Four Montgomery County councilmembers have criticized CASA over a statement on the Israeli-Hamas conflict that supported Palestinians in “the struggle for decolonization” and affirmed “the rights of Indigenous peoples and historically colonized nations to reclaim their land.”
“CASA stands in resolute and steadfast solidarity with the people of Palestine in their relentless fight for freedom. We stand shoulder to shoulder with countless Black and brown freedom activists from around the world. We specifically condemn the utilization of U.S. tax dollars to promote the ongoing violence. We call for an immediate ceasefire to save all precious life and halt the systematic ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people,” the Silver Spring-based organization said in a statement issued Monday as a press release and on X, the social media site formerly known as Twitter.
The statement closed, “free Palestine NOW!”
CASA later deleted the posts on X and offered an apology. MoCo360 viewed screenshots of the posts on X and on Montgomery Perspective.
“We write to acknowledge that our words have caused hurt. We have received feedback from our dear and trusted partners, who have expressed their concerns about the impact of our language,” CASA wrote in a post Monday evening.
Council Vice President Andrew Friedson (D-Dist. 1) on Monday evening released a statement blasting CASA’s “antisemitic language” as “deeply offensive and hurtful” and demonstrating “a divisive disregard for the Jewish community who have been steadfast partners in countless of the organization’s efforts to support immigrants in our community over the years.”
“While I appreciate CASA’s dedication to ‘building a world where our community can live free from discrimination and fear,’ their statement suggests that Jews – and especially Jews of color – have no place in that community. We must be able to advocate for Palestinian lives without diminishing the existence of Jewish lives. We can question government policies and decisions without denying rights to existence and self-determination,” Friedson wrote.
Councilmember Dawn Luedtke (D-Dist. 7) shared Friedson’s post, adding her own comments Tuesday morning.
“We can’t and I won’t support those who in one breath condemn violent extremism and in another attempt to justify its goals. Words matter. This rhetoric is dangerous and unacceptable,” Luedtke wrote.
Friedson’s statement was followed Tuesday morning by a joint release from Councilmembers
Gabe Albornoz (D-At-large) and Natali Fani-González (D-Dist. 6).
CASA’s statement “has made an already emotional and horrific situation in our community worse,” they wrote. “CASA is an organization that we deeply respect and have both supported and worked with for decades to advance social justice and build bridges in our community. That’s why we denounce the statement and are so hurt by their recent divisive and ill-informed comments and actions.”
“We also trust that CASA will take further action and work with leaders in both the Israeli and Palestinian communities to use their platform to unite and not further divide our community,” they continued.
CASA is a national immigrant rights organization that is headquartered in Silver Spring and has an active Maryland branch that has advocated for many county issues, including rent control and raising the tipped minimum wage.
Friedson told MoCo360 in an interview that CASA’s apology is a “step in the right direction,” but also said it’s “not adequate to repair the hurt that’s been caused.”
“The statement was harmful, hurtful and unacceptable,” Friedson said. “It’s within bounds to advocate for innocent lives… I am concerned about innocent lives regardless of what side of a border they’re on. But we need to be able to advocate for Palestinian lives while not diminishing Jewish lives.”
Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Dist. 39), who represents Montgomery County in the Maryland General Assembly, has also joined calls for a ceasefire. He was a leader of a Nov. 5 rally in Rockville advocating for a ceasefire and has issued statements on social media supporting Palestinian freedom.
Montgomery Perspective first reported that on a personal Facebook page, Acevero posted “Free Palestine” and condemned “genocide happening in Gaza.”
In Montgomery County, which has a 10% Jewish population, there has been close scrutiny and at times criticism of organizations’ statements on the conflict. Montgomery County Public Schools faced backlash by some Jewish groups and members of the community who called the school system’s response to the war “inadequate.”
While CASA condemned Hamas’ Oct. 7 attacks on the Israeli people in the original statement, Friedson said he was disheartened that it was the first time CASA had made a statement on the conflict. He said he hopes that the organization will work together to engage with Jewish people in the community and address “all sides” of the conflict.
Friedson said he took particular issue with part of CASA’s statement about indigenous people reclaiming their land. He also said he is concerned CASA doesn’t recognize immigrant Jews who are a part of their mission.
“Using antisemitic language that denies Jews as being indigenous to their own ancestral homeland and failing to recognize that over half of Israel’s population are people of color, CASA inexplicably failed to recognize the connection so many Jews have to CASA’s mission and to their own homeland as a people who have been systematically persecuted and forced to flee countless countries for over 2,000 years,” Friedson said in his statement.