Role of Local Government Questioned: Resolution #1371 Discussed In The Borough Of State College

Photo of the State College Borough building, where borough meetings are held.
Photo of the State College Borough building, where borough meetings are held.
Caleb Schrauf

On Nov. 20, 2023, State College Borough council member Gopal Balachandran drafted Resolution #1371 with the prime motive of urging a ceasefire in Gaza. 

“I was and continue to be deeply troubled by the loss of innocent civilian life, particularly those of children, in Gaza. I also wanted to see the hostages released. These two goals are not mutually exclusive. A ceasefire would accomplish both,“ Balachandran said.

Council member Gopal Balachandran at the borough’s regular meeting. Nov 20. CNET.

This resolution was discussed at the regular meeting at the Borough and with a unanimous vote, it was withdrawn to reword the resolution as some were offended by the way the resolution was drafted.

“Some of the language and the words were causing a lot of harm, and people were very upset by it. Therefore, at this moment, I would retract my draft,” Balachandran said at the meeting. 

Two weeks later, on Dec. 4, 2023,  a special meeting was held at the Municipal Building of State College that discussed Balachandran’s newly worded resolution. The meeting consisted of a handful of public comments, people speaking for and against the resolution, as well as voting if the resolution should be passed or not. 

Tamir Sorek speaking for the resolution. Dec 4. CNET.

Penn State history professor Tamir Sorek, who specializes Palestinian-Israeli conflict, expressed his views for the resolution.

“Any other action, including this fantasy about eradicating Hamas, is hurting both Israelis and Palestinians. It is not anti-Israeli to call for a ceasefire, it is for-Israeli because it is for Israelis,” Sorek said. “If we continue this line of mass killing we will end in one of these scenarios: One, of eradicating indigenous societies like [what] happened here in the United States or eradicating the settler society that happened in Algeria.”

Maha Shad talking about her experience and support for the resolution. Dec 4. CNET.

Maha Shad has a unique perspective, as a mother of children in Gaza, “Seven of my kids are now in Gaza. They are being displaced from one place to another. They don’t have shelter to protect them from winter. They can’t find water or food to eat […] food and water have been cut off. I can’t talk to them on the phone because contact has been cut off. They live in fear, and my eleven year old daughter told me she can’t sleep because of the attack.”

However, other members of the public portrayed their opinion against the resolution. 

Penny Fishbaine sharing her views against the resolution. Dec 4. CNET.

Penny Fishbaine, former elected SCASD school board director, was one of the people who was against it.

“I implore you to focus on State College Borough interest and discontinue your work on this resolution,” Fishbaine said. “As a township governing body you have no power to affect change in the federal government; you have no right to resolve or comment on issues outside of your purview […] [The resolution] pits those that support Israel’s right to defend their country against terrorists.”

Rabbi David Ostrich speaking about the resolution. Dec 4. CNET.

Rabbi David Ostrich leads Congregation Brit Shalom, a local synagogue. “Here we have a council dedicated to managing the financial, public works, and to some extent, the social fabric of the State College community. It is not a debating society,” Ostrich said. “And even if good people want this council to pursue certain matters the council must consider its portfolio […] Many are surprised that a municipal government would seek to pass judgment or give advice on a war that is far away, and whose participants have little interest in what people in State College think.”

With a 4-3 majority vote, the resolution failed. Former council president Jesse Barlow, council member Deanna Behring, council member Janet Engeman, and council member Peter Marshall voted against the resolution. Whereas council members Nalini Krishnankutty, Gopal Balachandran, and Divine Lipscomb voted for the resolution. 

“My original support for this resolution was as a way to send a message not just to our federal government, but our community that we stand by, all of those affected, but it seems to be having the opposite effect. So, like President Barlow and Mayor Nanes, I think we as individuals can take a moral stand and call for a ceasefire but I don’t want to see this resolution have the opposite effect of what I think we all intended at the outset,” council member Behring said. 

At a regular council meeting on Dec. 18, 2023, pro-Palestinians began to voice their concerns regarding the borough’s decision during the public hour. 

“I would like to begin by expressing our great disappointment in the mayor and some other members of the council for leaving my community feeling unseen and unheard […] Your support to this genocide, although not explicitly stated, was clearly evident in the statements that were made,” President of the Islamic Society of Central Pennsylvania, Rami Alhellu, said during the public hour of the regular meeting. 

The public hour lasted more than an hour and a half when council decided that a special meeting would be held two days later, on Dec. 20, 2023, to discuss the resolution and vote again. 

The Dec. 20, 2023, meeting was a total duration of 3 hours and 42 minutes of public’s opinions and council’s discussion regarding a newly drafted resolution giving out a similar message, still with the prime motive of a ceasefire.

Muhammad Rami Alhellu speaking for the resolution. Dec 20. CNET.

“I feel like I’m going to explode of madness and sadness of what’s happening in Gaza now. It’s hard to hold everything in my heart because I can’t say anything in my school because there are not a lot of muslims there. I also feel guilty to lie in my bed, relaxed, and safe when people have gone murdered in Gaza. Islam means peace, and Israel is doing the exact opposite of peace,” child of Rami Alhellu, Muhammad Rami Alhellu, said at the special meeting. 

Michael Black expressing his views regarding the resolution. Dec 20. CNET.

“To the best of my knowledge, State College Borough council members who have penned the resolution as is, none are Jewish, Israeli, or have lived in Israel, none are Palestinian, Muslim, or have lived in the middle east. None have been in war, or lived in a war-torn area for a significant period. None have served in the military,” Michael Black said at the special meeting. “The board, at large, does not have critical or significant global perspective of war and peace […] I do oppose this resolution as is. Perhaps, better use of time would be to lead by example, facilitate peaceful conversations just like this, with our residents, building community through empathy.” 

The crowd at the Municipal Building of State College erupted in applause and cheers after the motion to pass the resolution was passed unanimously. 

The public applauding after the resolution was passed. Dec 20. CNET.
Council member Nalini Krishnankutty discussing the resolution after public comment. Dec 20. CNET.

“I hope this resolution encourages our federal government to work for a humanitarian ceasefire and a lasting peace, to help save innocent civilians, including children and hostages. Secondly, I hope our residents will continue to feel empowered and to engage with government at all levels and weigh in on issues that matter to them,” Dr. Krishnankutty said in an interview. 

The people of State College had varying opinions on the resolution which led to a month of public discourse with the Borough. However, Mayor Ezra Nanes feels confident that the community will continue to thrive and be a safe space for everyone.

State College mayor Ezra Nanes discussing the resolution after public comment. Dec 20. CNET.

 “No, I do not [feel that the sense of community at State College is potentially threatened],” Mayor Nanes said in an interview. “People are and may continue to be upset, and we need to make space for their emotions, recognize their needs, and show genuine care for them. Emotion is a part of life. Opinions can differ. We have to be ok with that, embrace that, recognize that as a hallmark of a free and democratic society.”

*All council members were sent questions to respond to. Only 3 had gotten back on time to be featured in the article. 

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