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Tensions erupt as San Francisco lawmakers debate Gaza cease-fire resolution

Activists calling for a ceasefire in Gaza pack the Board of Supervisors Rules committee meeting in City Hall on Monday.
Activists calling for a ceasefire in Gaza pack the Board of Supervisors Rules committee meeting in City Hall on Monday. | Source: Gina Castro/The Standard

Scores of activists packed City Hall Monday to push San Francisco lawmakers to pass a resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.

The resolution was introduced last month, with Supervisors Dean Preston and Hillary Ronen giving impassioned speeches in favor of the resolution. Similar cease-fire resolutions in other cities have exposed sharp divisions over the Israel-Hamas war, now in its fourth month.

The draft resolution called for a “sustained cease-fire” in Gaza and drew hundreds of demonstrators to City Hall, speaking predominantly in support of the resolution. At a Monday meeting of the Board of Supervisors’ Rules Committee, members discussed the language of the resolution and heard hours of comment on a Gaza cease-fire.

Ahead of the meeting, some inside City Hall had hoped to reach a consensus that acknowledged both the humanitarian crisis in Gaza and the role of Hamas in instigating the war. But early on in the discussion, differing perspectives on the conflict were apparent as Preston and Supervisor Matt Dorsey, who chairs the committee, proposed different sets of amendments.

“I don’t know if consensus is going to be possible on the resolution, but I do want to commend [Preston] for commendably setting a tone for this process that hopefully gets us closer to consensus,” Dorsey said before the discussion.

Dorsey’s amendments, made in consultation with other supervisors, included support for a two-state solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and for President Joe Biden’s call for Hamas to lay down arms and release all hostages.

Dorsey also included a forceful condemnation of what he called a “singularly horrific” attack on Oct. 7, noting “a pattern of rape, mutilation and extreme brutality against women” that was “part of a broader pattern of gender-based violence.” Dorsey’s reference to sexual violence during the Oct. 7 attack, which was outlined in a Dec. 28 New York Times report, elicited jeers from some members of the audience.

District 6 Supervisor Matt Dorsey presents his proposed amendments to the resolution calling for a "sustained cease-fire" in Gaza at the Board of Supervisors Rule committee meeting on Jan. 8. | Source: Courtesy SFGovTV

“I think we have to be explicit, and I think other people on this board share that view, that we have to be explicit in our condemnation of the terrorist act itself,” Dorsey said.

Preston described Dorsey’s amendments as “extremely one-sided” and “divisive,” saying they would “alienate thousands of supporters of the resolution and unnecessarily plunge the Board of Supervisors into controversial matters far beyond the scope of this resolution.”

District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston speaks regarding Supervisor Matt Dorsey's proposed amendments to a resolution calling for a "sustained cease-fire" in Gaza at the Board of Supervisors Rule committee meeting on Jan. 8. | Source: Courtesy SFGovTV

Preston, who first drafted the resolution, proposed amendments that included updated figures of people killed and displaced in the conflict and addressed the recent U.S. veto of a United Nations cease-fire resolution and continued military aid to Israel. Preston also included “more explicit condemnation” of military action by both Israel and Hamas and a call for “the international community to work with Palestinian and Israeli people toward a lasting peace and to hold perpetrators of war crimes accountable.

“We are at a defining moment in history as the world grapples with blatant intentional and undeniable atrocities that continue despite widespread condemnation by nearly the entire international community, any thought or hope that this resolution would become moot has vanished,” Preston added.

District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston makes an introductory statement regarding the proposed resolution calling for a "sustained cease-fire" in Gaza at the Board of Supervisors Rule committee meeting on Jan. 8. | Source: Courtesy SFGovTV

Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, an Iranian American, noted his family’s experience enduring the Iranian revolution as informing his perspective on the matter. 

“For me, this is very, very personal,” Safai said. “I’m the only person on this board of supervisors who was born in that part of the world. I had my own family torn apart by religious extremism, by fanatics that came in, killed my family members and forced me to flee the country that I was born in.”

The initial discussion was followed by hours of public comment by activists, who had rallied a strong turnout at the meeting. The activists mostly spoke in support of the resolution and against the amendments from Dorsey.

Supporters of the resolution demanded that supervisors adopt without delay as part of a unified movement to save lives in the Gaza Strip.

“Since I was last here, I’ve learned that I lost 40 family members. I shared that to say that every single day counts,” Lara Kiswani, executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, told committee members.

Sara Shortt, an affordable housing advocate who identified herself as a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, told the committee, “We need to stop the murder in Gaza. It is a Jewish value to support this cease-fire.”

Scores of activists lined up to share their thoughts regarding the cease-fire resolution during the public comment section of the Board of Supervisors rule committee meeting on Monday. | Source: Courtesy SFGovTV

As commenters spoke either for or against the resolution, there were occasional disruptions from the crowd.

One, who gave the name Oren, told the committee that he had family members murdered and taken hostage in the Oct. 7 attack.

“I can tell you that this resolution does one thing. It fuels antisemitism and hatred as exemplified in this room right now,” he said amid shouts from supporters of the resolution. “Listen to the pig noises and everything else.”

Another commenter, who gave the name Michelle, said the resolution would be “a shame for our city” without amendments that specifically call out Hamas for their atrocities, adding “rape is not resistance.”

The Rules Committee moved to send the resolution to the full Board of Supervisors for a vote Tuesday. The committee rejected Dorsey’s amendments, with Safaí and Supervisor Shamann Walton voting no on the changes. Supervisors are expected to further discuss the resolution at their Tuesday meeting.

As activists urge cities around the country to support a cease-fire, the issue continues to divide lawmakers.

Last week, the Alameda City Council deadlocked on the issue after a debate that extended into the following morning; the San Antonio City Council voted to postpone a vote on a resolution originally set for this week until February; and a majority of Minneapolis lawmakers were expected to introduce a resolution today.

The Biden administration, while also supporting Israel with military aid, has called for a winding down of hostilities. Secretary of State Antony Blinken has made repeated visits to the region in an effort to prevent escalation of the conflict.

The most recent estimate of people killed by Hamas in the Oct. 7 attack is 1,139. According to the Hamas-run Gaza Ministry of Health, the number of Palestinians killed in the resulting Israeli counterattack so far is approaching 23,000, a rate of around 250 per day.

Annie Gaus can be reached at