Fresno City Councilman Miguel Arias said he supports raising the Palestinian flag at a downtown park to stand in “solidarity” with the community.
Arias and Councilmember Garry Bredefeld appeared on the talk radio show “Broeske and Musson” on KMJ Friday morning.
The flag raising is set for Eaton Plaza (2400 Fresno Street) at 2:30 p.m. Friday afternoon. The flag will fly through Monday.
“We’re standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people of Fresno. We’re not entertaining any support for a terrorist organization, Hamas. They’re a terrorist organization. It should be destroyed. But with that said, there is quite a bit of Palestinians in our city, and they range from neurosurgeons to heart surgeons to teachers and workers in our city and residents. And they deserve to know that they are, too, welcome and loved by our city,” Arias said.
Arias sponsored the flag raising after meeting with the local Palestinian community Monday. Eaton Plaza is the city-designated area for free speech activities such as flag raisings. Flagpoles at City Hall are controlled city policy and are considered “government speech.”
Bredefeld said the decision damages the city’s image.
“It creates the perception that, we the city, supports Hamas, which the city does not support Hamas And my constituents and most people in this city do not support Hamas, a terrorist organization,” Bredefeld said. “It’s a terrible message. It shouldn’t be happening.”
Led by Mayor Jerry Dyer, the city raised the Israeli flag at Eaton Plaza on Oc. 12, five days after Hamas launched a terrorist attack on Israel. The flag-raising sparked outrage among local Palestinians and their allies, who asked why they were not, also, being supported.
Dyer said he will not attend Friday’s flag raising.
Other flags that have flown at Eaton Plaza include those of Ukraine and Armenia.
Arias said raising the Palestinian flag is “the right thing to do” to treat everyone equally.
Arias Downplays “River to the Sea”
Palestinian supporters have attended several city council meetings in recent weeks, speaking during the public comment period. At Thursday’s meeting, several used the phrase “from the river to the sea,” which has been interpreted by the Anti-Defamation League and others as code for the goal of wiping out Israel from the Jordan River to the Mediterranean Sea.
Some want an official City Council proclamation demanding a cease-fire in Gaza.
Arias downplayed the remarks when asked by host John Broeske.
“Listen, a lot of people at council meetings come chant a whole lot of stuff. Just like yesterday, we had a lady who was chanting that the radio waves that PG&E were controlling her brain,” Arias said.
During a separate discussion at Thursday’s council meeting, a member of the public made anti-immigrant remarks. Arias said they have a right to be “offensive.”
“One individual gets up and screams in a public setting is not a reflection of the whole community,” Arias said.
Bredefeld countered it was not just one, “it’s all.”
Future of Eaton Plaza Debated
Eaton Plaza is considered a free speech area, with the city setting policy Sept. 2022. It came about after Mayor Jerry Dyer’s initial reluctance to flying the Gay Pride flag at City Hall. He offered a compromise that Eaton Plaza would be used for the community. Dyer eventually reversed his position on the Gay Pride flag.
Any group can apply to fly a flag through the city’s Office of Special Events at least 30 days in advance. However, City Attorney Andrew Janz said approval can come quicker if sponsored by a member of the city council or mayor.
Both councilmen said Eaton Plaza should no longer be used as a free speech area, but that would require a city council vote to change the policy.
“I was against the idea of doing this at Eaton Plaza because I knew was going to resulted in numerous flag raising events and competing issues and competing perspectives of whose flags we raise and whose we didn’t,” Arias said.
Bredefeld said the city should only fly the American, California and city flags on city-owned flagpoles, and possibly the POW/MIA flag. Arias was not willing to limit flags at City Hall.
“We are in this slippery slope and don’t know where this will go. But we’re finding out today and it’s wrong,” Bredefeld said.