Fresno Mayor Jerry Dyer called for unity among Jewish and Muslim residents in the city.
Surrounded by several members of both religious groups, Dyer held a brief news conference at City Hall on Thursday.
“We stand unified and believe there’s only one side in Fresno, and that is the side of peace, unity, and nonviolence. There’s no room for hatred. There’s no room for intolerance. There is no room for prejudice. And there is no room for the killing of innocent people,” Dyer said.
Dyer added that he hoped for a “peaceful resolution to conflicts.”
Dyer has dealt with criticism from members of Fresno’s Palestinian community since an Oct. 12 Israeli flag raising at Eaton Plaza downtown.
The mayor did so five days after the Hamas terrorist attacks in Israel triggered a war that has killed nearly 20,000 Palestinians and devastated Gaza, where the United Nations says 1 in 4 people are starving. Hamas and other militants killed some 1,200 Israelis on Oct. 7, mostly civilians, and took another 240 people hostage.
Rabbi, Muslim Business Leader Want Peace
Dyer’s news conference came after several meetings between the mayor and community leaders at the mosque near Fresno State, brokered by AJ Rassamni, founder of the nonprofit Success from Within.
“We met a few times to talk about our shared values, our shared vision, and really especially about Fresno. It’s most important to us that everyone get along here in Fresno and we really agree on so much. We want peace, we want coexistence. We want everyone to be able to live peacefully and freely together,” said Rabbi Rick Winer of Temple Beth Israel.
Abdul Jawad, owner of the Own a Car dealership, also attended Dyer’s news conference.
“I think even people back home can get along, except for the politics and the far right on both sides is what makes the problems … so hard. But, Muslims and Jews, we live alongside (each other) and I think we have nothing but respect and love for each other,” Jawad said.
Rassamni said it is about coexisting.
“We don’t in politics, but we want humanity. And that’s what we’re working on,” Rassamni said.
Both Israeli, Palestinian Flags Raised in Fresno
Nearly two months after the Israeli flags flew in Fresno, Palestinian flags were raised at Eaton Plaza — the city-owned flagpoles designated for the public — on Dec. 8.
Pro-Palestinian protesters often rally in north Fresno weekly and speak during Fresno City Council meetings. They have criticized Dyer for seemingly taking sides in the Israel-Hamas conflict.
Dyer offered an apology for any missteps he’s made.
“If there’s anything that I’ve ever said or done to hurt either of you, any of you here, I apologize. And I mean that from the depths of my heart. I love you guys. And I do want one thing, and that is One Fresno,” Dyer said, using his unity slogan.
Winer offered a guarded response when asked about his reaction to the protesters’ rhetoric.
“We all want justice and freedom for all of our people. There are some upsetting things that are said on either side, but we’re really focused on how we can best keep a good, positive climate here in Fresno,” Winer said.
Debate Over Cease-Fire Resolution
The pro-Palestinian group has demanded that the city council consider a ceasefire resolution.
Jawad supported a cease-fire as a road to peace. Winer said it was “best for us to stay out of that, especially for our local politicians to stay out of that.”
“We will take it from anybody. I mean, we want a cease-fire. We don’t want to see any innocent people get killed. So anybody who’s calling for a cease-fire, we stand behind them. We want a cease-fire,” Jawad said.
In a coincidental moment, Layla Darwish — a leader of the more outspoken Palestinian protesters — was at City Hall to pick up the Palestinian flags that flew at Eaton Plaza when Dyer’s news conference started. She was not invited to the event.
Darwish has used the phrase “from the river to the sea,” considered by many in the Jewish community, including the Anti-Defamation League, as a call to wipe out Israel. However, many Palestinian activists say it’s a call for peace and equality after 75 years of Israeli statehood and decades-long Israeli military rule over millions of Palestinians.
Rassamni made it clear that he doesn’t like the phrase.
“It means kicking all the Israeli out … none of us want that, ” Rassamni said.