Philadelphia City Councilwoman Honors Palestinian Governor — Then Has Regret

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 Maria Quiñones-Sánchez says she is looking into withdrawing a city citation honoring a Palestinian governor after "denouncing" the governor's remarks about Israel and terrorism. 

A Philadelphia City Councilwoman who recently honored a Palestinian governor at a local mosque is now expressing regret, claiming she was not aware the honoree had compared Israeli treatment of Palestinians to Nazi Germany and had praised the killing of Israeli civilians.

Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez provided Leila Ghannam, governor of Ramallah in the West Bank, with two official city honors on Jan. 29 at the Al Hidaya Mosque in the 7th District of North Philadelphia, which is Sanchez’s district.


Sánchez had posted photos and wrote about the honors — a Liberty Bell and a citation of honor  — on Facebook and Twitter before deleting the posts, according to a communication between Sanchez and the Palestinian Media Watch, which drew attention to the issue after reading about it in the official daily newspaper of the Palestinian Authority, Al-Hayat al-Jadida.

Ghannam told the Palestinian news agency Ma’an last year that Gazans are “undergoing the Holocaust of the 21st century by the barbaric occupation, which takes pride in murdering children,” according to the Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli-based agency that translates the Arab media.

The media group also reported via translations of speeches made in Arabic that Ghannam said she “believes murder of Israeli civilians is an act sanctioned by Islam, promoted by Allah, and an act to be admired by Palestinians.”

After the event at the mosque, Sanchez tweeted, “I was honored to welcome the first woman governor of the city of Ramallah, #Palestine, to Philadelphia Dr. Leila Ghannam. Women making moves.”

After seeing Sanchez's Facebook post about the honor, the local office of the Anti-Defamation League sent a letter last week to the councilwoman, alerting her that Ghannam, according to a Palestinian news agency, had visited the graves of Palestinian terrorists who killed eight hostages and three Israeli soldiers during an attack in 1975 on The Savoy hotel in Tel Aviv.

"We simply said to her that we certainly hoped that she shared our belief that celebrating terrorism has no place in a civil society," said ADL regional director Nancy Baron-Baer.

Sánchez could not be reached for comment but her office forwarded to the Exponent the responses it had sent to the ADL and Palestinian Media Watch, saying it would “look into whether it is possible to withdraw” a city citation.

Sánchez's office also released a statement explaining her presence at the event. Sánchez, who is serving her second 4-year term in office, said she  “was invited to attend this event to meet the first woman elected governor in the Palestinian Authority, and whose work was described to me as humanitarian in nature and centered on furthering the rights of women and girls. My office honored her for these reasons.

"I fully and unequivocally denounce the sentiments attributed to Governor Ghannam” and have “consistently condemned terrorist violence."

“As an elected official who represents a significant Muslim-American population, including many Palestinian refugee families, I know my Muslim constituents to be good citizens and contributors to their communities. I strongly support interfaith efforts to build understanding across cultural and ethnic barriers, and I am committed to open, honest and productive dialogue with all who share the goal of peace.”

The ADL was satisfied with the response, Baron-Baer said.

"I think we all have to realize that" Sanchez "is a locally elected official" and Ghannam is not among the "individuals that normally are brought forth to City Council," said Baron-Baer. Sanchez "was focused on the positive aspects of the woman's life. We always like to use these occasions as a teachable moment, so that people can learn from their mistakes and go forward in a better way."

 

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