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San Francisco Is Considering a Gaza Cease-Fire Resolution. What Is a Resolution?

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People in a crowd hold protest signs.
Demonstrators gather outside San Francisco's Powell Street BART station during a protest calling for a cease-fire in Gaza on Nov. 14, 2023. (Juliana Yamada/KQED)

Update, 4:10 p.m. Tuesday: San Francisco supervisors have now officially called for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza, making the city the largest in the United States to pass such a resolution. The resolution, which was approved on Tuesday afternoon by a vote of 8–3, also demands the release of all Israeli hostages and an increase in humanitarian aid to Gaza and condemns antisemitic, anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic rhetoric and attacks. Read more about the now-approved city resolution.

Original story: On Tuesday, San Francisco’s Board of Supervisors will vote on whether the city should pass a resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.

Gaza has been bombarded by Israeli forces for almost three months now, resulting in a Palestinian death toll topping 23,000 and 58,000 wounded, according to Gazan health officials, with nearly 85% of the population displaced. The attacks on Gaza have prompted tens of thousands of Bay Area residents to protest on streets, bridges, and campuses in support of a cease-fire.

San Francisco is not the first city in the Bay Area to consider a resolution concerning a cease-fire in Gaza. Richmond was the first in the United States to pass a solidarity resolution back in October, and the city of Oakland unanimously voted on a cease-fire resolution in late November. Alameda City Council spent the first days of 2024 deliberating on its own cease-fire resolution, which ultimately failed to pass.

The San Francisco cease-fire resolution was introduced by District 5 Supervisor Dean Preston and is co-sponsored by District 9 Supervisor Hillary Ronen — both of whom are Jewish. Similar to Oakland’s statement, the city’s resolution for a sustained cease-fire in Gaza includes: “humanitarian aid, release of hostages, and condemning antisemitic, anti-Palestinian, and Islamophobic rhetoric and attacks” (PDF), adding that over 1,200 Israelis have been killed, tens of thousands of Palestinians killed, and over a million Palestinians have been displaced from Gaza since Oct. 7. The resolution also notes the United States’ “substantial” aid to Israel’s military, as well as the United Nations’ adopted resolution that has called for a cease-fire. Read the full text of the resolution as a PDF.

Cities across the country are seeing passionate, charged debate among residents — both in support of and against a cease-fire resolution passing in their local government. Places like Long Beach, Seattle (in a second attempt) and Detroit have passed a cease-fire resolution — whereas municipalities like Baltimore and Burlington voted against their resolutions. (You can see a map tracking such resolutions around the country, created by the pro-cease-fire activist group Solidarity Is.)

But how does a city resolution like this get passed — or not? And what does such a resolution actually do?

What is a cease-fire resolution?

Resolutions differ from ordinances — or laws — passed by a city government. They’re an opportunity for a city to state a position, expressing approval or disapproval. Resolutions usually take effect immediately upon adoption and are often symbolic.

In San Francisco, resolutions are often written by the sponsoring supervisor’s staff or by the supervisor and then looked over by the city attorney. In some cases, it can be submitted by the public to a supervisor, who then meets with the group to review the resolution.

When a resolution is introduced in San Francisco, it must go before a board committee to be voted on before it passes to the full board of supervisors. In the case of the Gaza cease-fire resolution, it went before the rules committee on Monday.

Requirements to pass resolutions are mostly the same — they require a majority of the city council to vote yes. In San Francisco, six out of the eleven supervisors would need to vote yes to pass a resolution. The resolution is then handed to Mayor London Breed, who has ten days to sign it, return it unsigned, or veto it.

What’s the impact of passing a resolution like this?

Passing a resolution is a way for the city to make an “unambiguous, moral stand,” said Jess Ghannam, professor of psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco and a proponent of the resolution. Ghannam has worked in Gaza for over two decades, specifically focusing on the traumatic effects of war and displacement on women and children.

“The concept of a cease-fire really has to do with saving and protecting a vulnerable civilian population [in Gaza], which has no ability to protect itself, no ability to flee and no ability to secure any kind of safety,” Ghannam said.

In light of the Biden administration bypassing Congress to continue providing financial support to the Israeli military, Ghannam said passing the resolution is a form of civic engagement — one that can go beyond local impact and contribute to national consensus.

“When we pass these resolutions … we say no to this country promoting genocide, and promoting the death of innocent civilians in this case,” Ghannam said.

Ghannam is part of a group of health care workers who have been leading the call for a cease-fire resolution in San Francisco, and he said they have been particularly incensed by the targeting of hospitals in Gaza by Israel and by the Palestinian people deprived of medical attention.

A San Francisco city resolution would, Ghannam said, also support the city’s Palestinian American community, of which he is a part.

“If you believe that the board of supervisors and city government should represent all of its community members, there’s been a direct impact on local San Francisco communities of the war in Palestine, in Gaza. It’s affecting families here,” he said. “It’s causing them emotional distress.”

The war is also bringing those families “significant distress in terms of the Islamophobic and anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian rhetoric that’s going on,” he said.

Ghannam said that residents also have a particular stake in such resolutions because some tech companies in the Bay Area are involved with the Israeli Defense Force. For example, Project Nimbus — a contract between Google, Amazon, and the Israeli government and military — has already garnered pushback from the company’s employees.

“I think residents in San Francisco, in the Bay Area, would want to know that they are supporting tech companies — maybe even investing in tech companies — that are actively engaged in killing civilians,” Ghannam said. “That just needs to be called out and needs to be challenged and needs to be known.”

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Why is there debate around passing cease-fire resolutions?

