© 2024 Kansas City Public Radio
NPR in Kansas City
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Cease-fire protesters in Missouri House removed after interrupting speech by Israeli diplomat

The Missouri State House of Representatives chamber on the first day of the 2024 legislative session, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo.
Tristen Rouse
St. Louis Public Radio
The Missouri State House of Representatives chamber on the first day of the 2024 legislative session, Wednesday, Jan. 3, 2024, at the Missouri Capitol in Jefferson City, Mo.

The protests temporarily stopped a speech being given by Maor Elbaz-Starinsky, consul general of Israel in Miami, to members of the Missouri House and Senate. Activists had come to the Missouri Capitol to testify against a series of pro-Israel resolutions being heard by lawmakers.

Updated 9:30 p.m. Feb. 6 with comments from Gov. Mike Parson

About 30 protesters were removed from the Missouri House of Representatives on Tuesday morning after they disrupted a speech by an Israeli diplomat.

Maor Elbaz-Starinsky, consul general of Israel in Miami, addressed members of both the Missouri House and Senate on Tuesday. He condemned the actions of Hamas.

“Securing our nation has been a persistent challenge for Israel, marred by conflict, including the recent intense and gruesome war with Hamas,” Elbaz-Starinsky said.

Soon after Elbaz-Starinsky mentioned the current war, a group of protesters in one of the House galleries interrupted him, calling for a cease-fire. Some chanted "shame" repeatedly.

Capitol security quickly made the group leave the chamber. The overall protest lasted less than five minutes. Many lawmakers, most of them Republicans, applauded after the protesters were removed.

Capitol Police arrested one protester, Sara Bannoura, on suspicion of trespassing after they said she failed to leave the gallery. She has since been released.

Speaking after they were escorted out, Neveen Ayesh, of the Missouri chapter of American Muslims for Palestine, said the group’s disruption was unplanned.

“We did not have plans of actually disrupting. That's the truth. It just, he began speaking, and it was very triggering, a lot of the things that he was saying,” Ayesh said.

Ayesh said the group, which consists of several organizations, was at the state Capitol in Jefferson City on Tuesday to testify against a series of pro-Israel resolutions that lawmakers heard that afternoon.

Hours of testimony over pro-Israel resolutions

Both Senate and House committees heard a combined three hours of testimony over three resolutions that expressed Missouri’s support of Israel.

The resolutions, all sponsored by Republicans, had roughly equal testimony in support of and in opposition to them.

Senators Mary Elizabeth Coleman, R-Arnold, and Bill Eigel, R-Weldon Spring, each sponsored a Senate resolution.

“Our resolution makes clear that Missouri stands with Israel, and it condemns the brutal attacks of October 7 by Hamas,” Coleman said.

Eigel said he planned on amending his resolution to also include a condemnation of the Hamas attack.

Speaker of the House Dean Plocher, R-Des Peres, sponsored the House resolution. In the only question directed at him during the hearing, Rep. Ashley Aune, D-Kansas City, asked Plocher why he didn’t include any language in his resolution regarding a two-state solution between Israel and Palestinian territories

Plocher said that was not in his purview.

“I'm not here to take a position one way or the other on a two-state solution. I'm here to stand with Israel and the attacks against its people on October 7,” Plocher said.

Supporters and detractors went up before both the Senate and House committees to express their thoughts on the proposed resolutions.

The leader of the Jewish Community Relations Council of St. Louis was among the supporters at the House committee.

"I just briefly want to say that we appreciate the resolution, stating that Israel has a right to exist and defend itself and to support Israel's national sovereignty,” said Cheryl Adelstein, the group's interim executive director.

Aisha Ahmouda, spoke against the resolution, saying she believes it’s a violation between church and state.

“I will not stand for a proclamation which has wording that seemingly provides the grounds or support for the justification of the ethnic cleansing of any one population,” Ahmouda said.

Neither the House nor Senate committee voted on the resolutions Tuesday.

Gov. Parson weighs in

Later on Tuesday, Missouri Gov. Mike Parson waded into commentary on the war, saying he would use his podium to stand with Israel and speak out against hate.

"I cannot imagine what happened to those people and the effect that that's gonna have long after the [funeral] services are over — this is not going to go away.” Parson said at a panel discussion at the St. Louis Kaplan Feldman Holocaust Museum.

Parson was joined in the discussion, hosted by the Jewish Federation of St. Louis, by Minnesota Vikings owner Mark Wilf, who is also chair of the Jewish Agency for Israel.

Parson said he’s been to Israel twice, and he used the time on Tuesday to reflect on how those experiences deepened his Christian faith. He called people “evil” who choose to hate others based on race or their views in life.

"I served my country in the military here, and I was a sheriff for 22 years in law enforcement. I worked homicide. I've seen all I want to see in my career of what violence really does — how brutal it is," Parson said.

“People have got to be held accountable for what happened, whatever means that takes," he said. "War is ugly. War is brutal. But with war you have to fight when people are going to be terrorists and try to kill you."

Copyright 2024 St. Louis Public Radio

Sarah Kellogg is St. Louis Public Radio’s Statehouse and Politics Reporter, taking on the position in August 2021. Sarah is from the St. Louis area and even served as a newsroom intern for St. Louis Public Radio back in 2015.
Lacretia Wimbley
KCUR serves the Kansas City region with breaking news and award-winning podcasts.
Your donation helps keep nonprofit journalism free and available for everyone.