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San Francisco Becomes Largest City in US to Approve Gaza Cease-Fire Resolution

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San Francisco Supervisor Dean Preston (in suit and tie) speaks to supporters, alongside Supervisor Hillary Ronen, at City Hall in San Francisco on Jan. 9, 2024, after the full Board of Supervisors approved a Gaza cease-fire resolution that the two co-sponsored.  (Beth LaBerge/KQED)

View the full episode transcript.

On Tuesday, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors approved a resolution calling for an immediate cease-fire in Gaza in an 8–3 vote, making it the largest city in the country to do so. San Francisco trails other cities in the Bay Area like Richmond and Oakland who’ve passed similar resolutions meant to put pressure on Israel and the Biden administration.

Episode Transcript

This is a computer-generated transcript. While our team has reviewed it, there may be errors.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: I’m Ericka Cruz Guevarra, and welcome to the Bay. Local news to keep you rooted. San Francisco is now the biggest city in the country to pass a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, following a trend of local governments hoping to put pressure on Israel and on the Biden administration.

Hilary Ronen: And if enough of us speak out, President Biden will have to listen. And there is no doubt in my mind that without the weapons, money and backing of the United States, the far right government in Israel will not be able to continue its ethnic cleansing campaign against the Palestinian people.


Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Today, San Francisco’s ceasefire resolution and what impact it could have.

Sydney Johnson: So resolutions are different from, you know, laws that a city may pass.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Sydney Johnson is a reporter for KQED.

Sydney Johnson: It’s essentially a way for a local government or, you know, a city metro area to basically take an official position on something. And they’re usually more symbolic and will take effect immediately. And the city passes resolutions pretty often.

Sydney Johnson: Typically they do focus on local issues, but ones like the cease fire resolution aren’t unheard of either. In 2022, for example, the city passed a resolution supporting protests against the Iranian government and the country’s leadership for human rights abuses. So there is some precedent to this.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: When was this idea of a cease fire resolution first introduced?

Sydney Johnson: To San Francisco supervisors Dean Preston and Hilary Ronen, who are both Jewish, officially introduced their resolution to the full Board of Supervisors in early December. So by that time, the violence that started after the October 7th attacks had already been going on for almost two months.

Sydney Johnson: By the time they introduced the resolution, though, there was still plenty of controversy over it. At the same time, there was a little bit of a precedent for local governments to take this type of action, because places like Oakland and Richmond had already been taking those steps.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Right. So an idea like this is sort of gaining traction over the last few months. And in order to pass a cease fire resolution in San Francisco, it sort of had to go through some meetings, including one on Monday, where supervisors got to hear from the public, what was your sense of how people were feeling about this resolution, based on the public comment that you heard?

Sydney Johnson: I would say that the majority of speakers who came on Monday were in support of the resolution. First of all, it was a five hour long item, with most of that being public comment from people in the community. I mean, dozens of people were lined up. It was a completely full, chamber. You know, it was a little chaotic at times.

Speaker: There’s a lot of fear. I’m calling for some humility that after they’ve been after these. Me?

Speaker: Excuse me. Stop for a second. Let the man speak. When everyone is speaking, let them speak. If you disagree, put your hand like this. If you agree, wave your hands. Do not taunt people when they’re speaking. Go ahead. Thank you.

Sydney Johnson: We heard boos. We heard cheers.

Speaker: Free Palestine and thank you.

Sydney Johnson: They often had to pound the gavel to bring things back to order.

Speaker: And this is if you can also do this. I’m going to recess the meeting and there won’t be a vote. So just chill out and let everybody speak. And then we’re going to vote.

Sydney Johnson: Regardless of where folks are standing. There was clearly just this palpable energy and people feeling really fired up about this issue.

Lara Kiswani: My name is Lara Kiswani, I’m the executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center. I’m also the daughter of Palestinian refugees. And this is my daughter, Salma. Since I was last here, I learned that I lost 40 family members in Gaza.

Sydney Johnson: There were many people who showed up talking about family members that they have who have died in the violence.

Speaker: My name is Manal Alcala, San Francisco resident, born and raised in district eight. More than 100 members of my family have been killed in Gaza, and the rest joined the 2 million made homeless by our tax money and our unlimited military aid. I’m here as a family medicine doctor who has taken an oath to do no harm. We are witnessing a.

