Oct 16, 2023 - News

Tampa Bay leaders support Israel amid calls to aid Palestinians

Demonstrators at a rally for Palestinians, including a woman holding a sign that says, "Not war, it's colonialism. Not eviction, it's occupation. Not conflict, it's ethnic cleansing. Not complicated, it's genocide."

Supporters for Palestinians gather Friday in downtown Tampa protesting the Israeli military entering the Gaza Strip during a march called International Day Of Action For Gaza. Photo: Octavio Jones/Getty Images

Tampa Bay elected officials maintained support for Israel over the weekend after demonstrators rallied Friday at Tampa City Hall for protections for Palestinians as the Israeli military continued its bombardment in response to terror attacks by Hamas earlier this month.

What happened: Demonstrators expressed frustration at the "unbalanced" support for Israel from local and state leaders, the Tampa Bay Times reported. Gov. Ron DeSantis and other state leaders have also publicly supported Israel.

  • The demonstration was one of many in Florida and beyond calling for freedom and aid for Palestinians. In some areas, the events were organized with support from Jewish groups.
  • "This is the whole point of our organization," a representative from Jewish Voice for Peace told the Miami Herald during a rally in that city, "to keep asserting that Jews and Palestinians don't have to be at war."

Context: Six St. Petersburg City Council members who voted Thursday to issue a proclamation supporting Israel "as it defends itself" did not respond to questions from Axios about what they would say to the area's Palestinian and Muslim communities.

  • A spokesperson for Tampa Mayor Jane Castor told Axios on Saturday that she "is praying for all the innocent victims, families, and people impacted by Hamas' brutality."
  • Spokesperson Adam Smith added via text that Old City Hall would be lit in Israel colors again on Saturday night.
  • Earlier in the week, Castor issued statements supporting Israel and "all the families, both near and far, who are grieving and touched by the ongoing fighting in Israel and Gaza."

Why it matters: The responses solidify where leaders of the Tampa Bay area's two largest cities stand in a war that's deeply personal for residents on both sides of the conflict.

Zoom in: St. Petersburg Council member Ed Montanari introduced Thursday's resolution with a nod to the Florida Holocaust Museum a few blocks from City Hall. "One of the reasons that the Holocaust happened is that … people didn't want to rock the boat. We're going to rock the boat today," he said.

Yes, but: Council member Richie Floyd voted against the resolution, telling Axios he would have rather put out a message urging an end to violence in the region. He also took issue with the proclamation implicating Iran in the Hamas attacks, despite U.S. officials saying there was no evidence of such involvement.

  • "I 100% support standing in solidarity with the Israeli people and the Palestinian people who have gone through something difficult, but that's not what we're doing here," Floyd said. "We're making political statements, and they're out of bounds."

Of note: St. Pete Mayor Ken Welch called for "an end to the conflict" in a post on X, formerly known as Twitter.

The big picture: More than 1,300 Israelis and 2,670 Palestinians have been killed with many more injured and displaced since the conflict began.

  • Israeli leaders launched a counter strike following the Hamas attacks, cutting off fuel, food and supplies to people in Gaza and calling for residents to evacuate to the southern half, warning of a potential ground invasion.
  • Israel on Sunday resumed the water supply to Gaza under pressure from the Biden administration, Axios' Barak Ravid reports.

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