City Council Guide


Since October 7, under the guise of a “ceasefire now” resolution, extremist anti-Israel organizations and activists have found a ripe frontier—municipal jurisdictions throughout California and the country—to advocate for the isolation and divestment of Israel. As of April 16, the unofficial count at the national level was 255 with 50 in California, though the actual amounts are likely higher.

The purpose of this paper is to shine a needed light on the rising threat the Jewish people and local communities face by way of their municipal governments and to suggest specific steps you can take to effectively address it. While more will also need to be done at the legal and legislative levels, we must face the threat directly and take action as a concerned, broad-based community to address it.

When local governments give sanction to and embolden antisemitic rhetoric from the authority of their chambers, society as a whole should be alarmed. Centuries of restrictive dictates against Jews, exiles, pogroms, and the Holocaust all began with the legitimization of Jew hatred by local governments. We should all pray for peace in the Middle East. However, even when there is indeed a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas, these city council “activists” are not going away; because the true aim was never the ceasefire. It is the destruction of Israel.

Julie Marzouk, Attorney, Author and Activist

Understanding the threat and the players

The main organizations leading this effort are the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR), the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights (USCPR) and the Arab Resource & Organizing Center (AROC). Both USCPR and CAIR have prepared ceasefire organizing toolkits. AROC focuses on anti-Israel grassroots activism in the greater San Francisco Bay Area and has a long history of extremist anti-Zionist advocacy.

CAIR, USCPR, AROC and their friend Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) and others, advocate for the destruction of Israel by way of divestment, calling for a unilateral “right of return” of over five million Palestinians into sovereign Israel, and an immediate and permanent ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war which would return the situation to that of October 6, when Hamas was in power in Gaza and a ceasefire was in effect. All of these organizations support BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which seeks the economic, cultural and academic isolation of Israel from the municipal to global levels.

None of these organizations support Israel’s right to defend itself. On October 7—the day of the most brutal massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and the abduction of approximately 240 hostages by Hamas—they made the following statements, with no condemnation of Hamas’ war crimes. The full statements are linked below:

CAIR: “In solidarity with the Palestinian people and in the spirit of international justice, we call upon the United States government, Arab and Muslim governments, and the global community to exert maximum pressure on Israel to halt its provocations and adhere to international demands to respect Palestinian rights to their lands, properties, and lives.”

USCPR: “From Gaza to Jenin, we’ve witnessed Israel’s brutal massacres of Palestinian people again and again. We’ve watched U.S. politicians and media dismiss Israel’s killings, dehumanizing Palestinians as they live under Israel’s apartheid every day, only to scream for “calm” the moment a Palestinian person resists.”  

AROC: “Holds the Israeli regime entirely responsible for all unfolding violence we’ve witnessed across historic Palestine. In the face of such violence we recommit ourselves to the struggle for freedom and justice in Palestine, in our region, and globally. Recent events did not occur in a vacuum but as a result of unrelenting colonial aggression.”

JVP: “The root of violence is oppression….The Israeli government may have just declared war, but its war on Palestinians started over 75 years ago. Israeli apartheid and occupation — and United States complicity in that oppression — are the source of all this violence.”

October 7, 2023 Instagram post by US Campaign for Palestinian Rights

An open platform for hateful rhetoric

At city council, school board and even healthcare district meetings, anti-Israel activists utilize open meetings laws to demand that the body bring forward a “ceasefire now” resolution. From the initial demand to the final decision, multiple hours are spent on this one issue over 2-3 meetings, and sometimes more.

Anti-Israel activists publicly accuse Israel of being a colonial, apartheid state that is guilty of genocide and funded by our tax dollars. Councilmembers and attendees who disagree are often met with verbal attacks and worse, as we’ve witnessed in Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley, Sacramento, Bakersfield, Irvine, Santa Ana and many others.

Degrading and often antisemitic accusations about Israel, Jews and Zionists are repeated in an open forum. Rarely is there any pushback from the dais when speech becomes antisemitic. Whether or not a resolution passes or the language is finessed to be less one-sided, the damage has already been done.

