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St. Paul City Council remains unaligned on declaring resolution for a cease-fire in Israel-Hamas war

St. Paul City Council meets on February 28
Pro-Palestinian protesters quietly hold signs and watch the St. Paul City Council meeting on Feb. 28.
Clay Masters | MPR News

St. Paul City Council Member Nelsie Yang said she’ll introduce a resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza during next week’s council meeting.

The council has yet to publicly debate such a measure, despite protesters packing their meetings for weeks. Earlier this month, the council had to take a recess and finish its business in private, after protesters chanted and ignored calls for order. 

Across the state, people opposed to the Israel-Hamas war have been urging city councils to pass cease-fire resolutions, forcing local lawmakers to grapple with their role in an international conversation that has at times been divisive. 

“It does have a local impact on us,” Yang told MPR News. “All of us are paying tax dollars that are being funneled back into our communities — or let me say, should be funneled back into our communities. We as a city, aren’t even getting our fair share, and how does our federal government have the audacity to be spending dollars to fund a war where innocent people and children are getting bombed and killed every single day?” 

St. Paul City Council Member Nelsie Yang discusses her efforts to introduce a cease-fire resolution with MPR News host Nina Moini.

Yang tried to introduce a resolution at this week’s meeting but was unable to do so before the meeting ended. She alleged Council President Mitra Jalali ended the meeting to prevent her from making her motion.

“It was really embarrassing to have the public be able to witness this in City Hall,” Yang said. 

Jalali typically asks for new business or offers closing remarks before adjourning meetings. That practice has shifted in recent weeks as meetings have gotten more tense and attendees more disruptive. On Wednesday, Jalali pounded her gavel more quickly than in the past, at the same time that Yang began to speak.

Jalali told MPR News that Yang did not follow the protocol she’s laid out as council president for bringing resolutions forward. 

“I continue to say, if you work on language, you need to bring it as a council member to your peers, you work with them on language that is suitable, you bring it to the council president for consideration,” Jalali said. “You can introduce it ahead of time if you follow that process, which is very accessible.”

Jalali said she also wants to see a cease-fire.

“And what I think that would achieve that more readily than a resolution is if the people who are elected to represent us in the federal government, like Tina Smith and Amy Klobuchar, who are two United States senators whose partnership on a lot of things I enjoy and appreciate, would actually represent us in this crisis moment and ask for an end to unconditional aid to Israel,” she said, adding that she believes local leaders like herself have a mandate to maintain safe places for people to worship and demonstrate.

Larry Jacobs, a political science expert at the University of Minnesota, said even if it may not show in public meetings, city councils are walking a fine line on the matter.

“The city council members are hearing earfuls from both sides,” he said. “The activists feel that it's essential that their community go on the record. They’re probably not going to have much of an effect, if any, but they feel like this is an important moral statement. The side pushing back against having a resolution so far has not been very vocal. But I think we can expect them to get very vocal if the city council were to pass it.”

Since the war began, the city councils of Minneapolis, Columbia Heights and Hastings have passed cease-fire resolutions. Brooklyn Park’s council indefinitely tabled theirs this week. And in Moorhead on Thursday, the city’s Human Rights Commission passed a cease-fire resolution, sending it to the city council for final approval.