Antisemitism

Oakland City Council rejects bid to denounce Hamas

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(J. Jewish News of Northern California via JTA) — The City Council in Oakland, California, unanimously passed a resolution on Monday night calling for a permanent ceasefire 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,” said Tye Gregory, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council Bay Area, who lives in Oakland.

The council meeting exploded into public view on Tuesday after Yashar Ali, the social media influencer, posted a highlights reel of some of the comments, in which speakers accused Israel of killing its own people on October 7, defended Hamas as a legitimate protest group and compared defending Israel to a man who beats his wife.

The people in the video were among the more than 250 people who offered public comment during the special meeting devoted to the resolution, which lasted for six hours.

Among those commenting on the video was California Gov. Gavin Newsom, who tweeted, “Hamas is a terrorist organization. They must be called out for what they are: evil.”

The Oakland council resolution focused on a permanent ceasefire, which Israel and many of its supporters oppose because it would leave Hamas in power in Gaza. 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.

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Measure didn’t condemn Hamas

But it did not include a condemnation of Hamas. An effort by a Jewish council member, Dan Kalb, to amend the resolution to acknowledge Hamas’ October 7 attack on Israel and condemn the terrorist group for its “repression and violence” against both Palestinians and Israelis failed, in a 2-6 vote. One councilmember, Treva Reid, joined Kalb in voting for the amended version, saying 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 said on Tuesday. He said 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.

Kalb and Gregory said they would remember the hostile atmosphere inside the council chambers.

“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 October 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, the JCRC held a vigil in front of City Hall for the estimated 240 people in Israel who were taken hostage on October 7. (As of Wednesday, Hamas had released more than 90 hostages as part of a truce deal.) About 50 people attended the vigil, while a slightly larger group of protesters across the plaza shouted and chanted to try to drown it out.

Carroll Fife, the council member who wrote the ceasefire 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.

A JewBelong billboard in Oakland, California, papered over by a Jewish anti-Zionist group, Feb. 1, 2023. (credit: JTA)

“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 Gaza health ministry, about 15,000 Palestinians have died in the war; the figure does not differentiate between militants and civilians. Israel’s death toll stands at around 1,200 people killed on October 7, most of them civilians, and about 70 soldiers who have died in Gaza since the ground invasion began late last month.

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 October 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.

The scores of anti-Israeli speakers who rejected amending the resolution ranged from passionate advocates for Palestinian children to conspiracy theorists to hardcore 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.”

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 said. “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 October 7 — an ascendant topic of advocacy given the relative silence by UN Women about allegations of sexual violence against Israelis — 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 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 said 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 local bodies such as the Richmond City Council, the Oakland Education Association and the Alameda County Democratic Central Committee.

Gregory said the city council’s resolution would have no impact on foreign policy but would 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.”





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