An Islamic advocacy organization is criticizing remarks by Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau who suggested that Arab Americans who supported a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza could “go to another country” if they disagree with U.S. policy.
Ahmed Rehab, executive director of the Chicago chapter of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, called the mayor’s remarks “ignorant and dangerous.”
“The idea that Americans who disagree with an official should pack up and go to another country is more in keeping with the Soviet Union of the 1960s than with the United States, where freedom of speech and conscience is a central tenet of that country and its constitution. Rehab said in a press release on Tuesday.
During public comment at Monday’s Village Board meeting, many residents called for a resolution supporting the ceasefire.
A petition with 800 signatures was submitted, with residents saying there is a large Palestinian population in Cook County and its southwestern suburbs, and that as elected officials, the mayor and trustees “are tasked with sympathizing with them, empathizing with them and supporting them.” Ali is an Orland Park resident.
He said requesting a ceasefire “should not be an unreasonable request.”
Yousef Zegar, who said he is a lifelong Orland Park resident, presented the petition to the board and said “we ask for your mercy.”
“We have members of this community who have lost friends and family members,” he told the board.
Some of the speakers suggested that failure to accept the decision would have negative consequences on board members in the next elections.
“Our society is united and no longer trusts empty words,” Ali said.
The audience stood, applauded and chanted “truce now”, and outbursts from people in the crowd caused Pekau to strike several times with his gavel to restore order.
The mayor eventually told the police chief to clear the meeting room, and he and the board of trustees adjourned for a few minutes. When they returned, Pekau said, “The board and I have zero influence on U.S. foreign policy.”
“The residents of Orland Park are very divided on this current issue in the Middle East, and that’s why we’re not getting involved,” he said.
Pekau said his comments were his own and that he was not speaking on behalf of the board.
Pekau said he agreed with the official US stance that it “supports the two-state solution and that Hamas is a terrorist organization.”
“My heart goes out to all the innocents affected by this,” he said.
“I’m an American,” the mayor said. “If you’re an American citizen and you don’t feel that way, you can certainly go to another country and support that country, and all the power will be yours if you choose to do that. “I will always support America’s interests, and that means supporting our allies and opposing our enemies.”
Rehab said the mayor’s comments “embarrassed his office and an apology was necessary.” Moreover, the mayor is likely unaware that 61% of Americans support a ceasefire. That’s why he wants most of the country to pack up and leave.”
Rehab said in a statement: “Palestinian and American Muslims make up an important part of the Orland Park community, socially, culturally and economically. They deserve better than having their genuine anger at the massacres of civilians by the Israeli government ignored with racist, ugly words.”
In a statement following the meeting, Pekau said the council and protesters were “trying to create a debate that doesn’t exist.”
“I gave full attention and respect to every person who commented. “In addition, any participant who wished to comment publicly was given the opportunity to speak without interruption.”