Holocaust survivor Susanne DeWitt speaking against the resolution. Behind her, a banner from supporters of the resolution. (Screenshot)
Holocaust survivor Susanne DeWitt speaking against the resolution. Behind her, a banner from supporters of the resolution. (Screenshot)

UPDATED: Richmond council passes anti-Israel resolution after contentious marathon meeting 

Updated Oct. 25 at 1:50 a.m.

Only minutes into a Tuesday hearing by the Richmond City Council on a resolution condemning Israel and “affirming Richmond’s support and solidarity with the Palestinian people of Gaza,” Mayor Eduardo Martinez sounded shaken.

“I’m calling a recess,” he said, as the chamber rang out with shouts.

Dozens of people filled every chair, with an overflow crowd in a nearby room watching the proceedings and more people viewing on Zoom. Around 1 a.m., after more than six hours of heated public comments, the resolution passed on a 5-1 vote. Council member Cesar Zepeda was the lone “no” vote (council member Claudia Jimenez was absent).

The first round of yelling started almost immediately when the mayor introduced the resolution, which had been slightly amended before the meeting was called to order.

“The people of the United States, whose government and tax dollars directly support Israel’s military, have immediate moral obligations to condemn Israel’s acts,” Martinez said.

The chamber erupted with cheers, boos and shouts, with people yelling at the council members and each other. “You’re an antisemite,” a man shouted out.

Starting around 6:30 p.m., speakers took to the floor one after the other to voice their position on the resolution.

Despite the last-addition amendments, “I still find the resolution to be inflammatory and antisemitic,” said Beth Seidman, who identified herself as a Richmond resident of 37 years. “It contains half-truths, inaccuracies and distortions, and it is a resolution to create hatred toward Jews and divisiveness in our community.” She added that she would feel “very unsafe in the community” if it passed.

“Any person of good conscience opposes the taking of innocent life,” said another speaker. “We denounce the murder and kidnappings of civilians by Hamas on [Oct. 7]. We pray for the safe return of the hostages. Moral consistency requires that we also denounce the disproportionate and indiscriminate killing of thousands of civilians.”

The Richmond city council heard opinions from the public for over five hours on Oct. 24. (Screenshot)
The Richmond city council heard opinions from the public for over five hours on Oct. 24. (Screenshot)

At times the crowd became unruly and police had to intervene. Sign-holders jostled to block each other and stay in view of the cameras broadcasting the event. Multiple times Martinez asked people to be more respectful; police occasionally had to escort a speaker from the lectern.

The council had postponed a number of items on the agenda in order to make more time for the resolution. Council members were chastised for not providing enough space to accommodate everyone who came in person; reportedly those who got a seat in the council room arrived an hour in advance.

Speakers in support of the resolution dominated. Many identified themselves as Arab or Muslim, while others said they were allies from organizations including the East Bay Democratic Socialists of America and Asian Pacific Environmental Network. Some were Jewish.

“I want to speak to you as a Jew and say that settler colonialism is not a Jewish value,” said Richmond resident Sara Cantor. “Murder is not a Jewish value. Occupation is not a Jewish value.”

Some who spoke against the resolution said it contained distortions and historical inaccuracies and unfairly put all of the blame on Israel. Many Jewish speakers who said they supported diplomacy or a cease-fire also expressed concern over the inflammatory language in the resolution and how it ignored the history of the conflict.

“As soon as I read this, I thought, this is not right,” said Richmond resident Debbie Bayer, who says she was appalled at the actual wording. “It didn’t talk about the butchering of 1,400 people by Hamas,” she said. “That’s a crime, too.”

In his introductory remarks, Martinez, who brought forward the resolution along with Vice Mayor Gayle McLaughlin, discussed why Richmond, a city of just over 115,000, felt it was important to take an official position on the issue.

“The city of Richmond has a history of taking a stand on international issues,” he said, citing apartheid and the war against Ukraine.

“Jewish people deserve to feel safe. I won’t deny them their very real sense of fear,” he said. But, he added, “I reject the notion that speaking out against the actions of Israel’s military and right-wing government is antisemitic. We should never stay silent.”

It is a resolution to create hatred toward Jews and divisiveness in our community.

Amendments made to the resolution prior to the meeting acknowledged that “1,400 Israelis have been killed by Hamas on Oct. 7 and nearly 6,000 Palestinians have been killed by the state of Israel in this escalated conflict.” It also mentions mourning the loss of all civilian lives and calls for the release of Israeli hostages.

It comes as other city councils around the country are choosing to wade into foreign policy by taking official stances on the crisis.

“Resolutions such as this one in Richmond are no mere distraction; they are part of an organized, international movement to delegitimize Israel through accusations of ethnic cleansing and apartheid,” Jeremy Russell, spokesperson for the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area, told J. in an email earlier on Tuesday.

According to a Facebook post by Rabbi Dean Kertesz of Temple Beth Hillel in Richmond, this kind of action has happened before.

“This is not the first time the City Council, driven by members who belong to the Richmond Progressive Alliance, have attempted to use their offices to demonize Israel,” he wrote. “We had to stand against them about 10 years ago when they proposed basically the same resolutions.”

Kertesz also posted a letter he had sent to city council members. “You will put the Jewish residents of Richmond at risk. Synagogues have been firebombed in Berlin and Tunisia,” he wrote. “Are you confident it won’t happen here?”

The resolution noted “the historical memory of the Holocaust means fighting ethnic cleansing and apartheid everywhere,” and said the city of Richmond “vows to combat antisemitism and ethno-nationalism in all its forms.”

Kertesz called that “the most loathsome clause.”

“What have you ever done to combat antisemitism?” he wrote to the council. “You have never reached out to us at Temple Beth Hillel. During these difficult days you have not asked us what we are feeling or thinking or how we are doing.”

Maya Mirsky
Maya Mirsky

Maya Mirsky is a J. Staff Writer based in Oakland.