Local Orange County elected officials are increasingly issuing statements about the ongoing war between Hamas and Israel thousands of miles away. 

The loss of life is felt directly in OC – home to about 41,000 Arab Americans and 77,000 Jewish Americans – with both communities worried about their loved ones abroad and an increase in hate at home.

So far, a majority of Orange County Supervisors and a City Councilwoman in Huntington Beach are weighing in on the recent Israeli-Hamas war that has killed thousands of people.

As of Sunday, close to 2,700 Palestinians have been killed in Israeli airstrikes and more that 1,400 Israelis have been killed in a Hamas attack on Oct. 7, according to the Associated Press.

Public statements here in Orange County have already drawn pushback from local Arab leaders for their lack of tact, with Arab leaders voicing concern that the statements are one-sided, looking at the situation through an Israeli lens, without mentioning the loss of innocent Palestinian lives or the Israeli occupation of their land.

They’re now asking supervisors to meet with Palestinian as well as Muslim leaders.

“Instead of using their platform as an opportunity to recognize and support all the communities impacted by the recent events—including Palestinian Americans, Arab Americans, and American Muslims—the Supervisors chose to engage in old Islamophobic tropes that conflate violence with a religion practiced by two billion people around the world,” reads a statement from the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations.

With a rise in hate crimes nationally and locally,  FBI officials have voiced concern that violence towards Jewish Americans and Muslim Americans could increase amid the war. 

[Read: New Report Shows Hate Crimes and Incidents Continue Increasing in Orange County]

That’s why tone is so important, say critics of the county supervisors’ statement. 

Some OC residents are expected to show up to today’s OC Supervisors board meeting and the Huntington Beach City Council meeting to voice their concerns on the situation and these types of statements amid an ongoing war.

To watch county supervisors’ deliberations this morning, starting at 9:30 a.m., click here.

To watch Huntington Beach city officials’ deliberation starting at 6 p.m., click here.

Last week, OC Supervisors Don Wagner, Andrew Do and Katrina Foley issued a joint statement condemning Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack and “Islamic terrorism,” as well as calling on Muslim leaders in OC to do the same.

“This is not a time for moral relativism or wishy-washy statements about understanding both sides. One side is responsible for this tragedy,”  reads the Supervisors’ statement.

Supervisors Doug Chaffee and Vicente Sarmiento, who did not sign onto the statement, did not respond to requests for comment Monday evening. Wagner, Do and Foley also did not return requests for comment Monday evening.

The local chapter of the Council of American Islamic Relations publicly lambasted the statement as one-sided, problematic and islamophobic.

“The Supervisors would never, nor should they ever, ask local Jewish people who have nothing to do with the actions of Israel to condemn the consistent and persistent acts of state-sponsored violence inflicted by the Israeli government on innocent Palestinian civilians. Such an action would be antisemitic,” reads a CAIR news release.

To read the county supervisors’ statement, click here

Huntington Beach City Councilwoman Gracey Van Der Mark is calling for her colleagues at their city council meeting tonight to pass a resolution in support of Israel and condemn the Hamas attack.

“This barbaric attack on Israel and the intolerable death and destruction by Hamas should be condemned by every person, every country, and every government around the world,” she wrote in a report on the proposed resolution.

Mayor Pro Tem Van Der Mark of Huntington Beach at the Jan. 17. 2023 council meeting. Credit: JULIE LEOPO, Voice of OC

Van Der Mark has been criticized by the Anti-Defamation League in the past as antisemitic and being holocaust denier – something she has publicly denied.

Hussam Ayloush, executive director of the local chapter of the Council on American Islamic Relations, said in a Monday phone interview that statements from elected officials like Van Der Mark ignore and dehumanize Palestinians.

“Every child, every innocent person is precious and is worth protecting whether they are Israeli or Palestinians,” Ayloush said.

“I would hope the city council in Huntington Beach and every city as they choose to comment on the importance of human life and innocent lives – which is something to be commended for – make sure that they don’t intentionally ignore the human cost that Palestinians have been paying for 75 years.”

Peter Levi, regional director of the local Anti-Defamation League chapter, said in a Monday phone interview that everyone should condemn Hamas and their terrorist attack no matter what you believe.

“You can condemn that and also believe in Palestinian rights, you can condemn that and believe that both Palestinian and Israeli families should be able to raise their children, have jobs, get educated and have a decent life,” he said.

“Everyone mourns the loss of civilian lives – Palestinian and Israeli.”

Hosam Elattar is a Voice of OC reporter and corps member with Report for America, a GroundTruth initiative. Contact him at helattar@voiceofoc.org or on Twitter @ElattarHosam.


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