Supervisor Preston — who is the son of Holocaust survivors — said in December that he received “thousands” of calls from people who wanted their city government to weigh in on Gaza.

He also noted that “there’re some folks that don’t want to see a resolution and don’t want to see the board take action.”

For example, Berkeley’s mayor would not introduce a resolution in late November

“It is impossible to ignore the suffering that is occurring, just as it is impossible to ignore the disturbing rise in antisemitism and [I]slamophobia spreading throughout the world,” Mayor Jesse Arreguín said in a November statement. “As Mayor, it is my job to keep this community safe, and I remain committed to working with everyone impacted by this conflict to ensure Berkeley remains a safe haven for all. These resolutions will not end the violence abroad, but they do fan the flames of hatred here at home. That’s a threat I cannot ignore.”

In San Francisco, the Jewish Community Relations Council, a pro-Israel organization, also opposed the idea of a city resolution.

In a statement released in December, JCRC Bay Area wrote that the group had “many concerns about the pending resolution,” which it said, “fails to condemn or hold Hamas responsible for the pogrom of Oct. 7 nor does it recognize that Hamas is an impediment to any sustained and peaceful cease-fire.” The proposed resolution, wrote the JCRC, also “does not recognize that Hamas has failed to adhere to the temporary cease-fire in effect since Oct. 24.”

The text of the San Francisco resolution does mention Hamas’ attack on Oct. 7, noting that “[f]ollowing the brutal attack by Hamas militants on Israelis on Oct. 7, 2023, San Francisco Israelis, Jews and others have experienced, and continue to experience shock, trauma, grief, and fear, compounded by rising antisemitism in our nation and our city.”

Preston said last month that he wanted to focus on the current situation and “bringing folks together and toward a goal of saving lives and not trying to assign relative blame, not trying to advance sort of different visions of long-term solutions for the region.”

“The things we’re calling for in this resolution are directly related to what people are experiencing here, in terms of rising antisemitism, rising Islamophobia,” Preston said. “So I do think that local legislators have an increased interest and duty to act.”

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The Jewish American community is not a monolith concerning the cease-fire — with Jewish Voice for Peace being one of the largest organizers for the cease-fire resolution. District 9 Supervisor Ronen told the San Francisco Chronicle that she wants a cease-fire because of the lessons she learned from family members who fled or were affected by the Holocaust.

“By supporting the resolution before us and calling for an end to the killing of hostages, bombing, starving and dehumanization of people in Palestine and Israel, I am not antisemitic,” Ronen said on Dec. 5. “I am not one-sided. I am not overstepping the bounds of my job.”

“I am engaging very thoughtfully in a conflict fueled by my and my constituents’ tax dollars. And this conflict is deeply rooted in my personal life and my identity,” she said.

A recent national poll in December shows that most American voters support a cease-fire.

Where do Bay Area representatives stand on this issue?

Rep. Barbara Lee (CA-12) is the only Californian co-sponsor of the cease-fire statement at the federal level.

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According to the Working Families Party, as of early January, at least 64 members of Congress have called for a de-escalation or a cease-fire. In California, that includes:

  • Rep. Maxine Waters (CA-43)
  • Rep. Ro Khanna (CA-17)
  • Rep. Mark DeSaulnier (CA-10)
  • Rep. John Garamendi (CA-08)
  • Rep. Robert Garcia (CA-42)
  • Rep. Sara Jacobs (CA-51)
  • Rep. Jared Huffman (CA-02)
  • Rep. Judy Chu (CA-28)
  • Rep. Tony Cárdenas (CA-29)
  • Rep. Mark Takano (CA-39)

It does not include either of California’s senators, Alex Padilla and Laphonza Butler. Most Bay Area congresspeople opposed a cease-fire in mid-November, with Nancy Pelosi calling a cease-fire a “gift to Hamas.”

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Have there been similar resolutions in the past?

Resolutions are a common practice in city councils. For example, in 2017, following the election of Donald Trump, several Bay Area cities passed resolutions showing solidarity with diverse communities — with some explicitly emphasizing groups Trump spoke disparagingly of, such as undocumented people and Muslims.

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At that time, Santa Clara County passed a resolution calling “on President-Elect Trump to serve and protect all Americans, without prejudice on the basis of race, religion, sex, gender, sexual orientation, or disability; to serve as President without regard for ego or personal gain.”

According to The Oaklandside, Oakland has previously passed resolutions calling for the end of the Vietnam War, opposing apartheid in South Africa, against human rights abuses in Nigeria, and opposing the invasion of Iraq in 2003.

In 2022, San Francisco passed a resolution commending protests by the Iranian people against their government and condemning Iran’s leadership for human rights abuses.

“We’ve heard over and over again that the [Iranian] protesters are looking for beacons of light … that they’re not dying in vain, they’re not protesting in vain,” SF Supervisor Ahsha Safaí told The Standard in 2022. The resolution, Safai said, was “our attempt to show some solidarity and encouragement in any way we can that this is happening, and the world is watching.”

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For UCSF’s Jess Ghannam, the cease-fire resolution would be a natural part of San Francisco’s long history of activism and commitment to human rights — from anti-Vietnam war demonstrations, LGBTQ+ rights, immigration, and free speech.

“That’s what San Francisco symbolizes. Everybody knows that,” Ghannam said. “We get attacked for it in various media sectors all the time.”

“The idea that somehow San Francisco would shy away from such an important moment historically … it’s really outrageous that someone would say, ‘San Francisco shouldn’t do this,’” Ghannam said.

KQED’s Marisa Lagos and Sydney Johnson contributed reporting to this story.

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