Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area CEO Tye Gregory (far left) sits in the Oakland City Council chambers near supporters of a resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, Nov. 27, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area CEO Tye Gregory (far left) sits in the Oakland City Council chambers near supporters of a resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza, Nov. 27, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Oakland City Council OKs cease-fire measure after hours of vitriol

The Oakland City Council unanimously passed a resolution on Monday night calling for a permanent cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war, after listening to hours of intense and sometimes violently anti-Israel comments.

“It was the most antisemitic room I have ever been in,” Tye Gregory, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area, told J. on Tuesday.

The city council met for six hours in a special meeting devoted to the resolution and took public comment from more than 250 people. The resolution focused on a permanent cease-fire, which many Israel supporters oppose on the grounds that it would benefit Hamas. The measure also condemned a recent spike in antisemitism and Islamophobia, acknowledged the “long history” behind the current war and called for more humanitarian aid for Palestinians in Gaza.

Councilmember Dan Kalb’s attempt to amend the resolution in order to acknowledge the Oct. 7 Hamas attack and condemn the terrorist group for its “repression and violence” against both Palestinians and Israelis failed in a 2-6 vote. Kalb, who is Jewish, was joined by councilmember Treva Reid in favor of the amended version. Reid said she actually supported the unamended resolution but would not allow Kalb to “stand alone.”

“I’m very disappointed in my colleagues except for Treva,” Kalb told J. on Tuesday. The idea of passing a war-related resolution without mentioning the Hamas massacre that started the war didn’t make sense to him.

“Let’s condemn all domestic and international terrorist organizations — who can be against that?” Kalb said.

Oakland City Council member Dan Kalb listens to members of the public speak on a resolution in support of a cease-fire in Gaza at Oakland City Hall on Monday, Nov. 28, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Oakland City Councilmember Dan Kalb proposed an amendment to condemn Hamas but was outvoted. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

The hostile atmosphere inside the council chambers, though, is what Kalb and Gregory said they will remember.

“What we voted on was not the rhetoric at the microphone,” Kalb said. “A substantial number of people were trying to justify or rationalize the Hamas mass murder on Oct. 7. To me, that is so fringe and unconscionable and ridiculous.”

People who tried to legitimize the terrorist attack “should be embarrassed,” he added. “That is just nuts.”

Before the meeting started, JCRC held a vigil in front of City Hall for the estimated 240 people in Israel who were taken hostage on Oct. 7. (As of Tuesday, Hamas had released 81 hostages as part of a temporary cease-fire deal.) About 50 people attended the JCRC vigil, while a slightly larger group of protesters across the plaza shouted and chanted to try to drown it out.

Councilmember Carroll Fife, who wrote the cease-fire resolution, said at Monday’s meeting that the document went through four drafts in a purposeful effort to “depoliticize” the language and focus on peace, without condemning Israel or Hamas.

“It attempted to bring the sides together,” she said at the meeting. “I want Jewish children to live as much as I want Palestinian children to live.” Fife added that she needed to acknowledge the “disproportionate deaths on one side.” According to the Hamas-controlled health ministry, about 15,000 Palestinians have died in the war. Israel’s death toll stands at around 1,200 people killed on Oct. 7, most of them civilians.  

Kalb publicly thanked Fife for her “sincere effort to craft and support a resolution that doesn’t have the hot-button and problematic language that had weighed down other resolutions in other places.” But he said not mentioning Oct. 7 is “sending the wrong message and an embarrassing message.”

The city clerk noted that 86% of 1,254 people who weighed in on the issue online supported the resolution without any amendments.

Demonstrators raise Palestinian and Israeli flags in support and opposition to a resolution in support of a ceasefire in Gaza at Oakland City Hall on Monday, Oct. 28, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
Demonstrators raise Palestinian and Israeli flags during discussions of the resolution on Nov. 27. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

The scores of anti-Israeli speakers who rejected amending the resolution ranged from passionate advocates for Palestinian children to conspiracy theorists to hard-core anti-Zionists who openly supported Hamas’ attack on Israel.

John Reimann, who lost his bid as a socialist candidate for Oakland mayor last year, compared Israel to a “wife beater” who complains when the wife fights back.

One Hamas supporter described Israel as a “genocidal settler colonial state” that needs to be “completely dismantled.” Others repeatedly described Hamas as a “resistance organization” and “not a terrorist” one.

“It’s a contradiction to be pro-humanity and pro-Israel,” one woman said.

Dozens of people who identified themselves as Jewish spoke at the council meeting, with many announcing they were anti-Zionist. Kalb said Israel supporters were “outnumbered.”

Anti-Zionist Jews wore “Not in our name” T-shirts and referenced the Holocaust in their opposition to Israel’s actions in Gaza.

“I know the price of silence,” said one woman. “Never again means never again for anyone.”

JCRC Bay Area CEO Tye Gregory holds an Israeli flag while singing the Israeli national anthem in front of Oakland City Hall before the city council was set to consider a resolution in support of a ceasefire in Gaza, Monday, Nov. 28, 2023. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)
JCRC Bay Area CEO Tye Gregory holds an Israeli flag while supporters sing the Israel national anthem in front of Oakland City Hall on Nov. 27. Hours later the city council passed a resolution in support of a permanent cease-fire in Gaza. (Photo/Aaron Levy-Wolins)

Seated in the audience, Gregory said he repeatedly heard people referencing “white Hitler” to describe Jews who condemn Hamas and heard others saying that “antisemitism isn’t real.”

“I don’t expect maturity from these antisemites,” he told J. “But it was disappointing the city council couldn’t rein in it.”

The council “failed to call out the antisemitism” in the chamber, Gregory said. “They tolerated it.”

The San Francisco-based Arab Resource and Organizing Center, which Gregory called a “pro-terrorism organization,” handed out scripts to speakers that “justified and glorified Hamas,” he said. Gregory added that JCRC had been cautious in the past about describing AROC as supporting terrorists. “Not anymore,” he said.

Councilmembers repeatedly told audience members to stop booing when Israel supporters were speaking. Speakers who mentioned Hamas raping Israeli women on Oct. 7 were loudly booed.

One pro-Israel speaker said she was deeply saddened by the “slurs and lies” against Israel and Jews.

Councilmember Rebecca Kaplan, who is Jewish, used her time “in the spirit of bringing us back to our common humanity” by sharing the story of Isaac and Ishmael from the Bible.

“Let them live, these two children of Abraham. So may it be,” she said.

Gregory, who lives in Oakland, spoke at the meeting in favor of Kalb’s amended resolution.

“I am proud to be a gay Jewish Zionist, and that means that I believe Jews have a right to our indigenous homeland. And that is not in contradiction to Palestinians having that same indigenous right,” he said. “Hamas is a terrorist organization that seeks the annihilation of Israel. This resolution must be amended to acknowledge the atrocities of Hamas and include its removal from power in Gaza.”

Even though Kalb’s effort to amend the resolution failed, he told J. that he chose to vote in favor of the resolution because the final version didn’t include the “horrible, inaccurate, divisive language” that he’s seen from other entities such as the Richmond City Council, the Oakland Education Association and the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee.

Gregory said the city council’s resolution will have no impact on foreign policy but will help to spread a “culture of antisemitism” in Oakland.

“They should focus on policing and housing and education issues,” he said, “and not the most intractable foreign policy issue we have on the planet.”

Natalie Weinstein
Natalie Weinstein

Natalie Weinstein is J.'s senior editor. She previously worked as a senior editor at CNET News and, in the 1990s, as a reporter and editor at J., which was then called the Jewish Bulletin.