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Nelson Jewish residents ask city council not to take sides following pro-Palestine rally

Jewish delegation criticizes a councillor’s decision to speak at the event
L-R: Topaz Zafrir, Yael Finer and Judy Banfield appeared at the Oct. 23 meeting of Nelson City Council asking for protection against anti-Semitism following a pro-Palestine rally in the city. Photo: Nelson City Council video screenshot

Three members of Nelson’s Jewish community appeared jointly before city council on Oct. 23 in an emotional request that council not take sides in the Israel-Palestine conflict.

They said a city councillor spoke at an Oct. 22 rally in Nelson entitled Stand with Palestinians against the Genocide, potentially giving the impression that he spoke for council.

“Right now, our community is frightened,” Judy Banfield said. “We are afraid of violence against our community. We do not feel safe gathering together in an announced venue.”

Banfield, who appeared before council with Topaz Zafrir and Yael Finer, said the Jewish community in Nelson has experienced picketing and threats at its events in the past. She said they are worried about an escalation in light of world events, and the Oct. 22 rally has stoked that fear.

Finer said that as a Jewish person she has always felt “absolutely safe” in Nelson. She attended the Oct. 22 rally because “I feel for the Palestinian people, I empathize with their struggle, and I wanted to listen and learn and open myself up to their pain.”

She said she reached out to the rally organizers asking to speak at the event about this, and was denied.

At the rally it became clear that it was a pro-Palestine rally, she said, and she eventually felt compelled to leave because “while there was no direct threat to Jewish people in town, it was implied, and that makes me feel terrified.”

She said a speech by a city councillor at the rally created “a perception of legitimacy.”

Earlier in the meeting when council members gave updates on their recent activities, Councillor Jesse Pineiro mentioned having attended the rally, which he described as a rally in solidarity with the people of Palestine.

“It was a difficult thing to be at,” he told council. “There was a lot of emotional and hard things that were said, but I felt it was a good thing and it was important to the community affected by events in Gaza, that they had the ability to be heard and to talk to each other.”

He told council there were people from both sides in attendance.

When asked later by the Nelson Star to comment on his involvement in the rally, Pineiro said in an email simply that “the mayor is the spokesperson for city council.”

Mayor Janice Morrison replied with a one-sentence email when asked by the Star if there are any rules in place for councillors who take public positions on issues when it might be construed they are speaking on behalf of the city.

“Council is aware and in agreement of the procedural bylaw that states the mayor is the spokesperson for the municipality, on all council business and municipal issues, unless the mayor delegates this authority.”

Zafrir said Palestinians, Israelis and those who support them have a right to protest and feel safe despite disagreement or place of origin.

“We believe in creating discourse and want to promote an open dialogue that would help understand this complex situation in dark times and hard times for us,” she said.

Zafrir, on behalf of the three speakers, asked council for three things.

• Continue providing the presence of police at rallies as they did on Oct. 22 because it is “reassuring and calming.”

• Keep denouncing racism and condemning any act of anti-Semitism or hate speech against Jewish people.

• Don’t take a political stand, as this “misleads the public to believe that the council supports this event and therefore has the potential to endanger local citizens in the future.”


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Bill Metcalfe

About the Author: Bill Metcalfe

I have lived in Nelson since 1994 and worked as a reporter at the Nelson Star since 2015.
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