Agenda item


To receive questions from members of the public who may wish to ask a general question of the Mayor, Cabinet Member or the Chairman of a Committee in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 12.


There were four public questions submitted in accordance with Council Procedure Rule 12:


1.    Dr .Umamah Yusufi:

We welcome the condemnation of antisemitism in the motion by the Conservative Councillors, but where is the condemnation of rising Islamophobia given its ugly history in Rotherham? What action will the Council take to unify our fractured community, especially in the wake of inflammatory and divisive comments - inciting hate against overwhelmingly peaceful protestors - propagated by Conservative leadership in recent weeks?


Councillor Alam thanked Dr. U. Yusufi for the question and confirmed that the motion proposed today by Conservative Councillors was to be debated later on the agenda and certain political parties would want to ensure that all racial and religious discrimination was being called out. Just as it could not be right for Jewish residents to suffer as a result of the actions of a foreign government, so too it would not be right for Muslims to face Islamophobia either. Both those twin evils must be called out.


The comments made by the previous Home Secretary recently have certainly not been helpful. Despite being sacked, she did not apologise. Members of her own party, such as Baroness Warsi, have criticised her comments.


The Council will continue championing inclusion and supporting the Police in their work to tackle hate crimes, along with Community Safety Partnership to try to bring justice to those people who were victims, but also to increase understanding and adopt a restorative approach that helped to genuinely change attitudes and bring longer term solutions.


Councillor Alam also worked with faith leaders from all the different communities across Rotherham and was pleased to say that everyone was calling for calm and solidarity.


In her supplementary question, Dr. U. Yusufi raised concerns about how the protests in support of a ceasefire had been characterised by the media and Government. She asked Councillor Alam to clarify whether the Government will be asked to clarify or retract its comments regarding them being hate marches and inciteful of hate when they have been overwhelmingly peaceful and calling for peace in Palestine?


Councillor Alam confirmed that he had sat on the South Yorkshire Independent Police Protest Panel since 2016 and confirmed that the marches have been peaceful. It had only been certain members of the Conservative Government that had tried to demonise the Muslim community. Councillor Alam stated that the comments made by the previous Home Secretary did aggravate the right wing which caused issues. It was confirmed that under legislation, protests could not be banned unless there was a threat to life. Councillor Alam called on the Conservative Members present and the Government to take some responsibility. It was not illegal to protest or fly the Palestinian flag.


2.    Dr. Mehnaz Yusufi:


I wholeheartedly support Rotherham’s dedication to safeguarding children and celebrating the world's first Children's Capital of Culture. I am deeply anguished and haunted by the murder of innocent, beautiful and blameless Palestinian children. I urge our Council to write to the Conservative Government, expressing Rotherham's citizens' condemnation of their immoral support for Israel's illegal murder of Palestinian children and civilians.


Councillor Alam thanked Dr. M. Yusufi for the question and explained the events that have unfolded around the world have been, and remain, extremely concerning. Every life that was lost was one too many and this Council’s thoughts were with those affected by the recent conflict.


Councillor Alam confirmed that he had written to the Government setting out his concerns about the loss of life taking place in Gaza but was glad to hear of the pause in the conflict and the release of some hostages. He was sure that all Members would join him with thoughts and prayers for a lasting and permanent peace in the region. Councillor Alam also confirmed that he had raised issues about UK aid to Palestine and how it was reaching vulnerable communities.


In the supplementary question, Dr. M. Yusufi asked what will happen after the ceasefire?


Councillor Alam stated that the position under International Law was that, even during a conflict, innocent people should not be targeted. 15,000 Palestinians had died including 6,000 children and 4,000 women. In Israel, around 1200 people had died. There must, therefore, be a permanent ceasefire to prevent any further loss of life. Councillor Alam was praying for a peaceful solution.


3.    Sahar Alshami:


I applauded Rotherham Council's compassionate response to Ukrainians and flying their flag. Will the Council express its empathy and support for Rotherham’s Palestinian community, families like mine, in the same way? We are the indigenous people of Palestine, we are being ethnically cleansed; a genocide against my people, murdering thousands of innocent Palestinian children. Please represent us, and our humanity.


Councillor Alam thanked Ms. Alshami for the question and stated that Member’s hearts go out to Ms. Alshami and her family, and all those innocent people caught up in the terrible violence in the Middle East.


Rotherham Council and communities across the Borough had a proud history of supporting those who have fled war in their home countries, most recently in both Ukraine and Afghanistan.


The Council remained deeply concerned about the loss of lives in Gaza and indeed in Israel.


In terms of the flag, the Council followed Government guidance in terms of flying flags in times of conflict situations so Councillor Alam could not, unfortunately, make a specific commitment about that here today but was sure all Members have heard what had been said and the request and that will be part of considerations in the future.


In the supplementary question, Ms. Alshami stated that she wanted some visible sign from the Council that showed empathy for Palestinians living in Rotherham and asked what could be done to support them?


Councillor Alam confirmed that support had been offered through donations which included support for foundations that had medical schools in Gaza, Jerusalem and the West Bank. There were many charitable events that were happening to raise funds for aid. 


4.    Hafsa Yusufi:


Will this Council call upon the UK Government to end its unconditional support for the Israeli government, and to condemn the Israeli government for its blatant commission of crimes against humanity?

Councillor Alam thanked Ms. Yusufi for the question and stated that of course wherever any government commits crimes against humanity, he condemned those crimes unequivocally. As mentioned in a previous answer, he had written to the Government to call for Britain to do all that it could to bring about an ending to violence and to support a lasting and secure peace in the Middle East.


In 2014, Parliament voted in support of a two-state solution, and Councillor Alam stated that this must be implemented to have an independent, sovereign Palestine and Israel as its own state.


Councillor Alam also informed Ms. Yusufi that the UN Convention could set up a Commission to look at human rights and ensure any abuses stop. Councillor Alam had also previously written asking for the UN Peacekeeping Force to be deployed immediately to Palestine to stop innocent people dying.


In the supplementary question, Ms. Yusufi thanked Councillor Alam for his writings to the Government but asked the Council as a whole to write to the Government demanding a permanent ceasefire as Sheffield Council had previously done? Sheffield Council had also joined the Coalition Against the Israeli Apartheid. Would Rotherham Council do the same? 


Councillor Alam informed Ms. Yusufi that the Leader of the Council had written to the Government regarding the conflict. He hoped that the leaders of the other political groups on the Council had listened to the request.