Sydney Johnson: There was also a large group of doctors who showed up. Part of this do no harm coalition that have really been, just calling for more humanitarian aid and medical support in Gaza as well.

Speaker: Should we tell you about Doctor Hammam, a law, a nephrologist who worked at Al-Shifa who said, this is not the medicine I thought I would be practicing? When asked why he continued to work at a hospital under threat, he replied and if I go, who treats my patients? And if I go, who treats my patients? Two weeks later, he was killed in an airstrike on Al-Shifa. How many more? How many more children? How many more doctors?

Sydney Johnson: Where the rub really came down was over the language that was going to be used, and sort of how the call for a cease fire would be portrayed, quite literally, line by line and in the resolution itself.

Speaker: As long as we’re here, there are three things that must be included in this outrageous resolution. Number one, lay out the atrocities and detail that have been committed by Hamas on October 7th. In detail.

Sydney Johnson: There were some opponents that said that the resolution didn’t go far enough to call out Hamas for its role and the attack on October 7th that killed around 1200 Israelis. Several people said that they didn’t feel safe for expressing their criticisms, and they wanted to see more language added to support Jewish and Israeli communities.

Speaker: This resolution is bringing out, it’s legitimizing. It’s making it okay to call for the destruction of Israel and, threats to Jews. And I please ask you to focus on keeping us safe here, everyone, and not legitimizing hate speech. Thank you.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Well, I know part of the work of things like this is definitely in the language, and I want to ask you about that. But before we get into that, how did the supervisors who introduced this resolution talk about why do this at all in San Francisco?

Sydney Johnson: I think it’s a great question, first of all, because there were people who spoke up during public comment saying that San Francisco should be focused on our local issues. You know, we have a housing crisis. We have an overdose crisis.

Speaker: The only consideration of a cease fire really is in the hands of Qatar, Egypt, Hamas and Israel. Not by this board.

Sydney Johnson: You know, why would we be focusing hours of our government’s attention, on something that’s maybe to some, not directly affecting our backyard. But in response to that, there were plenty of people who said, actually, this is affecting people here.

Ahsha Safaí: This is the most gut wrenching issue that I have dealt with on the Board of Supervisors. I have never received more calls, more emails, more people stopping me on the street, people grabbing me wherever I am to tell me how they feel about this moment.

Sydney Johnson: Supervisor Ahsha Safaí, you know, he pointed out that he was supporting the resolution because he hoped that it would simply allow members of the community who have lost loved ones or have direct experience with violence in the Middle East, to feel seen and heard by their local leaders.

Ahsha Safaí: I can tell you, as the only person on this board that was born in that part of the world, and my life began with gunshots ringing outside every single night. This is deeply, deeply personal to me, and I have thought about nothing else more every single day since October the 7th. And so I know this resolution. Some people think it’s not going to do anything. It will allow some people in our communities to feel heard and seen for the very first time, because they feel as though they’re not seen in our city.

Sydney Johnson: You know, the U.S. government funds a lot of military aid in Israel, and that’s something that Hillary Ronen and other supervisors who supported this said that they hope it will send a message to the Biden administration to shift its approach and policies on the war in Gaza.

Speaker: I believe we’re going to start something here today that’s going to take off across cities all over the United States. And if enough of us speak out, President Biden will have to listen. And there is no doubt in my mind that without the weapons, money and backing of the United States, the far right government in Israel will not be able to continue its ethnic cleansing campaign against the Palestinian people.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Coming up, the debate over how to word the ceasefire resolution.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: So, Sydney, I mean, I know other Bay area cities have considered resolutions like this and and part of what has made some of them very difficult to pass are these debates around language, and how do we sort of come to a consensus on that? What did those debates look like in San Francisco?

Sydney Johnson: So San Francisco definitely had those debates as well. And this resolution was met with plenty of controversy. So in San Francisco, the language debates did mirror somewhat what we saw in places like Oakland and Berkeley. It was proposed by two supervisors who wanted to make a pretty broad call for a cease fire. That initial version did mention things like the October 7th attacks, but it did not explicitly condemn Hamas for its role.

