A Teachable Moment for Philadelphia City Councilwoman

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Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez's decision to consider withdrawing a city citation she bestowed to a Palestinian governor after denouncing the governor's remarks about Israel and terrorism, can serve as a lesson to all.

A teachable moment is when you take the opportunity to help someone learn from her mistakes. Such a moment came after it became known that Philadelphia City Councilwoman Maria Quiñones-Sánchez provided Leila Ghannam, governor of Ramallah in the West Bank, with two official city honors last month at the Al Hidaya Mosque in North Philadelphia, which Sánchez represents.
 
Sánchez posted photos and wrote about the honors — a Liberty Bell and a citation of honor — on Facebook and Twitter. Apparently unbeknownst to the councilwoman prior to the event, Ghannam has a long record of making outrageous remarks, including some comparing Israeli treatment of Palestinians to the Nazis and others condoning the killing of Israeli citizens.
 
Within days after the local office of the Anti-Defamation League and Palestinian Media Watch, an Israeli-based agency that monitors the Arab media, separately brought the issue to her attention, Sánchez issued a statement of regret. 
 
She explained that she was invited to the event to meet the first woman elected governor in the Palestinian Authority, a figure “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.” But, she added, “I fully and unequivocally denounce the sentiments attributed to Governor Ghannam” and have “consistently condemned terrorist violence.”
 
Sánchez no doubt has gotten pushback from her constituents who brought the Palestinian official to her district. She has not made herself available for an interview and most probably would like to put the whole issue behind her. But we encourage her to stand by her reversal, including her vow to see if the honors can be revoked, and applaud her courage to do so. 
 
It’s not often that City Council members find themselves enmeshed in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, or international affairs in general. Council members appear at many events throughout the year, including Jewish-sponsored ones. While it would be nice to think that they and their staffs thoroughly vet all those events, it’s probably unrealistic to think that they do.
 
However, when it comes to hot-button issues like those that involve the Middle East, we should expect that our elected officials take the time to do some research. There are plenty of resources, including groups in the organized Jewish community, who can lend such guidance. No one, as one Jewish official put it, wanted to “beat up on” Sánchez after the incident. “We just want to educate her.”
 
That’s the way it should be: Jewish groups offering calm, reasoned advice, not shrill beratement. And officials like Sánchez, hopefully, learning from their mistakes.

 

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