Gondek faces Jewish, Palestinian supporters after declining menorah lighting

Calgary Mayor Jyoti Gondek speaks with reporters in city hall on Dec. 12, 2023. Global News

Calgary’s mayor is facing pressure from pro-Jewish and pro-Palestinian supporters after her decision to try to remain apolitical about the conflict in the Middle East.

Members of the city’s Jewish community directly expressed their disappointment in Mayor Jyoti Gondek not attending the menorah lighting, a 35-year tradition, as she attended a prayer service held by the Calgary Interfaith Council on Monday night.

“The words were used that ‘you hurt me by not attending.’ And I did speak with these individuals and I explained why I had to make the decision I made,” she said.

Late on Dec. 6, the mayor put out a statement indicating she would not attend the first night of lighting the menorah in city hall, citing an apparent political tone change in light of the current conflict in the Middle East.

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Event organizers told Global News nothing about the event changed from last year to this year.

Click to play video: 'Calgary mayor bows out of Jewish tradition, citing event’s ‘political intentions’'
Calgary mayor bows out of Jewish tradition, citing event’s ‘political intentions’

Gondek said last week she heard from Calgarians who interpreted the event’s poster to be an event explicitly supporting Israel in the conflict.

“I have an obligation to make sure that I remain politically neutral on this war so that I am not causing greater grief in my community,” the mayor said. “And there was absolutely no way to reach out to every single Calgarian to explain to them what the difference was between what organizers meant and what the public was picking up. I had to make the statement I made.”

Gondek said opinions citywide remain mixed on her decision from last week.

Gondek also got an earful from Calgarians who want to see more from their elected representatives to respond to the ongoing Middle East conflict.

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Calls for a ceasefire

Tuesday morning, pro-Palestinian protesters interrupted a city council meeting, criticizing councillors’ “silence” on the police treatment of weeks of protests outside city hall.

“You all have remained silent, endangering us and our community members. Your silence is putting us in danger,” Ahmad Yaghi said while councillors were transitioning into a closed session of the meeting.

The protesters also called for the mayor and council to publicly urge for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas conflict.

“I’m sorry,” Gondek could be heard saying on a social media video, telling the protesters that Tuesday morning was not the time to address council.

Protesters broke into chants of “ceasefire now” and “shame” as councillors filed out of the room.

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After the council meeting, Yaghi told Global News he didn’t feel like councillors heard him.

“We’ve been trying for them to have a special meeting regarding the call for a ceasefire, as other cities have. And we feel like we’ve been continuously stonewalled by them,” he said.

Click to play video: 'Israel-Hamas: Trudeau warns the ‘cost of justice’ cannot be the ‘continued suffering of all Palestinian civilians’'
Israel-Hamas: Trudeau warns the ‘cost of justice’ cannot be the ‘continued suffering of all Palestinian civilians’

Yaghi said he supported Gondek’s decision to not attend the menorah lighting, but also said the mayor and council “should represent the voice of their people.”

“We see that the overwhelming majority of Calgarians support a ceasefire. An overwhelming number of Canadians support a ceasefire,” he said. “So in that case, she should definitely represent our voices.”

Gondek said the chants in council chambers on Tuesday highlight the need for impartiality about the Israel-Hamas conflict and other international events.

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“These are the types of things that we have to be very careful of in this place. We cannot make city hall political,” Gondek told reporters. “And when the public perception becomes that an event (like the menorah lighting) could be political, I have to be very cautious and I will continue to have conversations with members of the Jewish community.”

Earlier this month, Ward 5 Coun. Raj Dhaliwal and Ward 8 Coun. Courtney Walcott publicly called for a ceasefire in the Middle East, but council as a whole hasn’t.

Click to play video: 'Canada to support calls for ceasefire in ongoing conflict in Gaza, Joly announces'
Canada to support calls for ceasefire in ongoing conflict in Gaza, Joly announces

The protest comes on the same day Prime Minister Justin Trudeau called for the resumption of a pause in the Israel-Hamas conflict, saying Canada supports efforts “towards a sustainable ceasefire.”

Prior to question period, Trudeau told reporters that he spoke with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, where he outlined the country’s position.

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“We are committed to working with partners in the region and around the world towards an enduring two state solution,” Trudeau said.

“Canada is committed to ensuring that Israelis and Palestinians get to live in peace and security within internationally recognized borders in peaceful and successful states.”

Yaghi said Canada’s position on a ceasefire was a “long time coming.”

“Better late than never, but obviously it’s welcome,” he said. “At the end of the day, what is going on in Gaza should be solved politically and diplomatically, not militarily. We see it every time.”

– with files from David Baxter, Global News

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