Opinion editor's note: Editorials represent the opinions of the Star Tribune Editorial Board, which operates independently from the newsroom.
Early this week the newly elected Minneapolis City Council met for the first time. On the agenda was the basic stuff for the beginning of a term — elect officers, approve a calendar, weigh in on foreign affairs over which the council has no special expertise and a lack of jurisdiction …
Of course you can tell which action item was not like the others.
The matter in question was the introduction of a resolution (tinyurl.com/mcc-resolution) related to the war in the Middle East — which, important as it is, has nothing to do with ensuring effective but fair policing in Minneapolis, or dealing with homeless encampments, or downtown recovery or the like.
As currently written, the resolution calls for a "full, immediate, and permanent ceasefire." Fair enough — we, too, would like matters to reach that point. We also would have preferred that Hamas had not viciously attacked Israeli civilians on Oct. 7. And that Israel's response didn't seem so disproportionate in human terms (even if under the international rules governing war, it may not be). And that there were not a litany of persecutions and inequalities stretching back into history, forming the foundations of this conflict.
The proposed language also calls for "an end to U.S. military funding to the State of Israel," the "release of all Israeli hostages taken by Hamas" and "the release of thousands of Palestinians held indefinitely without cause and trial in Israeli military prisons."
Of course you can tell that Minneapolis City Council is not going to resolve these issues. Nor will it find anything close to consensus among residents of the city on all points and their implications.
It is of some credit to the new, lefter-leaning council's restraint that it merely introduced the resolution and referred it to committee with the hope of good discussion and a vote later this month.
It's not hard to see why the council might want to weigh in. Such actions by lower governments have sometimes been building blocks of support for broad international goals of humanity — for instance, ending apartheid in South Africa.
The council may find in this case, however, that it is not only ineffectual bringing about peace abroad but that the proposed resolution and underlying issues are so divisive as to bring disruption or even the threat of violence home. The issue, at a minimum, will be difficult to dispatch quickly.
The names of the council members atop the resolution are Aisha Chughtai, Aurin Chowdhury, Elliott Payne, Jeremiah Ellison and Jason Chavez. The proposal didn't pass muster with Council Member Robin Wonsley, who wanted Israel's action against Hamas to be declared a genocide. In that she had a vocal audience of supporters who attended Monday's otherwise perfunctory meeting. Some of them likely have very personal stakes in the outcome of events in Gaza, just as do Jewish residents of Minneapolis.
It's the right of constituents to express their interests and seek remedies. It's also their obligation to respect the procedures of city governance.
A number of those at Monday's meeting didn't do so. They cheered raucously in response to Wonsley's statement, as if at a political rally. When Council Member Linea Palmisano gave a statement expressing support for all who are victims of the conflict and relaying concern that the resolution could inflame both antisemitism and Islamaphobia, they shamed her and tried to shout her down. (See tinyurl.com/mcc-january8, beginning at time stamp 1:10:50, for the council's full discussion of the resolution.)
"I've endured a lot of chaotic council meetings. But the Jan. 8 meeting was by far the worst yet," wrote Council Member LaTrisha Vetaw this week in a characteristically well-argued commentary making many of the same points about the resolution that we echo here.
Payne, the newly selected council president, and Chughtai, the new vice president, will have their work cut out for them maintaining order as debate continues. They'll almost certainly grow in their roles, but Payne in particular must be more authoritative than he was on Monday.
Wonsley — passionate in her advocacies, a welcome quality in leaders when it's well-directed — must know that leadership sometimes requires toning people down rather than riling them up.
It is also the responsibility of the council to sort out the city's broadest priorities and decide where action can be most constructive.
We suggest that the proposed resolution is not so. We suggest, above all, that City Hall's focus belongs elsewhere.