Councillor shouted at when discussing why Sheffield Council shouldn’t join the Sheffield Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid group

Members of the public started shouting at a councillor during a debate about whether Sheffield Council should join the Sheffield Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid group.
Cllr Joe Otten said he wouldn't support the council to join the Sheffield Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid group.Cllr Joe Otten said he wouldn't support the council to join the Sheffield Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid group.
Cllr Joe Otten said he wouldn't support the council to join the Sheffield Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid group.

At a Strategy and Resources Policy Committee meeting yesterday (February 21), Cllr Joe Otten (Dore and Totley, Liberal Democrats) was shouted when he talked about what the “right to return” of the Palestinians “within Israel, proper” would be like.

Members of the committee discussed a report that said the council couldn’t join the group as its aims are ones the council “may not lawfully implement”.

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Cllr Otten said he had a number of concerns about the proposal in front of him – including the coalition’s pledge to “endorse the Palestinian cause”.

He said: “It’s not clear what that means. Is it the cause for a state – which I’d support – or is it the cause of the destruction of Israel, which I would be against?”

Cllr Otten then talked about “the demand” of the coalition, that is, among others, the “right to return” which Cllr Otten said would mean the return of millions of Palestinians “to within Israel, proper”.

He said: “Now, that is not a reasonable demand.

“That is a spoiler demand that serves to be an obstacle to any peace agreement.”

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He then brought a hypothetical example of the UK admitting “say 10 million people who all have been raised and taught at schools that it is good to murder people of Christian heritage and which includes tens of thousands of people who are part of the military organisation set up to pursue that goal”.

This resulted in some members of the public shouting at him from behind.

He added he also had an issue with the coalition endorsing the so-called Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement as the group, Cllr Otten said, “rejects working with organisations that seem to bring communities together”.

However, Cllr Douglas Johnson (City, Green Party) said they had constructive meetings with the coalition and while he admitted Sheffield councillors had no real influence on what is happening in Gaza, he argued that doing something symbolic rather than doing nothing is still the best thing to do.

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He added he was still in favour of joining the coalition and he would vote against the recommendation that said the council couldn’t lawfully do so.

Cllr Johnson said: “I think we can join the coalition and that is notwithstanding the risk.

“This means the council is taking on some risk of challenge.”

Cllr Fran Belbin (Firth Park, Labour Party) said she was “disappointed” as she hoped this paper would bring people together “about what we all agree about, which is to end the horrendous situation in Palestine”.

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Members then voted in favour of all recommendations in the report – except for Cllr Johnson and Cllr Angela Argenzio (Broomhill and Sharrow Vale, The Green Party) who voted against the claim Sheffield Council couldn’t lawfully join the coalition.

It means the committee has noted the concern of many people in Sheffield over the loss of civilian life in Israel and Palestine, as well as noted the actions of people in the city who have campaigned against the ongoing violence, particularly in Gaza, and those who have fundraised to support the victims of the conflict.

The Sheffield Coalition Against Israeli Apartheid is an umbrella group, consisting of several organisations, including the Sheffield Palestinian Solidarity Campaign, Sheffield Trades Council, Kairos Sheffield, and Sheffield Labour Friends of Palestine.

The aim of the group at a local level, the document added, is for Sheffield City Council (SCC) to declare Sheffield to be an “apartheid-free zone”.

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This would mean, as a minimum, declaring Israel to be an apartheid state, and making a formal statement of action, similar to the one produced by the council in 1981 in response to the apartheid policies of South Africa.

This, among others, would include the cease of purchasing goods that originated in Israel.