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Spokane Muslim Leader Pushes City Council to Rewrite Pro-Israel Resolution, Include Muslim Voices

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Spokane Muslim Leader Pushes City Council to Rewrite Pro-Israel Resolution, Include Muslim Voices

News Story by Cassy Benefield | FāVS News

Naghmana Sherazi wants to stand in solidarity with her Muslim brothers and sisters, and she asks Spokane to do the same.

On Monday at noon she and several community leaders will be speaking with Spokane City Council Members Betsy Wilkerson and Zack Zappone at City Hall in a private meeting. She will ask them to rescind the Pro-Israel resolution all members unanimously approved on Oct. 9.

naghmana sherazi
Naghmana Sherazi / Contributed

Sherazi, a Muslim who twice ran for City Council, will ask them to rewrite a more inclusive one in its place that contains Spokane’s Muslim and Palestinian voices and their concerns.

“The Council has a responsibility to be inclusive,” Sherazi said. “And without any political context [in the resolution] … it’s creating divisiveness in the community.”

Jonathan Bingle wrote the resolution the weekend after the Oct. 7 Hamas attack on Israel. The language condemns the attack, says Israel has a right to defend itself as a sovereign nation and grants sympathy for Spokane residents who have loved ones living under threat in Israel.

One mention of Palestinians was in the resolution’s language and that was along with a mention of Jews and members of all races regarding the need to advance their inclusion in the community and guarantee the safety of all.  

“The resolution was “one-sided,” Sherazi said, which FāVS reported Oct. 14.

“The Palestinian state also has a right to exist as a sovereign nation. That was not discussed. Including one line about Palestinians … is not inclusive,” she said. “There was no community input requested from any Arab or Muslim sources. There was no critical context — why this is happening or recognition of the genocide and extreme level of human rights violation by the Zionist government in Israel.”

Council Members Support the Resolution

In addition to the lack of more specific language in the resolution on behalf of the Muslim community, Sherazi took issue with the letter read by Council Member Michael Cathcart in support of it. The letter came from Jene Ray, director of The Zone Project.

Joan Braune / Contributed

For example, one section of the letter stated Pakistan, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq “hates the U.S. … according to New York Times data.”

“It was such a huge gut punch to me,” she said, because that statement and others in the letter publically painted all Muslims with the same brush as Hamas.

Fellow advocate Joan Braune, the co-founder of Bridges Not Walls, agreed.

“The letter’s claim that ‘Pakistan, Lebanon, and Iraq’ ‘hate America’ is a careless claim to make unchallenged,” Braune said. “People of Palestinian, Pakistani, Lebanese, and Iraqi origins are part of our community.”

Islamophobia at Feast World Kitchen

So, in response to the resolution and the letter Cathcart read, Sherazi will highlight at the meeting with Zappone and Wilkerson several Islamophobic incidents Muslim and Arabic community members have experienced since the resolution passed.

“We are hearing a lot of instances of hate and Islamophobia being directed at Muslims all over the city, and especially in school districts against kids,” Sherazi said.

One example occurred when Feast World Kitchen put on their fundraiser for the Red Crescent — which is the name the Red Cross uses in Muslim parts of the world.

Ross Carper / Contributed

Feast not only received criticism and intimidations, they also received an email that was “pretty violent,” said Ross Carper, Feast’s co-executive director.

“We received one very threatening email that we were in communication with the Spokane Police Department about,” he said.

He added that the event was not meant to be misinterpreted as any lack of compassion or care for our Israeli and Jewish friends.

“The reality is about 80% of our partners in our nonprofit are moms. And many of them identify with folks who are caught in the crossfire of war and violence as they’re just trying to live their everyday lives,” Carper said. “And so we wanted to do a fundraiser to support folks in Gaza who are in that situation that many of our partners identify with.”

Islamophobia in Spokane Public Schools

Sherazi will also share with the Council members incidents of bullying and Islamophobia in public schools.

