A last-minute resolution calling on the Baltimore City Council to condemn the Oct. 7 Hamas attack that killed more than 1,200 Israelis fell short Monday, just minutes after a large group of pro-Palestine advocates interrupted the body’s proceedings.
The protesters — some in headdresses called kaffiyeh, symbols of Palestinian nationalism — interrupted the meeting shortly after it got underway Monday night, chanting “from the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” “free, free Palestine,” “long live Palestine,” and “ceasefire now.” Many raised their hands in the air as they spoke.
The group was directed out of the building by police officers shortly after the action began.
City Council President Nick Mosby did not acknowledge the protesters, some of whom brought signs into council chambers while others packed the overflow space in the adjacent gallery room. The City Council resumed meeting after the protesters moved out of the building.
Similar protests have taken place across the country as residents in many cities have asked their leaders to take a position on the conflict between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that controls Gaza. Tensions have flared since Hamas’ Oct. 7 attack on Israel, which retaliated with bombings, a ground invasion and the cutoff of fuel, water and other supplies.
To date, the Baltimore City Council has not passed any resolutions or bills addressing the war. City Councilman Isaac “Yitzy” Schleifer, who represents Northwest Baltimore and counts a large concentration of Jewish voters among his constituents, sought to change that Monday night.
In an unscheduled move after the protestors had been removed, Schleifer introduced a resolution calling for the council to “condemn the Hamas terrorists,” expressing condolences for and solidarity with “the Jewish community in Baltimore and around the world.” The resolution also called for the immediate release of the hostages taken during the Oct. 7 Hamas attack, which include non-Jews, women and children.
The largely symbolic action wasn’t on the agenda for Monday’s meeting, though Schleifer maintained afterward that he didn’t introduce it in response to plans for pro-Palestine protests in the chamber that night.
The resolution received nine votes in support, with four members abstaining from the vote and two others absent, falling short of the 12 votes Mosby said were needed for immediate adoption. Council members Ryan Dorsey, Odette Ramos, Phylicia Porter and Kristerfer Burnett abstained, while members Zeke Cohen, Mark Conway, Sharon Green Middleton, Eric Costello, Antonio Glover, Danielle McCray, John Bullock, Mosby and Schleifer voted in support.
Council members James Torrence and Robert Stokes were absent.
Schleifer said after the vote that he was deeply disappointed that his colleagues didn’t pass the measure, likening the experience to that of his grandparents during the Holocaust, “when people just sat on the sidelines and didn’t want to speak up” in the face of atrocities in Nazi Germany. The language of Monday’s failed resolution mirrored a similar measure approved by the council in response to the 2019 mass shootings that killed dozens of Muslims in New Zealand — a comparison Schleifer said revealed a “double standard” applied to Jewish people.
“This resolution does not get into politics. It doesn’t get into anything other than terrorism and antisemitism,” he said. “I don’t understand what’s controversial about that.”
Burnett, Dorsey, Ramos and Porter — the four members who did not vote Monday night — released a statement Tuesday defending their abstentions, in which they criticized Schleifer’s resolution as “incomplete” and objected to his attempt to push the resolution through without prior notice. The unannounced resolution was placed on members’ desks minutes before Monday night’s meeting and without mention at the body’s lunch meeting earlier that day — a move the four members said is a violation of procedural rules.
“The concern lies with whether the Baltimore City Council should have suspended the normal procedural rules to allow a last-minute introduction of a resolution, outside of the submission process,” the four said. “Moreover, the urgency to immediately adopt this resolution without meaningful conversation on its content was deeply troubling, as it failed to mention the discrimination against the Islamic community, which is equally disheartening.”
In their letter, the four members said they “unequivocally condemn” the Oct. 7 Hamas and antisemitism, but also said the resolution’s failure to acknowledge discrimination against the Islamic community neglects a large share of Baltimore’s population and risks perpetuating injustices. Though Schleifer’s resolution compared the Hamas attack to persecution and violence carried out against other marginalized groups, including Black Americans, migrants at the U.S.-Mexico border, and Muslims targeted by discriminatory policy in the U.S., the four abstainers noted that the resolution made did not mention persecution of Palestinians or the thousands of Palestinians killed in the Israeli offensive.
Two other members, Cohen and Bullock, sought to explain their votes in favor of the resolution Monday night, with both expressing the need to support both Palestinians as well as Israelis.
“All innocent civilians, on both sides of the conflict, deserve to live in peace,” Cohen said.