Local officials struggle to pass Gaza cease-fire resolutions As local elected officials continue to face pressure to pass resolutions calling for an end to the fighting in Gaza, some aren't sure how or whether to take a stand at all.

Gaza cease-fire resolutions roil U.S. local communities

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MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:

Yesterday, police here arrested dozens of pro-Palestinian student protesters on Columbia University's campus. Three students have been suspended, including the daughter of Congresswoman Ilhan Omar. The outrage and controversy is not confined to campuses and streets. It is also playing out in city council chambers around the country as local government officials face pressure to take a stand. Jim Zarroli reports from upstate New York that many are struggling over how and whether to respond.

JIM ZARROLI, BYLINE: Town board meetings in Saugerties, N.Y., typically attract pretty small crowds. But earlier this month, some 60 people braved the sleet and ice to attend this meeting.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: We have several number of individuals who would like to speak this evening.

ZARROLI: Those who showed up want the board to approve a resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza. The conflict between Israel and Hamas started six months ago after Hamas killed 1,200 people in an attack. More than 33,000 Palestinians have died in the conflict, according to the Gaza Health Ministry. This is the third straight meeting these residents have showed up for. One by one, they passionately denounced U.S. support for Israel.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: We are hurting because our tax dollars are maiming, killing and hurting the starving civilians.

ZARROLI: Board members listened without saying much. Saugerties officials usually deal with things like property taxes and pothole repairs. Now they're being asked to weigh in on a complicated foreign policy issue. And one town official privately acknowledged they're struggling over whether they should even be taking a position. Saugerties resident John Schoonmaker is among those pressing the board to act.

JOHN SCHOONMAKER: It's been, you know, a little frustrating, slow. It's taking some time because I don't think this is an issue a lot of them have really thought about before.

ZARROLI: Cease-fire resolutions have recently been passed in other Hudson Valley communities, some of them pretty progressive places. Across the country. more than a hundred cities and towns have approved similar measures, says Deepa Iyer of the Building Movement Project, a social justice group.

DEEPA IYER: People are organizing. They're door-knocking. They're calling their legislators. So there's a lot of work that folks are also putting into making sure that these resolutions are being passed.

ZARROLI: The resolutions are often carefully worded, calling for the release of hostages as well as a cease-fire. Hamas took more than 250 people hostage in the attack. Some have been released. Others remain. These local measures have no direct impact on policy, but supporters hope they send a message to Congress and the Biden administration about public unhappiness over the war. There has been pushback. Last month in Poughkeepsie, the Common Council took up a cease-fire resolution. Council members such as Ernest Henry complained that the issue was taking time and energy away from local matters.

ERNEST HENRY: I believe that this is an international issue. I was elected to take care of city matters.

ZARROLI: Activists argue that Gaza is a local issue because U.S. tax dollars that could otherwise go to the city are being siphoned off to support the Israeli military. But the resolution failed, prompting an angry response from the crowd.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #3: Point of order. Point of order. Chair, I'd like to call for order in the chamber.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: (Inaudible) all our hands in the air. Then who are you representing? What do we pay you for?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #5: All of us spoke about Palestine today.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #4: You're not in Poughkeepsie. All the four of you, you're from (inaudible).

(SOUNDBITE OF GAVEL BANGING)

ZARROLI: These resolutions are mostly symbolic, but pollster Lee Miringoff, who heads the Institute for Public Opinion at nearby Marist College, points out that the Hudson Valley is home to three congressional swing districts, and anything could mobilize voters on either side.

LEE MIRINGOFF: The big question is timing. Of course, the election is not now. Where we'll be with the whole Gaza-Israeli situation six months from now is still very much up in the air.

ZARROLI: The longer the war drags on, Miringoff off, says, the more likely this kind of organized local opposition could make a difference at the national level in November. Meanwhile, Saugerties officials are still wrestling with whether to approve a cease-fire resolution.

For NPR News, I'm Jim Zarroli.

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