ORLAND PARK, Ill. — Orland Park Mayor Keith Pekau is drawing criticism from Muslim civil rights organizations for comments made amid a recent council meeting discussing the ongoing Israel-Hamas conflict.
Pekau said he stands by his comments.
“Orland Park has nothing to do with foreign policy,” he told WGN News. “Anyone can come and speak and be heard. And we heard them. And I don’t have to agree with them.”
Tensions hit a boiling point in southwest suburban Orland Park after several residents urged the village to follow the city of Chicago in adopting a Gaza cease-fire resolution.
“What part of history does Orland Park want to stand on?” one resident asked. “It is worth noting that Cook County boasts the largest population of Palestinian Americans in the entire nation by a substantial margin.”
While the conflict in the Middle East is thousands of miles away, its division is still felt in the states. Residents presented a petition with over 800 signatures in support.
“Our community is hurting,” another resident said. “We have members of this community who have lost friends and family members. If nothing more, we want to feel heard in our hometown. We want to feel pride for Orland Park, even if it’s just via a symbolic gesture of solidarity.”
In response, the mayor shared his thoughts on the conflict after being interrupted several times.
“I share those concerns for the innocent people in Gaza, and my heart goes out to all the innocents impacted by this. And I hope that nobody here ever experienced it, especially not firsthand,” Pekau said.
Despite the sincerity, Pekau ultimately rejected making the symbolic resolution.
“But first and foremost, I’m an American. I’m not a German-American. I’m an American. That’s where my allegiances lie, period. End of story,” he said. If you’re an American citizen and you don’t feel that way, in my opinion, you’re entitled to that opinion. But you can certainly go and fight and go to another country and support that country and all the power to you if you choose to do that.”
SEE ALSO: 33 arrested after blocking off roadway near Woodward Manufacturing in Niles
His words have been met with swift criticism by the Council on American-Islamic Relations, who call on Pekau to apologize. In a statement, the Chicago chapter says in part…
“CAIR-Chicago condemns in the strongest terms the ignorant and dangerous remarks made by Orland Park’s mayor. The notion that Americans who disagree with an official should pack up and leave to another country is more befitting of the 1960’s Soviet Union, rather than of the United States where freedom of expression and conscience is a founding principle of this country and its constitution.”
Ahmed Rehab, executive director of CAIR-Chicago
The mayor insists his words were taken out of context, however.
“I will not apologize for anything,” he told WGN News. “I have nothing to apologize for. Anyone can go listen to the statement.”