Richmond mayor, vice mayor face backlash over anti-Israel resolution 

Richmond mayor, vice mayor face backlash over anti-Israel resolution 
Richmond City Hall (Photo credit: Mike Kinney)

UPDATE: In the wake of the controversy, Richmond City Council early today passed the resolution with language amended to acknowledge the brutal and deadly surprise attack by Hamas on Israelis on Oct. 7, and also to call for Hamas to release Israeli hostages. The resolution continues to lay blame in the complex, historic conflict solely at the feet of Israel while mentioning no critique of the role of Hamas and other terrorist organizations, a factor that has upset members of the local Jewish community.

By Mike Aldax

Richmond Mayor Eduardo Martinez and Vice Mayor Gayle McLaughlin are facing community backlash for proposing a City Council resolution that takes a decidedly anti-Israel stance on the Israel-Hamas war and the long-running conflict in general. 

The Bay Area Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) is encouraging community members to speak out at Tuesday’s Council meeting against the 570-word resolution, calling it “biased and inflammatory.” 

The resolution describes Israel as being an “apartheid state” that is engaging in a campaign of “ethnic cleansing” and “collective punishment” of Palestinians. The resolution meanwhile fails to condemn the terrorist group Hamas for their brutal, deadly attack on Israeli citizens on Oct. 7. 

Jewish residents say they feel alienated by the proposed resolution, which they add achieves no benefits for people in Richmond or in Gaza. 

“It takes me back to how my great grandparents were ultimately murdered by Nazis,” said Chef Arnon Oren, owner of a restaurant and catering company in Richmond and also co-founder of a nonprofit that trains youth in cooking and organic gardening. “It started with small little things like that. For the City of Richmond not to acknowledge the cold-blooded horror that happened Oct. 7, that’s 100 percent anti-Semitic. That resolution only ignited hate, their ignorance, not knowledge.” 

Rabbi Dean of Temple Beth Hillel vowed to defeat the resolution.

“I’m sorry that we have to deal with this kind of anti-Semitism from our civic leaders during these painful days,” the rabbi said in a statement posted to Facebook.

The resolution is drawing criticism from non-Jewish community members as well. Iron Triangle Neighborhood Council President Oscar Garcia called the resolution “very troublesome” for failing to include support for Israelis as well as Palestinians. He was among community residents and leaders expressing shock about the resolution in the Facebook social media group, Everybody’s Richmond. 

“I’m OK with coming out in support of the civilians in Gaza as long as they also acknowledge that Hamas committed atrocities,” one resident stated. 

Community advocate Shawn Dunning, a former mayoral candidate and current council candidate, said he is “deeply troubled” by the war but believes the City Council “has no business weighing in on this.” 

“Read the charter,” he said. “The purpose of our city council is to focus on Richmond. Period.” 

Andrew Butt, former council candidate, city planning commissioner and the son of former Mayor Tom Butt, echoed Dunning’s sentiments. 

“Just why? There are 1 million other things Richmond City Council needs to be focused on,” Butt said. 

Currently, four of the seven elected members on the Richmond City Council are also separately longtime members of the activist group Richmond Progressive Alliance (RPA), including Mayor Martinez, Vice Mayor McLaughlin and Councilmembers Melvin Willis and Claudia Jimenez. 

These councilmembers typically vote as a bloc on city issues. 

“This is not the first time the City Council, driven by members who belong to the Richmond Progressive Alliance, have attempted to use their offices to demonize Israel,” Rabbi Kertesz said. “We had to stand against them about 10 years ago when they proposed basically the same resolutions.”

The JRCR hopes the RPA will have a change of heart come Tuesday. 

“We hope that the City Council doesn’t adopt this unacceptable resolution,” the JCRC states in its online campaign

The regular meeting of the Richmond City Council starts at 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 24.  The proposed resolution in full is below. 

Kathy Chouteau contributed to this report.