A conspiracy theorist who claimed that "Israel murdered their own people on Oct. 7" at the Nov. 27 meeting of the Oakland City Council, as seen in a video of extreme comments from the meeting that went viral. (Photo illustration/Forward-Nora Berman; screenshot via KTOP-TV)
A conspiracy theorist who claimed that "Israel murdered their own people on Oct. 7" at the Nov. 27 meeting of the Oakland City Council, as seen in a video of extreme comments from the meeting that went viral. (Photo illustration/Forward-Nora Berman; screenshot via KTOP-TV)

I was shouted down for condemning Hamas in an Oakland City Council meeting

This story was originally published in the Forward. Click here to get the Forward’s free email newsletters delivered to your inbox.

After being shouted down in Oakland City Hall, I headed back to my seat. The next speaker scowled at me, called me a b—h, and stepped up to the podium.

She then firmly proclaimed that it was Israel, not Hamas, who carried out the atrocities in southern Israel.

On Monday night, I headed to the Oakland City Council meeting to deliver a one-minute public comment asking for an amendment to a resolution calling for a cease-fire between Israel and Hamas. Along with other members of our Jewish community, I urged the councilmembers to include a condemnation of Hamas alongside their call for a cease-fire.

The start to the afternoon set the stage for an evening that grew increasingly polarized, vitriolic and seething with hatred. I suspected this would be an uphill battle, but little did I know that I would be in for a night of hateful conspiracy theories and antisemitism run amok.

The large double-doors leading to the council chambers were closed and locked when a few of us arrived at the third floor of Oakland City Hall. On either side of the entrance were long tables. A Palestinian scarf covered the length of one table, alongside a spread of baby toys and a sign noting the number of children the Hamas-run Gaza Health Ministry says have been killed since the outbreak of the war in Gaza.

The display was honestly heart-wrenching. It was a meaningful illustration of the devastation of war. But there was no mention of the Hamas massacre in Israel on Oct. 7 — of the women raped, the babies maimed, the civilians kidnapped, the festivalgoers gunned down in cold blood, the children killed in their beds or the other atrocities perpetrated by Hamas terrorists.

On the empty table, I laid down a spread of small “Kidnapped” posters displaying the faces and names of the Israeli children and teens still held hostage in Gaza. While the display honoring the Palestinian children was left untouched, a woman seated by the other table came over, scooped up all the flyers of the kidnapped Israeli children, and threw them into the trash can. No one stopped her.

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

The cease-fire resolution was introduced by Councilmember Carroll Fife and called for an immediate stop to the operation in Gaza. In an effort to create a more balanced perspective, Councilmember Dan Kalb offered an amendment to condemn Hamas and mention the murder of Israeli and other civilians. His amendment failed by a vote of 6-2. The council passed the cease-fire resolution unanimously, 8-0.

The council allows public comment before their vote. But this was no ordinary comment period. One speaker after the next stepped up to the lectern and flatly denied the atrocities in Israel happened, or suggested that the Israeli death count was exaggerated, or claimed that Israel and the IDF had murdered its own citizens.

The hatred and antisemitism from the audience was palpable; the lack of heart, empathy or consideration by the elected officials was beyond shocking. The council failed to control the audience as insults were hurled at Jewish speakers. Uniquely shameful was the coordinated chant of “Liar! Liar!” whenever a speaker stated the fact that some of the Hamas terrorists committed sexual assaults during the attack.

The silence and inaction in the face of the yelling, the name-calling and the disruptions seemed to telegraph tacit approval and encouragement to the crowd. Things came uniquely to a head when someone uttered “Heil Hitler” as one of my Jewish neighbors asked the council to amend the resolution.

Since Oct. 7, the rise in antisemitic incidents, including in the Bay Area, is startling. In the 50 days following the Hamas massacre, the ADL has documented 1,481 antisemitic incidents across the United States — a 300 percent increase from the same period in 2022. In Oakland and across California, ADL has logged reports of antisemitic and anti-Israel graffiti. Posters calling for the release of the hostages have been ripped from walls. Pro-Israel activists have been harassed and assaulted.

Is it any wonder these things are happening when our city’s supposed leaders fail to condemn misinformation or to counter hateful antisemitic conspiracy theories and outright lies? While it’s clear that an Oakland resolution does nothing to affect change in a conflict taking place thousands of miles away, the resolution creates a chain reaction of consequences for Jewish people living in Oakland. It worsens an already fraught situation by fanning the flames of hate and creating an environment where Jewish residents feel unsafe and unwelcomed — with no sense of belonging. Some Jewish families are already transferring their children out of the Oakland Unified School District.

This war is not something Israel wanted. And certainly, the vast majority of those present in the council chamber did not wish for this war, either. But how can we lower the temperature and stop the hatred and vitriol in our community when our city leaders can’t stand up to those who spread antisemitism and hate right in front of them?

This article was originally published on the Forward. The views and opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of J. or the Forward.

Teresa Drenick
Teresa Drenick

Teresa Drenick is deputy director of the Anti-Defamation League’s San Francisco Regional Office. She is a former assistant district attorney for Alameda County, California.