RICHMOND, Calif - After more than seven hours of emotionally charged debate over what's going on in the Middle East, the Richmond City Council voted 5-1 Wednesday morning to approve a resolution that recognizes the suffering of Palestinians in Gaza and accuses Israel of ethnic cleansing.
The pro-Palestinian vote came shortly after 1 a.m. The Chronicle reported that those who stayed to hear the end result chanted "Free free Palestine!"
It was a contentious meeting, with people supporting both Israel and Palestinians, showing up to speak during the public comment period.
People in the crowd wore T-shirts and scarves representing the Palestinians and carried blue-and-white Israeli flags. Some attendees complained the meeting wasn't well-planned and there wasn't enough room to accommodate the public. Some others came to question why this local council was wading into symbolic international matters when its job is to provide city services and fix potholes.
Mayor Eduardo Martinez and Vice Mayor Gayle McLaughlin sponsored the resolution, which states the "city of Richmond stands in solidarity with the Palestinian people of Gaza, who are currently facing a campaign of ethnic cleansing and collective punishment by the state of Israel."
The Jewish Community Relations Council called much of the resolution "inflammatory" and "patently false." Some who spoke against the resolution said it was full of historical inaccuracies and unfairly put all the blame on Israel.
But the mayor stood behind the resolution that he helped write.
"I reject the notion that speaking out against Israel's military and right wing government is antisemitic," Martinez said. "We should never stay silent when it comes to any group. The Palestinian people are currently dealing with what the United Nations calls war crimes by the state of Israel."
The JCRC had urged Jews and their allies to flood the meeting to oppose the resolution, and tell the council that they feel "unsafe and scared, and this resolutions' lack of empathy for Jews will only exacerbate the pain the community is feeling."
"Hamas had a great night in Richmond, with five hours of chaos and unrelenting repulsive speech against Israel and Jews," JCRC CEO Tyler Gregory said Wednesday morning. The council demonstrated profound ignorance and incompetence. Richmond could not bring itself to condemn mass murder against Jewish civilians and is not a safe place for Jews. There will be consequences for this taxpayer-funded circus."
At one point, emotions ran hot during the public comment period, when members of the audience were shouting over a speaker.
The uproar had people in the audience raising their voices and speaking out of order.
Don Gosney, a native Richmond resident, was the first to sign up to comment.
"Do you really believe that you are speaking for the people of Richmond as you pontificate these falsehoods included in this resolution?" Gosney said. "I can guarantee you that you do not. What you do hope to accomplish with this? Do you any of you honestly believe that after this vote the people of Hamas and Israel will put down their arms. and sit around the campfire singing kumbaya?"
He added: "Today the genocide in Gaza is on full display for the world to see. From the comfort and safety of our homes we watch the Gaza death toll surpass 9,000. The United States standing firmly alongside Israel means they are complicit in the bombing of hospitals churches residential complexes."
Large turnout at Richmond City Council meeting (Alice Wertz)
That incident had the chief of police announcing that she would clear the room at the mayor’s request if the meeting didn’t remain civil.
At the same time, about a dozen people outside the building were drumming and chanting.
During the public comment period, a man spoke into the microphone after his name was called, saying, "Someone here before said this is an international issue, I’d like to correct that. This is a humanitarian issue."
Dozens of public comment cards were filled out before the meeting even started.
Over 100 attended the meeting on Zoom.
The meeting was also broadcast on YouTube, which saw a few hundred viewers leaving comments while the broadcast was ongoing.
Both Richmond police and fire personnel were on hand to keep the peace and monitor the room capacity.
After council came out of closed session, the vice mayor announced six amendments to the resolution, acknowledging that "1,400 Israelis have been killed by Hamas on Oct. 7 and nearly 6,000 Palestinians have been killed by the state of Israel in this escalated conflict."
The revised statements seem to neutralize the targeted language and focus more on denouncing the loss of all civilian lives on both sides of the war, calling for the immediate release of hostages held by Hamas. The word "apartheid" was not removed.
Other amendments included called for an end to Israeli apartheid and the occupation and blockade of Palestinian land by Israeli forces.
The other amendment stated that the City of Richmond oppose all existing military aid to Israel.
Martinez took the opportunity to take pictures with supporters of Palestine when requested.
Alice Wertz is a freelance reporter for KTVU Fox 2 News. She can be reached at Alice.Wertz@Fox.com