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San Francisco lawmakers urge Gaza cease-fire following bitter debate

A person holds a Palestinian flag on inside city hall.
Demonstrators gathered at San Francisco City Hall to urge the Board of Supervisors to adopt a resolution urging a cease-fire in Gaza. | Source: Benjamin Fanjoy for The Standard

San Francisco lawmakers voted 8-3 to approve a resolution calling for “a sustained ceasefire” in Gaza, making it the latest city to urge a cease-fire in the Israel-Hamas war.

The resolution was adopted after about an hour of discussion that grew tense at times, with Board President Aaron Peskin once threatening to end the discussion after shouts erupted in the chamber. The decision elicited cheers from supporters, which forced a recess. 

San Francisco lawmakers voted 8-3 to approve a resolution calling for a "sustained cease-fire" in Gaza at Tuesday's Board of Supervisors meeting. | Source: Courtesy SFGovTV

The resolution was first introduced last month by Supervisor Dean Preston, quickly drawing controversy and highlighting broader divisions over the war. 

On Tuesday, Peskin offered a revised version that called for a cease-fire, humanitarian aid in Gaza and the release of all hostages. The resolution also urged the Biden administration and Congress to support those goals; condemned antisemitism, Islamophobia and xenophobia; and condemned both the Hamas attack on Oct. 7 along with “the Netanyahu government’s attacks resulting in the deaths of tens of thousands of Palestinian civilians in Gaza.”

Peskin’s version was also supported by Supervisors Connie Chan, Joel Engardio, Dean Preston, Myrna Melgar, Hillary Ronen, Shamann Walton and Ahsha Safaí. 

Supervisors Catherine Stefani, Matt Dorsey and Rafael Mandelman opposed the resolution, saying it did not go far enough to condemn sexual violence in the Oct. 7 attack, as detailed in a New York Times investigation, or to explicitly demand the removal of Hamas. 

When Stefani and Dorsey made mention of the reports, they were met with boos from members of the audience. At a rancorous committee meeting Monday, when scores of activists packed City Hall to speak mostly in favor of the resolution, some members of the public denounced the reports of sexual violence as “false and racist.”

READ MORE: Scuffle Breaks Out Among Activists at Gaza Cease-Fire Debate at City Hall

“Supervisor Dorsey mentioned these attacks on women, and members of the public shouted him down and called him a liar, which is really beyond frightening to me,” Stefani said. 

The vote puts San Francisco among the largest U.S. cities to have adopted a resolution urging a cease-fire in the conflict, which has claimed at least 23,210 lives in the Gaza Strip, according to the Palestinian Ministry of Health. In a press release after the vote, Preston said that San Francisco was the largest of 60 cities around the country to call for a cease-fire. 

In November, the Seattle City Council adopted a resolution calling for “a long-term cease-fire” that “underscores support for the people of both Israel and Palestine to live in peace and security.” Detroit adopted a similarly worded resolution on Nov. 21. Dallas and Jacksonville, Florida, adopted resolutions condemning the actions of Hamas shortly after the Oct. 7 attack. 

“I hope that we can all come together on this and send a strong and unified message in support of a cease-fire, in support of humanitarian aid and in support of the release of all hostages and in unequivocal condemnation of hate, antisemitism, Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian hate,” said Preston.

READ MORE: Tensions Erupt As San Francisco Lawmakers Debate Cease-Fire Resolution

Activists supporting the resolution were jubilant about the vote, while opponents acknowledged Peskin’s compromise. 

“[Supervisors] courageously stood on the right side of history,” Lara Kiswani, executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, said in a statement. “The people of San Francisco have been consistent in saying NO to genocide, NO to ethnic cleansing, and YES to dignity for Palestinians and all people.”

“It was a compromise that addressed our top concerns—that Hamas is not leadership that can achieve peace, and removed inflammatory language from Preston’s resolution about Israel,” Tyler Gregory, CEO of the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Bay Area, told The Standard in a text. “At the same time, we do not think these municipal efforts are a productive use of time.”

Peskin said his version was informed by discussions with members of the board and highlighted areas of consensus, such as an end to violence and holding bad actors accountable.  

But he lamented that “arguably, we have failed to use this as an opportunity to bring our people together.”