The Irvine City Council continues to combat rising tension during its public meetings as altering viewpoints over the Middle Eastern conflicts continue to clash locally. 

Inside City Hall, a division between supporters of Israel and supporters of Palestine has created a sometimes hostile atmosphere that continues to be the source of noticeable disruption to council business.

Members of Irvine’s Jewish community have come forward during council meetings with concern over the environment that is developing inside City Hall, claiming there has been hate speech against Jewish community members from supporters of a ceasefire.

Jewish residents in Irvine have also voiced frustration and fear, adding that members of their community are being targeted because of their religion, as Israel continues to attack Gaza.  

Recent statistics on hate crime and hate incidents provided by Irvine Police Chief Micheal Kent show that a total of 46 anti-Jewish hate incidents have occurred in Irvine since 2018.

For context, the California Penal Code defines a hate crime as a crime committed based on factual or assumed characteristics including gender, disability, race or ethnicity, and religion of the victim.

Contrarily, a hate incident is not a crime, according to the California Department of Justice. A hate incident involves an act that includes hateful speech, or displaying or distributing hateful material. The U.S. Constitution does not suppress hate speech until it impacts the victim’s constitutional rights.  

The report also revealed that 10 anti-Jewish incidents were reported in 2023. An additional four anti-Jewish hate incidents have been reported to the Irvine Police Department since January.

The report also showed that five anti-Jewish hate crimes occurred in 2023, with a total of 11 since 2018. 

Irvine’s Arabic community has not reported a hate incident since 2023 and has reported a total of 13 anti-Arab hate incidents since 2018. 

This year, the Irvine Police Department has received two reports of anti-Arab hate crimes, while none were reported in 2023. 

Since October, heated verbal exchanges between members of the audience have become commonplace in Irvine’s City Council chambers. Outbursts riddled with xenophobic and antisemitic exchanges between members of the public have also caused Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan to call for a recess. 

Hundreds of public speakers over the past several meetings have urged the Irvine City Council to adopt a ceasefire resolution. While the council has not placed a ceasefire resolution on the agenda, council members have individually denounced the violence.

The council has also denounced hate speech within the chamber. 

However, the council’s inaction on a ceasefire resolution has sparked debate from members of Irvine’s Jewish community over the council’s responsibility to control hate speech and antisemitism within the chamber. 

Moreso, residents in Irvine have also voiced concern over the council’s ability to discuss non-municipal issues during council meetings. Last year, residents filed an ethics complaint against Irvine Mayor Farrah Khan and Vice Mayor Larry Agran.  

The ethics complaint alleged that despite the absence of a ceasefire resolution, both Agran and Khan voiced their opinions about the international conflict, which is against city policy.  

Irvine City Attorney Jeff Melching reported finding no ethical missteps by either council member. 

On Tuesday. Feb. 17, Melching reported that an additional ethics complaint was filed against the council alleging that the council violated the city’s Rules of Decorum and Rules on Subject Matter Jurisdiction by allowing public speakers to continuously address the Israel-Palestine conflict. 

Addressing the atmosphere at meetings over the last several weeks, Melching said the behavior he has witnessed in the chamber is unprecedented. He also noted that despite opposing viewpoints, speaking at a city council meeting is a constitutional right, regardless of subject matter. 

“People coming to speak at a public meeting are exercising their constitutional right, and the city does not have the tools to stop somebody from speaking just because their speech is hateful,” he said.

Melching explained that there was little the city could do to prevent members of the public from speaking on non-agendized items. 

“The city has attempted to maintain order. This is a highly charged environment with a lot of people that have extremely strong opinions about this subject and there have been a number of outbursts,” he said. “There has been an effort to control those outbursts both through the conduct of the mayor, and through the presence of the police.”

While he found no ethical wrongdoing, Melching noted that the city has the responsibility to provide a platform for all members of the public who wish to speak the ability to do so. 

“I haven’t found any attempt to be unfair or biased on one side or another in these public comments,” he said. “What I’ve found is an effort of the city to recognize these unique circumstances and adapt, and is designed to ensure that people have the ability to speak.”
Given the tense environment at previous meetings, Khan, on Tuesday, Feb. 13, announced modifications to the meeting’s schedule that would allow the council to conduct business without disruption while still honoring public comments. 

“Those of you here this evening know that during the past several months we have continued to hear from hundreds of public speakers who have shared their opinions with the council regarding the tragic events unfolding in the Middle East,” Khan said. “No matter what you think about the situation, and no matter what side you represent, I want to reiterate my belief that all of us in Irvine should be heartened that here in our community we’ve been able to let everyone’s opinion be heard.”

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