the “violent act of war” perpetrated against Israel and affirmed the nation’s right to exist and defend itself. Voting in support were Kinnear and fellow council members Ryan Oelrich, Karen Stratton, Betsy Wilkerson, and Zack Zappone.

There is a brief reference listed in the meeting minutes contained in the council’s Oct. 23 agenda packet. The statement was similar to others issued by elected officials around the country, including members of Washington state’s congressional delegation and the Biden Administration.

But on Monday night and during the council’s Oct. 30 meeting, Palestinian supporters derided the resolution, singling out Bingle and Cathcart for its introduction, and calling for it to be rescinded. During both sessions, a contingent of mostly younger adults, some identifying as socialists or Muslims, voiced outrage at Israel and its actions, calling it a racist, apartheid nation committing genocide against innocent victims, including thousands of children, within Gaza.

One speaker, Russell Webster, called the resolution “shameful” and described Gaza, home to millions of Palestinians, as “a concentration camp.”

Others objected to financial support for Israel, both by Spokane and the U.S. government.

Few, if any, of the protesters openly acknowledged the role of Hamas – a Sunni Islamist political and military group governing the Gaza Strip – in initiating the latest conflict.

But during the Oct. 30 meeting, they stood and turned their backs to another speaker, Raul Pena, a military veteran who faulted Hamas for sparking the violence. Hamas forces had killed, raped and held innocent persons, young and old, as hostages, said Pena, while bombarding Israel with thousands of destructive missiles.

This Monday’s meeting started at 6 p.m. and was suspended about 35 minutes later by Kinnear. She briefly reappeared at 6:58 p.m., saying the council had adjourned and would address the evening’s agenda “another day.” She did not elaborate.

As council members rose from their seats and departed, several police officers providing security moved to the front of the chambers as a precaution. However, there was no confrontation with audience members, a number of whom remained in the room, peacefully milling about. Some reportedly vowed to return for the next meeting.

As chair, Kinnear has authority under council rules to recess or adjourn a meeting and reconvene at another location “when noise, disturbance, indecorum, or other circumstances warrant ….” unless a majority of the council votes to continue.

The rules, which Kinnear read prior to the open forum, also state that members of the public addressing the council should direct all remarks to her and “refrain from remarks directed personally to any council members or any other individual.”

Councilman Zappone questioned whether the latter rule should apply to speakers referring to Bingle and Cathcart for their introduction of the resolution. It did, said Kinnear.

Typically, the council does not respond to public comments, although rules say a member may ask a speaker to identify their source of information when asserting a statement of fact.

Neither Kinnear or the city clerk responded to email requests from The Center Square Tuesday morning seeking updated meeting information.

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