After nearly 90 minutes of debate in front of a public gallery filled with Islamic and Jewish advocates, councillors were evenly split 4-4 on whether to light up Town Hall in Palestinian colours, or white – to symbolise peace.
Lord Mayor Jane Lomax-Smith issued her casting vote in favour of white, to the dismay of Palestinian advocates in the gallery, some of whom shouted “shame” while another exclaimed “how embarrassing” and left the chamber.
But a subsequent part of the motion – which asked the Lord Mayor to write to the state government and ask them to “join the City of Adelaide in a sign of solidarity, as they did for Israel, and light up Adelaide landmark buildings in the Palestinian colours” – was passed 6-2.
It leaves the council asking the state government to do something it itself isn’t prepared to do by illuminating buildings with the Palestinian flag. Lomax-Smith said the two parts of the motion would allow councillors to have “a bob each way”.
“I think they’re not in conflict,” she told the meeting. “I put my mind to this earlier: I think what it’s implying is that, as an act of solidarity, there might be lighting up of buildings across Adelaide.”
But councillor Mary Couros criticised the position as “contradictory”, arguing that “we’re saying white but we’re asking the state government to do Palestine colours”.
Councillor Arman Abrahimzadeh, who brought the original motion to council, said the final outcome was “confusing”.
“It demonstrates that we, as a Council, are not leaders in our own rights and we will always look up to State and Federal government for leadership,” Abrahimzadeh told InDaily after the meeting.
It’s not clear yet whether the state government will accept the council’s request. Premier Peter Malinauskas, asked at a press conference on the matter yesterday, said: “Look, we are always willing to contemplate requests of governments in terms of lighting up colours.
“It just needs to be done in a thoughtful way.
“The simple fact is there is a lot of sensitivity amongst Jewish members of our community in South Australia at the moment as there is amongst the Israeli community and also the Palestinian Community.
“And we want to get the balance right as a government in recognising that shared pain and the tragedy that’s unfolding. We’re responding thoughtfully, in a balanced way.”
It was a tense night in Town Hall, with police brought in to manage hundreds of people observing the debate in the public gallery and the adjacent Queen Adelaide Room.
Jewish and Islamic groups sat on opposite sides of the council chamber, with some of the Jewish advocates asked to leave via a different exit. Both groups occasionally cheered speeches by councillors and deputees.
Six deputations were heard – three more than typically permitted. Palestinian advocates argued it would not be fair to have Town Hall only lit in Israeli colours as they were after the October 7 attacks, while Jewish groups argued lighting it with Palestinian colours would be “seen as support of Hamas”.
The final motion passed on Tuesday night states that council:
- Is deeply saddened by the tragic loss of innocent lives on all sides of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, and acknowledges its ongoing impact on our local community.
- Calls on the Federal Government to adopt the United Nations Resolution calling for an immediate humanitarian truce in Gaza, stopping any further bloodshed, and the immediate release of hostages.
- Requests the Council administration to light up the Adelaide Town Hall in the colour white.
- Requests for the Lord Mayor to write to the State Government asking them to join the City of Adelaide in a sign of solidarity, as they did for Israel, and light up Adelaide landmark buildings in the Palestinian colours.
- Requests from Council administration to work with the State Government to jointly facilitate, at an appropriate time, a vigil to give the opportunity for our community to grieve and pay respect to the many innocent lives lost on all sides of this conflict.’
Part three of the motion originally read: “Requests from Council administration, as we did for Israel, to light up the Adelaide Town Hall in the Palestinian colours, Red, Black, White and Green.”
Councillor Mark Siebentritt moved to amend this to the colour white. He was supported by councillors David Elliott, Janet Giles, Carmel Noon and the Lord Mayor’s casting vote.
“I see our role here is not to seek to act as diplomats and not attempt to resolve what is really a complex international dispute,” Siebentritt said.
“I see our role here… is to look to how do we give voice to the concepts of unity and peace within our community.
“The colour white is internationally recognised as a colour for unity and peace, and I think at a time like this it provides us with an opportunity to come together on all sides of this discussion, and all sides of this chamber here, to move forward.”
Councillors Couros and Abrahimzadeh voted against the white colour amendment, along with councillors Simon Hou and Jing Li.
Li said even if Town Hall was lit in Israel’s colours after a request from the state or federal government, it was still important that the council show solidarity with the Palestinian community.
“We’ve already shown support and solidarity to the Israel community – for whatever reason, whether it’s been told by the federal government or any other reason, we’ve shown that support,” Li said.
“We should show support to the Palestinian community as well to give them a fair go, to give them that voice they deserve.”
Councillors unanimously supported a separate motion for a minute’s silence at the start of the next council meeting for all Israelis and Palestinians civilians killed in conflict.
Jewish groups, multicultural leaders make impassioned pleas
Annetay Henderson-Sapir, president of the Jewish Community Council of South Australia, urged councillors not to support the Palestinian colours on Town Hall.
She said she feared it would lead to “unintended consequences” even if meant as an “action to support innocence”.
“The actions proposed in the motion, as well intended as they no doubt are, will have unintended consequences and embolden those in South Australia with less pure intentions,” she said in her deputation.
“Some will see this gesture as a social license to express their hatred.
“The proposed symbol will be understood by some – a minority no doubt, but a dangerous minority – to be a support for Hamas and the too common acts of hatred against some South Australians.
“There is no nuance in hatred. This council will not be judged by the intentions behind the gesture but the effects.”
Henderson-Sapir was supported by similar deputations from inaugural Adelaide Holocaust Museum chair Nicola Zuckerman and Royal Adelaide Hospital trauma director Dr Daniel Ellis.
But South Australian Multicultural Commission chair Adriana Christopoulos, who said she was speaking as an individual, argued strongly for the Palestinian colours on Town Hall.
“When government illuminate only one nation’s flag and colours above government buildings, it’s a very blunt instrument to indicate which side they’re on,” she told councillors.
“These actions represent a lower expression of humanity – one which no longer serves us, it no longer represents who we are as South Australians.
“In Australia, as a community, we can’t just grieve for one group of people who are being slaughtered in this conflict. We must formally acknowledge all deaths because all lives are equal.
“As leaders, we should not be selective with our grief.”
The Lord Mayor said today it was a “very respectful debate”.
“I think what it told me particularly was that we have to be really careful in Australia not to import animosity and ill-will from other countries,” she told reporters.
“The comments from both sides of the argument were in fact interesting because they all catalogued episodes of vilification and hate speech.
“They spoke about how they felt insecure in our community, and I think as Australians we would all abhor that sort of behaviour and want to support members of the Palestinian as well as the Jewish communities to feel safe in Australia.”
Lomax-Smith said the council has “no control over international affairs and quite properly would not be involved in either advising the federal government or having involvement in UN resolutions”.
“But there was a strong feeling that we would want peace in the Middle East and we want the hostages to be released and that also there was a strong view that at some stage there should be a truce,” she said.
“But the council resolved to write to those involved and urge those things to occur.”
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