For weeks, Americans in a host of Democratic-led cities have packed their government chambers for marathon sessions, all to demand immediate action from local leaders on a matter nowhere near home: the Israel-Hamas war.
More than a dozen US city councils have now passed resolutions urging Israel to stop shelling the Gaza Strip, including several in Michigan, which has a sizable Muslim population, and several in California. Among the biggest cities to do so are Atlanta and Detroit.
As the death toll in the Israel-Hamas war has mounted and bombing has killed more than 15,500 people according to Gaza health officials, disagreements have roiled communities large and small. Early support for Israel following the Oct. 7 slaughter of some 1,200 Israelis by Hamas has been met with calls to help Palestinians.
Local resolutions on international affairs largely amount to symbolic gestures that play no direct role in foreign policymaking. But they can send a signal to allies abroad over the domestic political temperature and provide a vehicle for some of the most opinionated voters to say their piece.
Those calling for cease-fire resolutions believe that this time, a critical mass of local gestures may ultimately convey to the White House that it has lost support for backing Israel’s military campaign. Especially if the resolutions come from Democratic strongholds that serve as President Joe Biden’s base.
“You can see the momentum,” said Eduardo Martinez, mayor of Richmond, California, which was the first city to pass a cease-fire resolution, deploying some of the strongest criticism of Israel and accusing it of “apartheid” and “ethnic cleansing.”
“As a mayor, my voice alone may be meaningless, but when I sing in a chorus, we make music that people have to listen to.”
The local resolutions have ranged from broad denunciations of violence against all civilians to pointed pro-Palestinian pronouncements. Many have demanded that Hamas release all hostages and denounced antisemitism as well as Islamophobia.
The Seattle City Council said in its November cease-fire resolution that the Israeli military had dropped “72 bombs for every square mile of Gaza, whose entire area is smaller than the size of Seattle.” In Biden’s home state of Delaware, the biggest city, Wilmington, endorsed a House resolution that calls on Biden to “facilitate deescalation and a cease-fire in Israel and occupied Palestine.”
The push has been especially intense in heavily Democratic states including California, where pro-Palestinian activists and progressives have expressed frustration with the Biden administration and pressured Democratic-led cities with organized campaigns. Jewish organizations have been alarmed by the effort, which they say has involved antisemitic language and minimized the kidnappings and killings by Hamas.
Debate over proposed calls for a cease-fire drew overflow crowds long into the night this week in Santa Ana, California, and San Francisco, where more than 1,000 anti-war demonstrators massed on the Golden Gate Bridge on Wednesday at sunrise. One protester scaled the large flagpole at the south end of the bridge to fly a Palestinian flag under an American one before the police ordered its removal and made an arrest.
A carefully worded resolution in Oakland last week triggered a raucous, hourslong debate and spawned a widely condemned video of assorted commenters who defended Hamas and questioned news accounts of the Oct. 7 terrorist attack.
Even small suburbs have been drawn into the fray: Last month in Los Angeles County, officials in Cudahy, a mostly Latino community of 22,000, passed a resolution condemning the Israeli government for “engaging in collective punishment of Palestinians,” which they deemed a war crime.
Pro-Israel groups note with concern that even before Oct. 7, hate crimes were soaring. Now, with the Hamas-Israel war on local government agendas, city halls have formally opened the door to potential hate speech and the public spread of disinformation, said Tyler Gregory, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council in San Francisco.
“I was in the room in Oakland, and the antisemitism was horrific,” he said.
The recent measures mark a distinct contrast with the response of local governments in October, when public officials widely condemned the Oct. 7 terrorist attacks and expressed solidarity with Israel. Leaders representing some of the largest jurisdictions passed pro-Israel resolutions, including Los Angeles County and Dallas, as did cities with large Jewish populations like Beverly Hills, California, and those with conservative voters such as Huntington Beach, California.
Advocates for cease-fire resolutions say that they have few other options to get the attention of Washington, where Congress and the White House still support Israel’s military effort. They are coordinating efforts to convince elected leaders in various regions of the need to take action, offering stock language and urging constituents to lobby.
Polls show that most Americans still support Israel, but Democrats are divided and patience is ebbing amid the ongoing bombardment of Gaza. A survey released Thursday by The Associated Press and the NORC Center for Public Affairs Research at the University of Chicago found that nearly half of American adults and nearly two-thirds of Democrats felt negotiating a permanent cease-fire should be a US priority.
That could complicate the nation’s longstanding support for Israel and Democratic support for Mr. Biden’s re-election effort next year. A group of anonymous White House interns sent a letter this week to Mr. Biden calling for a permanent cease-fire, and the United Auto Workers called last week for an immediate end to the conflict.
Still, some liberal cities have found it difficult to pass cease-fire resolutions.
The New York Times