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Byron Shire
July 16, 2024

Councillors denounce local hate speech and boycotts

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Byron Shire Council has strongly condemned expressions of hate and any boycotts of local businesses stemming from the war in Gaza.

The move followed a debate at last week’s Council meeting, which highlighted the bitter division within sections of the community over the ongoing conflict.

Local residents from the different sides attended the meeting in response to a motion put forward by Independent councillor Cate Coorey, and Greens Cr Duncan Dey.

Their original motion, which was subsequently amended, condemned what the movers described as ‘war crimes being carried out by Israel against the people of Gaza’.

It also stated that ‘boycotts, divestment and sanctions are legitimate, non-violent tactics used to pressure foreign governments over human rights abuses and war crimes’.

These and other statements from the original motion produced a strong reaction from the local residents representing the different sides of the conflict who spoke during the public access section of the meeting.

This forum degenerated at times into a slanging match, with residents and councillors alike the focus of strong criticism and personal attacks.

When the motion eventually came up for debate by councillors, Mayor Michael Lyon (Independent) and Deputy Mayor Sarah Ndiaye (Greens) put forward a significantly amended motion which was accepted by Cr Coorey.

The amendment removed any direct criticism of Israel and instead condemned ‘the loss of innocent lives on both sides of the conflict’.

‘Byron Council recognises the distress caused to members of our community due to the attacks by Hamas on October 7, and the State of Israel’s response in Israel and Gaza,’ the motion stated.

‘[Council] accepts that it cannot possibly comprehend either the breadth or complexity of the issue, or the suffering in Gaza and Israel, but expresses empathy for all those who are suffering.’

All members of the Byron Shire community were urged to ‘show understanding and compassion’ toward each other. Council strongly condemned ‘any expression of hate or vilification of local residents of the Byron Shire, including the boycott of their businesses, due to their ethnic, religious or national origin’.

Racist graffiti 

It also encouraged the ‘prompt removal by Council staff of any racist graffiti in the Byron Shire.

‘I keep being told that we don’t need this. I’ve already been threatened with defamation,’ Cr Coorey said.

‘Why am I being silenced? 

‘This community has a proud history of advocating for and standing up for peace. I think it’s important that we speak up on this.’

Cr Lyon said the expressions of hatred within certain sections of the community needed to stop.

‘There is no excuse for vilification on the basis of race, ethnicity, religion or anything else,’ Cr Lyon said.

The amended motion ultimately received unanimous support from councillors.

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