Sydney Johnson: So there was some discussion about including language to label Hamas as a U.S. designated terrorist organization, and, also to include language calling on Hamas to surrender. This was still an issue that other supervisors were unsure of as well. There were multiple supervisors who wanted to see that condemnation of Hamas included in the language. And so on Tuesday, board President Aaron Peskin introduced a handful of changes to try to court skeptical supervisors and reach a unanimous vote.

Aaron Peskin: We have not. Succeeded. Arguably, we have failed to use this as an opportunity to bring our people on both sides of this divide together. I came to work and met with several of you, and heard different things, and as president wanted to see if we could bring at least the 11 of us together in a single, statement. And, to that end. I am offering amendments that turn this into a one page resolution.

Sydney Johnson: That included explicitly condemning Hamas for its attacks on October 7th, but also condemning the Netanyahu administration for the ongoing invasion and airstrikes. It calls on the Biden administration to pursue a cease fire as well, and a handful of other considerations. But there were still some supervisors who said it wasn’t enough and they didn’t reach that consensus.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Yeah. Why is that? For at least the supervisors who still decided that they weren’t on board with this? What were some of the things they said at the meeting on Tuesday about why they weren’t supporting the resolution?

Sydney Johnson: The supervisors who voted no against this, and there were three, said that they still support some of the intention behind what the resolution was holding, but that they just felt it didn’t go hard enough to condemn some of the violence that Hamas has played a role in.

Matt Dorsey: What haunts me as much as anything I have encountered in more than 20 years of working in this building, is hearing the orchestrated denialism about what happened on October 7th.

Sydney Johnson: You know, Dorsey in particular, he was saying that it could risk sending a message that terrorism works. And that was something that resonated with, some of the other supervisors as well.

Matt Dorsey: But I am troubled that the pain of some people is being denied. I can’t in good conscience support this resolution.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: So what is the language that they ultimately landed on and how did supervisors ultimately vote?

Sydney Johnson: So the final version condemns both Hamas and Netanyahu for the tens and thousands of deaths that have taken place in Israel and Gaza. It calls for release of all Israeli hostages, demands, an increase in humanitarian aid to Gaza, and it condemns anti-Semitic, Anti-palestinian, Islamophobic rhetoric and attacks. The supervisors voted 8 to 3 for it to pass, with supervisors Dorsey, Stefani and Mandolin as the only no votes.

Sydney Johnson: There were so many cheers. The whole room just erupted. People were throwing scarves and papers in the air. It looked a little bit like a graduation. And yeah, there was just a lot of emotion. And there were, of course, people who were there who were upset to see this pass as well, feeling like they weren’t heard and represented by the language. But the vast majority of people that showed up on Tuesday were filling the halls of the chamber afterwards, cheering and supporting.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Do we know anything about whether resolutions like these actually have an impact at all?

Sydney Johnson: You know, I think that the war in Gaza is one of the biggest humanitarian crises of our lifetime. And there are people here in our community that have fled that violence, that have family that is still in Israel and Gaza. And I think that resolutions like this do kind of show where San Franciscos heart and priorities are at that. You know, we are aware that there are these issues that we need to focus on locally. But this is one of those, you know, this is affecting people here, too.

Sydney Johnson: And I think that there is a lot to be said about taking a controversial stand like this. When you have a federal administration that is taking the opposite stance in some ways, and coming out and saying, you know, this is not where we’re going to stand, is is pretty tough to do. You know, I think we can only speculate, but, I think that is certainly the intention with resolutions like this is to send a message, take a stand and hope that it inspires some sort of change.

Ericka Cruz Guevarra: Well, Sydney, thank you so much. Appreciate it. Thank you. That was Sydney Johnson, a reporter for KQED. This 25 minute conversation with Sydney was cut down and edited by me. Maria Esquinca is our producer. She scored this episode and added all the tape. We got some additional editing support from senior editor Alan Montecillo.


Ericka Cruz Guevarra: The rest of our podcast team here at KQED includes Jen Chien, our director of podcasts, Katie Sprenger, our podcast operations manager, Cesar Saldana, our podcast engagement producer, Maha Sanad, our podcast engagement intern, and Holly Kernan, our chief content officer. Music courtesy of the Audio Network. The Bay is a production of member supported KQED Public Media in San Francisco. I’m Ericka Cruz Guevarra. Thanks so much for listening. Talk to you next week.

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