A protester holds up a sign that says "Zionism does not equal Judaism" during a Jan. 31 forum for congressional candidates in Palo Alto. (Screenshot)
A protester holds up a sign that says "Zionism does not equal Judaism" during a Jan. 31 forum for congressional candidates in Palo Alto. (Screenshot)

Congressional debate cut short in Palo Alto by shouting and Oct. 7 denial

A forum with nine candidates vying for U.S. Rep. Anna Eshoo’s seat was cut short Wednesday night in Palo Alto after pro-Palestinian activists repeatedly disrupted the event.

Activists interrupted candidates, chanting “Cease-fire now!” They booed at expressions of support for Israel and loudly denied atrocities committed by Hamas on Oct. 7.

The Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area posted a compilation video on X that gained more than 44,000 views in less than seven hours Thursday. Other attendees took video, too, and shared it on social media.

In the clips and in a full video of the event, audience members in the Palo Alto City Council chambers are seen interrupting the proceedings and making false statements. The event mirrored other public meetings in the Bay Area since Oct. 7 where pro-Palestinian activists have vilified Israel and either defended Hamas as a “resistance” movement or denied its brutality on that day.

Among the first was an Oakland City Council meeting in November where scores of people spoke out against Israel and some in support of Hamas. The most egregious statements were posted on X by JCRC in a video that crossed 30 million views. The speakers in that video drew widespread condemnation, including from prominent politicians such as California Gov. Gavin Newsom.

On Wednesday night, audience members jeered at straight-forward expressions of support for Israel. About 90 minutes into the event, officials had to pause for about 20 minutes as activists chanted. The final 25 minutes were disrupted again and again.

“Israel has a right to exist,” Evan Low, a candidate who currently serves in the state Assembly, said to shouts from the audience.

Low, who is gay, added, “I’m unequivocal in my support of Israel, and I would be beheaded in other places. Not in Israel.” At that statement, audience noise swelled to a cacophony.

“Quiet in the chamber!” an event official at the microphone shouted.

Julie Lythcott-Haims, a candidate who is currently a member of the Palo Alto City Council, faced more of the vitriol.

“I deplore the actions of Hamas on October 7th,” she said, to one loud “boo!” from a female audience member.

“Really? Really?” Lythcott-Haims said. “They butchered people, murdered people, raped people and took hostages.”

At mention of the word “raped,” the audience exploded with anger. Amid the swell of noise, a boy draped in a Palestinian flag yelled about Hamas: “They did not murder anyone!”

The denial of mass rapes, substantiated by reams of evidence including from Hamas, has become a consistent pattern at Bay Area public meetings.

When organizers regained control of the room, Lythcott-Haims said: “I did not know that that would be a controversial statement.”

In an effort to paint Israel as an unprovoked aggressor in its current war, some extreme groups have denied well-documented war crimes committed by Hamas terrorists, who killed 1,200 Israelis, most of them civilians, in the deadliest single day for Jews since the Holocaust. So-called “Oct. 7 denial” or the “Oct. 7 truther” movement — a reference to those who spread false claims about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks — is growing, according to a Jan. 21 report in the Washington Post.

On X, JCRC called the behavior of activists in Palo Alto “shocking” and said it was “thankful for the candidates who bravely stood up against hate and reaffirmed their support for Israel as a Jewish and democratic state.”

The candidates are vying to represent California’s 16th congressional district, which encompasses an area south of San Francisco, including parts of San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz counties. Eshoo is set to retire after serving in Congress since 1993. The primary is scheduled for March 5.

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.