Milwaukee County Board approves resolution on Israel-Hamas war, cutting ‘genocide’ language | Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle

Milwaukee County Board approves resolution on Israel-Hamas war, cutting ‘genocide’ language 

MILWAUKEE – After a contentious debate, the County Board avoided the use of the word “genocide” when it passed a resolution calling for peace in the Middle East. The vote was 10-8. 

The Milwaukee County Board rejected an initial proposal, accusing Israel of “genocide,” after County Board member Sheldon Wasserman said on the floor that use of the term was “fundamentally offensive to me as a Jewish American.” The County Board instead approved a substitute resolution, calling for peace, aid, and the release of hostages. 

Some County Board members, including Wasserman, questioned whether a resolution on the Hamas-Israel war was even appropriate for consideration in their body. Wasserman said that when he knocks on doors to campaign, constituents don’t ask him about foreign affairs or war. They talk to him about the parks, beaches, roads, pickleball, tennis courts and the Milwaukee Domes, “things that we are responsible for.”  

The County Board nevertheless took up the issue, set aside the “genocide” version of the resolution, and then approved a call for a peaceful solution to the conflict, at their March 21 meeting.  

The resolution, as approved, called for a ceasefire, humanitarian aid, and the release of hostages in the current Hamas-Israel conflict. It did not include the word “genocide.”   

“Genocide” offensive 

Wasserman said that the International Court of Justice did not find genocide in the current conflict.  

“I went two years ago to Europe. I went to Poland and I walked in a concentration camp … in gas chambers,” he said. “You walk in that chamber, a chamber that my grandparents, my cousins, my aunts and my uncles stood in and died in, you see the walls of this chamber. It’s discolored with a blue-green film, from the cyanide gas that affects the concrete. I stood in the space where the door was closed, and they had a peephole to see what was going on … people dying. I stood in that chamber. That’s genocide!” 

He acknowledged, however, that the “crisis in the Middle East is a terrible one.”  

County Supervisor Liz Sumner said she heard from many in the public, questioning why the County Board was taking up the issue. She said that her constituents overwhelmingly urged her to vote against the resolution as originally written.  

Supervisor Shawn Rolland also spoke in support of the substitute resolution. He said it “calls for the people of Israel, Gaza, the West Bank, their supporters, and other world leaders to prioritize a path to permanent peace and prosperity in the region.” 

Supervisor Ryan Clancy was an advocate for the initial “genocide” version of the resolution. He used off-color language to describe the substitute resolution, which he opposed. He also quoted some harsh anti-Palestinian statements that appeared to have been culled from the internet. Wasserman took this to task when he rose to speak: “We heard vile … things that should not be said.”  He added: “We’re better than that. There are always going to be people who say terrible things.” 

Another supervisor left the room, then returned and apologized for doing so, saying she was troubled by the kinds of words used at a County Board meeting.  

Dozens of Palestinian advocates attended the meeting, holding up signs. Many pro-Israel advocates also attended. The room was filled to capacity. 

County Supervisors Rolland, Sumner, Wasserman, Kathleen Vincent, Felesia Martin, Steve F. Taylor, Tony Staskunas, Willie Johnson Jr., Patti Logsdon, and Chairwoman Marcelia Nicholson all voted in favor of the substitute resolution. 

Milwaukee Jewish Federation and its Jewish Community Relations Council issued a statement expressing appreciation for approval of the final, substitute resolution “and its prioritization of the immediate release of all Israeli hostages and a path to permanent peace and prosperity in the region.” 

The statement continues: “We are horrified by the impact that Hamas’ terrorist rule has had on Palestinians and Israelis.” It adds: “We support an end to the war which removes Hamas from power and immediately returns all remaining hostages.” 


County Supervisor Sheldon Wasserman questioned whether the Hamas-Israel war was County Board business, but since the resolution was under consideration, he supported a substitute version without the word “genocide.” Photo by Rob Golub.