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Politics & Policy

Activists pack San Francisco City Hall as lawmakers mull statement on Gaza cease-fire

A line of people standing and sitting in city hall.
Hundreds of people lined the hallways of City Hall waiting for the public comment portion of a Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday. | Source: Ben Fanjoy for The Standard

San Francisco entered the controversy over the Israel-Hamas war as city leaders introduced a resolution Tuesday calling for an immediate cease-fire in the conflict.

The proposal by Supervisors Dean Preston and Hillary Ronen was followed by a public comment period that extended late into the evening, as hundreds of supporters urged the Board of Supervisors to adopt the nonbinding policy statement while others picketed in the hallway outside the board chambers.

Preston described the resolution as “an opportunity for us to come together in defense of human life,” and to support residents with families suffering in the war. 

Supervisor Dean Preston looks to the side with his glasses in his hand.
Supervisor Dean Preston pauses during an emotional moment in a speech in which he called for a cease-fire in Gaza during a San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting at City Hall. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

“Palestinians here in our city feel particularly unseen and unheard by this country's leaders, who continue to unconditionally back the destruction of Gaza and the killing of thousands of Palestinians,” Preston said in a halting, emotional speech. “Meanwhile, Jews are still in shock. The Oct. 7 massacre is fulfilling the worst fears and nightmares of so many of us.”

Both Preston and Ronen are Jewish and from families of Holocaust survivors.

Ronen, whose father served in the Israeli Defense Forces, told supervisors, “I cannot tell you how many times since Oct. 7 I have thought about what my dad would say today about the war. … He always wanted peace.” 

She shed tears describing how the same reasons she worries about her family in Tel Aviv also compel her to support an immediate cease-fire.

“I must, I must—it's in my blood—speak out loudly against the overwhelming killing of innocent lives in Gaza,” she said. “Anything less would be a betrayal to all those people throughout history, including my relatives who were killed unjustly based upon their religion.”

A side profile of a woman in a light sweater sitting in front of a dais with an open laptop.
Supervisor Hillary Ronen co-authored the resolution, which drew hundreds of supporters and protesters to City Hall on Tuesday. | Source: Juliana Yamada/The Standard

Preston and Ronen’s resolution also calls for the “provision of life-saving humanitarian aid in Gaza, and the release of all hostages,” urges the Biden administration and Congress to do the same, and condemns “antisemitic, anti-Palestinian, Islamophobic, and all xenophobic rhetoric and attacks.”

Preston circulated some drafts of the resolution among other supervisors for feedback. An early draft obtained by The Standard initially made no mention of Hamas’ role in the Oct. 7 attack and called for the passage of House Resolution 786, authored by Rep. Cori Bush, a Democrat from Missouri. 

Bush’s resolution calls for “an immediate de-escalation and cease-fire in Israel and occupied Palestine,” with no mention of how the current conflict started. It has 17 Democratic co-sponsors. House Resolution 771, authored by Rep. Michael McCaul, a Republican from Texas, which urges “standing with Israel” against a “barbaric war launched by Hamas and other terrorists,” has attracted 222 Republican and 203 Democratic co-sponsors. 

The current version of Preston’s resolution acknowledges “the brutal attack by Hamas militants on Oct. 7” and calls on President Joe Biden and Congress to call for a cease-fire without supporting a specific bill. 

“I think Preston and Ronen are missing the point,” Tyler Gregory, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Bay Area, told The Standard before the meeting. “What we saw in Oakland—vitriolic antisemitism and justification of Hamas terrorism—has no place in San Francisco.

“Preston was receptive to some of the concerns that we had by naming Hamas and removing the deeply unpopular Cori Bush resolution,” he added. “But it still misses one of the top two goals that our community has for the resolution of this conflict, which is that Hamas be removed from power in Gaza.”

The Palestinian militant group Hamas, which had de facto control of the Gaza Strip, launched multiple attacks on Israel during the Oct. 7 Sabbath, which also marked Simchat Torah. Israeli authorities have identified 1,151 Israelis killed on that day, along with about 240 people taken hostage. 

Over 17,000 people have died in the following conflict, including over 15,000 Palestinians killed in Israel’s counterattacks, according to the Gaza Health Ministry.

In the days leading up to Tuesday’s meeting, some San Francisco supervisors voiced concerns over the resolution, saying it distracted from regular legislative work and risked inflaming tensions among constituents. The Oakland City Council faced criticism for approving a resolution in a vote that featured heated and, at times, inflammatory public comment.

Over 1,500 members of the public, including many from advocacy and labor groups, reportedly attended Tuesday’s meeting in San Francisco to speak out on the resolution and were limited to one minute each. At times, the chants of protestors in the hall outside were clearly audible in the supervisors’ chambers. 

A long line out of people waiting to get in to the Board of Supervisors meeting with someone holding up a Palestine flag.
Hundreds of individuals wait in line to give public comment at a San Francisco Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

Zahra Billoo, executive director of the Council on American-Islamic Relations, San Francisco Bay Area, was among the first public commenters.

“Over 1.4 million Palestinians have been displaced, and over 20,000 have been killed,” she told supervisors. “Palestinians are being killed at an average of one every four minutes. So every four speakers you hear from today will represent another Palestinian death.”

Nadia Rahman, a Pakistani-American political organizer, described local acts of violence provoked by the Gaza conflict, including a recent assault on a Muslim student at Francisco Middle School on Oct. 25 and the repeated defacing of a Gaza-themed mural in San Francisco’s District 8, which includes the Castro, Noe Valley, Cole Valley and Glen Park neighborhoods.

“Although it's easy to tell ourselves that this doesn't impact us here in San Francisco, the reality is that it does, and it will only make us less safe,” Rahman said. “The longer that this goes on, please do not wait to support a cease-fire until worse comes to worse.” 

Others took issue with the language of the resolution. Nina Bloch, who described herself as a 55-year San Francisco resident, said she felt supporters were “emphasizing some facts and ignoring others.”  

“And I think that if you feel that it's in your remit to pass this resolution, you just amend it slightly and call for all the hostages to be released before the cease-fire starts,” Bloch said.

The resolution will be referred to committee, according to Board of Supervisors President Aaron Peskin, who confirmed the move in a text. Depending on which committee the item is referred to, it could be voted on by the entire board next week or after its winter recess.

Editor's Note: This story has been updated to clarify the description of a mural in District 8 that has been defaced.