Student-Led Rally for Palestine Today at City Hall
Editor's note: Out of an abundance of caution, the names of the two college students referenced here, both of whom are legal adults, have been redacted.
A recent graduate of Clifton High School and current college student is organizing a student-led rally for Palestine for high school and college students today at City Hall at 2:30. The student, at the July 18 City Council meeting, appeared to refer to Jews and others who were in favor of the adoption of the IHRA definition of antisemitism as a “despicable minority” as he spoke in protest of its adoption. The resolution to adopt this definition had already been tabled during the work session of that meeting, but hundreds of objectors filled the courtroom anyway. “Being in a position of power should mean more to one than simply following in the direction of one’s constituents,” he said at that meeting. “It should mean to stand for what is right and for what is just. To set a precedent that this is a city that will not cede to the pressure of a despicable minority but stand with and amplify an unwavering and righteous majority.”
During the council’s work session at Tuesday’s City Council meeting, Councilwoman Mary Sadrakula asked for a discussion on the rally as she had some concerns about the logistics. She suggested that the request to have the demonstration, which is expected to include “at least 100 people,” near the flags was not safe because of all of the holiday decorations and electrical wires there. If moved to the front of the main building, she said, it may interfere with the business of City Hall, where people will be coming and going. Mayor Ray Grabowski agreed that having demonstrators on the portion of the lawn where all of the wires are was not a good idea.
City Attorney Matt Priore weighed in, regarding the First Amendment right to assemble. He said that caution tape could be placed around the parts of the lawn that were deemed unsafe and that a 90-minute time frame could be “suggested” (that is the time limit given to flag-raising ceremonies). Flag raisings, which are events not attached to the First Amendment, can be given a strict time limit but demonstrations cannot be similarly restricted, as long as they are peaceful.
During the regular session, where the public is invited to address the council, another recent graduate of CHS spoke. This young adult began by asking if his freedom of speech would be upheld as he then talked about “Israel’s war on Palestine” and said that Israel would now be remembered in history as “the bad guys.” He asserted that it was the council’s job to represent the people of Clifton to the state of New Jersey. While the city council does advocate for Clifton residents by seeking grants and other aid from the state, it is not their role to represent the residents’ political interests in Trenton. That role is filled by the legislative district representatives. The student asked the council to join in standing against the “terrorism on the Palestinian people” and closed his comments by asking, “Does Clifton support ethnic cleansings and genocide?”
His comments led several other speakers to come to the mic, including Avraham Eisenman who said that he had wanted to talk about the annual Clifton Stampede but felt compelled to respond to what he’d heard. “Every life is precious. Nobody deserves to live in fear,” he said. Eisenman laid the blame for the violence in Gaza squarely on the leader of Hamas, the terrorist organization that attacked Israel on October 7, killing over 1,000 civilians and kidnapping more than 200, including women and children. “There would be peace tomorrow in Gaza if Hamas surrenders, releases the 130 civilian hostages they’re still holding, and works with Israel for a peace treaty,” he said.
Steve Goldberg, who had been watching from home and also felt that he needed to respond, said that the idea that Israel is committing genocide is a lie. He listed a series of atrocities committed by Hamas militants on October 7 and said, “THAT is genocide.” Goldberg added that he grieves for the people of Gaza and highlighted some of the ways that Hamas has harmed its people by hijacking aid trucks, stealing food and water, and using billions of dollars meant to help Gazans to instead build a tunnel network to hide weapons. He countered the student’s comment about ethnic cleansing by sharing that almost 25% of Israel’s citizenry is Arab, including members of Israel’s government. “I didn’t want to bring this to the council meeting,” he said, but said that could not stand by and hear Israel accused of genocide.
During Council privilege, Councilman Joe Kolodziej responded directly to the young person's question. “No, I do not support genocide,” he said. “I also don’t support terrorism.” Councilwoman Mary Sadrakula also said, “I’m against terrorism,” and offered her hope that the hostages would be released. Councilman Tony Latona closed his comments with, “Let’s pray for peace in the Middle East and Ukraine.”