The Jewish Observer
News from Middle Tennessee's Jewish Community | Thursday, May 30, 2024
The Jewish Observer

In the Wake of October 7 Nashville Metro Council Members Face Name Calling and Bullying

The public comment process at Nashville’s Metro Council is coming under scrutiny in the wake of the October 7 terrorist attacks in Israel. At issue is the rules regarding public comment, something Council Member Sheri Weiner (District 22) says is clear. “It’s my opinion that the state law clearly says, when you read it, ‘issues germane to the legislative agenda.’ That doesn’t mean issues related to the legislative agenda address things that are happening thousands of miles away.”  

 

Recent meetings have seen community members using the allotted time to weave in calls for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, call for a boycott, divest, and sanction resolution, and name call council members who support Israel. Council Member Jacob Kupin (District 19) says this type of use is not helpful for creating useful dialogue. “I welcome the discourse, but let’s have productive conversations and work toward solutions, toward building bridges,” he says.  

 

Kupin was also on the receiving end of some name calling during a recent council meeting’s public comment period. Someone opposed to a piece of zoning legislation used the opportunity to refer to, “Kupin and his Zionist cohort.” Kupin says, “Where the line shifts from public discourse to personal attacks, it’s unacceptable.” He reports an incident in the lobby of the chamber building where a member of the public moved close to his face and made threatening comments. 

 

At one recent meeting, the Jewish Federation of Greater Nashville’s Chief Impact Officer, Deborah Oleshansky, signed up to make a public comment. She says the process as written is designed to create meaningful interaction between the council and community members. “On the evening that I addressed the council, there was an agenda item to increase funding for resources to assist victims of crimes, so my comments related to that item,” she says, “I was able to share Jewish community concerns regarding antisemitism and hate crimes directly at Jewish community members.”  

 

Weiner says she has witnessed outbursts in the past, but since October 7 the tone has changed significantly. “I’ve never seen the rancor and level of disregard for professionalism that I’m seeing now.” She adds that while she does not typically worry about her safety, she now sits toward the back during public comment and after the most recent meeting, she felt nervous walking to her car.  

 

Kupin believes there is value in city government debating global issues as they affect the local community, but believes it is important to be focused and adhere to basic rules of conduct. “We should look at what we can do locally and think about how things impact our community. We can protest Israel’s handing of the conflict, but to attack the local Jewish community doesn’t help.”  

 

In the coming months the public comment process will be scrutinized, and potential changes could be considered. In the meantime, Oleshansky says it is important for community members to adhere to the current rules as a means for making respectful, thoughtful comments. “Overall, it is a respectful and effective process which requires the leadership of the vice mayor to shut down comments that veer off, or that are threatening or harassing for individual council members. Berating and intimidating individual members should not be tolerated.” 

 

 

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