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Tompkins County residents call on legislators to support ceasefire in Gaza

Michael Margolin blowing the shofar
Michael Margolin blowing the shofar at Tuesday's meeting

Although there was no legislation involving the conflict in the Middle East on the agenda for Tuesday’s meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature, residents showed up to discuss it anyway.

The legislature’s second meeting of the year saw over an hour of public comment from county residents asking the legislature to create a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. Residents also spoke on the ceasefire at a meeting earlier this month.

Over a thousand people in Israel and over 24,000 people in Gaza have died since October 7, when Hamas militants attacked Israel. Since then, Israel has responded with an invasion of Gaza that has internally displaced 2 million people. Hamas still holds over a hundred Israeli hostages. Children make up nearly half of Gaza’s population.

The speakers included members of Jewish Voices for Peace, the Cornell Collective for Justice in Palestine, and Jewish and Muslim faith leaders.

Michael Margolin, a Jewish educator at the Congregation Tikkun v’Or, the Ithaca Reform Temple, was the first speaker of the night. He opened his testimony using the Shofar, a horn used in Jewish religious ceremonies.

“I blow it in our tradition to wake ourselves up to the humanity of others,” he said. “I found it relevant today.”

Although the resolution will not stop the violence, he said, it is still important for governing bodies to take a stand.

“Certainly this action alone will not bring about an end to the violence, just like my choice for coming here tonight as a Jewish person will not result in an end to the genocide,” Margolin said. “But I came anyway.”

He urged the legislature to join other local governments that have called for a ceasefire, including the city of Albany.

“We are not required to single handedly bring about an end to this horrible violence in Gaza,” he said. “But we do have to do our small part.”

Darlene Evans, a member of Jewish Voices for Peace and the Cornell Collective for Justice in Palestine, told the legislature that their decisions influence bodies of government with greater international presence.

“When local legislators officially call for a ceasefire, we put pressure on those in higher power to do the same,” she said.

Israel’s actions now could also lead to further radicalization and conflict, she added.

“There is no limit to the number of people who may be joining the resistance in Gaza in grief, in anger and in outrage,” Evans said.

Mahmud Burton speaking in front of the county legislature

Mahmud Burton, a faith leader in the local Muslim community, told the legislature that Jewish and Muslim residents were uniquely impacted by the violence.

“It is clear for the interfaith work that I'm actively engaged in that members of both the Muslim and Jewish communities are negatively impacted by this conflict in ways that are not fully understood by most of the non-Jewish or Muslim majority,” he said.

Living in the United States gives residents greater influence over international events, Burton said.

“We therefore have greater responsibility than most people on this planet, to show leadership in this time.”

Legislators offered their own thoughts after public comment ended.

Republican Legislator Mike Sigler spoke against the argument that the violence in Gaza could escalate threats from Hamas.

“I guess you could have made that argument in World War II, ‘Well, we’re bombing Dresden. We’re just creating more Nazis.”

Democratic Legislator Veronica Pillar was more supportive of the proposal and thanked the speakers for addressing the issue.

“I can say I hear you, I believe you and I appreciate you,” they said.

No formal action has been taken in the legislature to adopt any resolution or legislation on the subject at this time.

State of the County

Tuesday's meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature
Tuesday's meeting of the Tompkins County Legislature

Later in the meeting, Democratic Chair Daniel Klein announced the county legislature’s priorities for 2024 in his State of the County address.

The speech outlined the general goals and objectives for Tompkins County over the coming year.

“The state of the county is excellent,” he said. “At the same time, there were plenty of areas that needed a lot of attention and a lot of help.”

Environmental protection, particularly for Cayuga Lake, was of great importance, Klein said.

“Our environment, including mitigating and adapting to climate change, is central to so many areas such as health, economics, energy, water, food, recreation, transportation, and much more.”

The county will continue to tackle the issue of homelessness in the area, Klein announced.

“The county will be rethinking what we can do with our sheltering services to address this problem,” he said.

The legislature also hopes to address economic and housing issues that contribute to homelessness.

He also touched on broadband access, plans for the county jail, utilization of opioid settlements and more.

Klein said that he and Ithaca Mayor Robert Cantelmo are optimistic about county-city collaboration.

“We both believe that we will have clear channels of communication between city and county and that communication is the key for good relationship,” he said.

Klein ended the address by thanking county staff.

“There is no 2024 work plan without our employees,” he said.

The next meeting of the Legislature is scheduled for February 6.