Kathryn Garras, the executive director of Refugee and Immigrant Connections Spokane (RICS), wrote about a few examples in an email to Sherazi and other community leaders invited to Monday’s meeting.

Kathryn Garras / Contributed

“Three Muslim brothers were on a school bus, and at least one was getting bullied in relation to their religion and/or race,” Garras wrote of one of the incidents. “The bus driver kicked at least one of the brothers off for his response to the incident, and the others went with him. The bully was not asked to get off the bus.”

She said she has heard four to five stories like this so far, all of them because the young people practiced Islam. And while she hopes not to hear anymore, she suspects that this is “a small window into a bigger problem,” Garras said.

“While everyone has a right to their personal views about a complex conflict, it is imperative that our city leaders speak directly about dangerous phobias that can do serious harm to innocent people in our city, including children, like we are already seeing,” she added.

Sherazi’s Invitation

Along with Garras of RICS, and Braune of Bridges, Sherazi said other leaders and organizations will also attend the meeting.

They include Sisterhood of Salaam Shalom Spokane, the Rev. Gen Heywood, the convener of Faith Leaders and Leaders of Conscience, the Rev. Walter Kendricks, co-founder of Spokane Community Against Racism (SCAR), NAACP Spokane, the Spokane Islamic Center, Spokane Public School Board Director Nikki Lockwood and others.

Sherazi will request the City Council to not only recognize and stand against antisemitism by name in Spokane, but also Islamophobia.

In addition, she will ask the Council to stand for a peaceful solution in the current Israeli-Hamas war, not a military one, as the current resolution’s text supports.  

“It’s not just the Jewish community that’s suffering through this. It’s also the Muslim community that is suffering through this,” Sherazi said.

Cassy Benefield
Cassy Benefield
Cassy (pronounced like Cassie but spelled with a 'y') Benefield is a wife and mother, a writer and photographer and a huge fan of non-fiction. She has traveled all her life, first as an Army brat. She is a returned Peace Corps volunteer (2004-2006) to Romania where she mainly taught Conversational English. She received her bachelor’s in journalism from Cal Poly Technical University in San Luis Obispo, California. She finds much comfort in her Savior, Jesus Christ, and considers herself a religion nerd who is prone to buy more books, on nearly any topic, than she is ever able to read. She is the associate editor of FāVS.News.

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David Brookbank
David Brookbank
8 months ago

A very well written article by Cassie Benefield about the fatally-flawed City Council’s 10/9/23 resolution supporting Israel.

However, it did get one small but important point wrong regarding Council member Cathcart and the letter he read from the daughter of his constituent Jena Ray. The statement as read by Cathcart claimed the cited article referred to “Hamas” as hating the U.S. most, followed by “Pakistan, Lebanon, Yemen and Iraq”. The latter four are all countries with a history of U.S. aggression against them. Hamas on the other hand, is not a country nor even, as in this case, an internationally recognized “territory”. The Palestinian Territories, on the other hand, is an internationally recognized territory intended by the international community to eventually become an independent nation. It was, in fact, the Palestinian Territories that was referred to in the article cited by the daughter of Cathcart’s constituent, not Hamas.

In other words, somehow —in a letter intended to support the Council’s pro-Israel resolution and intended to influence the other Council members and presumably the public to support the resolution— a critical fact was somehow altered, inserting the word “Hamas”.

I will also mention that to the best of my research, the source of the information read by Cathcart was not the New York Times, as his reading of the letter stated but rather Time Magazine.

In addition to the concerns about the ordinance presented by the other community leaders and experts cited in this excellent SpokaneFAVS piece, these errors of fact used to pass the ordinance unanimously and without debate or even comment by any of the other five council members, raise serious questions about the procedure, ethics, and honesty with which the ordinance as it currently stands was passed.

The current ordinance must be rescinded and a new one implemented which supports the people of Palestine and their legitimate and legal struggle for independence and which calls for an end to US military assistance to Israel.

Finally, both journalistic and council investigations should look into the non-transparent and anti-democratic process by which the current ordinance was passed.

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