To put into focus the type of antisemitic language our detractors use against us at city council meetings, this video from Yossi Klein Halevi can be a useful guide. Here is an excerpt:

Antisemitism is not simply hating the other, the Jew as other. Antisemitism works a little bit differently. What antisemitism does is turn the Jews “the Jew” into the symbol of whatever it is that a given civilization defines as its most loathsome qualities….Now we live in a civilization where the most loathsome qualities are racism, colonialism, apartheid; and lo and behold, the greatest offender in the world today…is the Jewish state. The Jewish state is the symbol of the genocidal racist apartheid state….[C]riticism of Israel is not antisemitism. Criticism of Israel’s existence, denying Israel the right to exist…that is antisemitism.

Organizing tips: The secret sauce is community building

  • Tip #1: Together your community is stronger. The best way to counter the spread of hate speech and disinformation taking place in city councils and other jurisdictions across California is to build a stronger community to address it. You don’t need to outnumber the other side to be successful. if you build alliances with other Jews and allies—concerned individuals, secular and religious organizations—prepare thoughtful talking points when addressing the council, and support each other throughout the process, the burden becomes lighter. Showing up in these spaces can be challenging, and having friends and partners to rely on can make a tremendous difference.
  • Tip #2: Building relationships is a must. It’s important to get to know your mayor, city councilmembers and other elected officials now. Don’t wait for a toxic resolution or crisis to reach out to them. Inform them about what’s been happening in other city councils and why you’re concerned. Even if the war in Gaza were to end tomorrow, sooner or later another anti-Israel front will take its place. Divesting city council portfolios from companies on the BDS list is a goal of anti-Zionist organizations. Building relationships with your local officials will also help when you need to address other important issues in your community.
  • Tip #3: Avoid burning bridges. Be considerate in your dealings with elected officials. It will set you apart from the name callers and bullies. Express your gratitude when they help you. If they are caving to the anti-Israel activists, help them understand why it’s harmful to the community. Keep the lines of communication open as much as possible.

Small Community Group

Guarding community safety through legal tools:
(1) Ralph M. Brown Open Meeting Act and (2) Municipal Codes

It’s important to be aware of the Ralph M. Brown Open Meetings Act. It was passed in 1953 to guarantee the public’s right to attend and participate in local government. Among its provisions:

1. City council agendas must be published no later than 72 hours before a meeting. If an item is not on the agenda, it can only be brought up as a matter of public urgency (only if two-thirds of the legislative body agree there is a need to take immediate action on a matter about which the body could not have been aware earlier).

2. There is always an item on the agenda for “public comment for items not on the agenda”, and the chair can limit the time for individual and total comments. When something is presented during this time, the members cannot take any action or even make any response. Note that the body CAN choose to limit comments to items within the purview of the organization; there’s a video going around of the chair of the Chino Valley Board of Ed cutting off speakers who were speaking to their demand for a ceasefire resolution and the chair said that was not part of the scope of the Board’s duties, and she refused to allow it. Those have been the exception rather than the rule.

3. A majority of the members of that board cannot meet together except in a public meeting. So, for example, you can’t have a single meeting with 4 of 7 members of a City Council all at once.

Additionally, it is critical to become familiar with your Municipal Code and other procedural manuals, such as codes or rules of conduct/decorum. Most can be found here. This also includes the rules for resolutions and meetings. 

Violations of conduct/decorum might be loud outbursts that disrupt the meetings, slander, hate speech, etc.  For example, watch these brief video links from the Berkeley City Council and the San Francisco Board of Supervisor’s meetings. Each had a number of disruptive incidents in violation of their respective rules. Compare the behaviors in the videos to the rules below, and you can see the need for better enforcement.

San Francisco Rules of Order:

Berkeley City Council Rules of Procedure and Order: https://berkeleyca.gov/sites/default/files/2022-04/City%20Council%20Rules%20of%20Procedure.pdf

The safety of the community and the proper enforcement of the body’s code of conduct/decorum go hand in hand. The mayor or whoever is leading the meeting must enforce it. If not, it is incumbent upon us to—pointedly if necessary—remind them that failing to enforce the code of conduct can constitute neglect and even liability through malfeasance.

In your advocacy, remember the bigger picture

Map of tracked ceasefire resolutions: passed, rejected and proposed.

When activists succeed in passing anti-Israel resolutions, that is never the end of the matter. They are then emboldened to take similar actions in the future, such as divestment of city funds, as recommended by the BDS National Committee; and so future actions await and the same toxic cycle is allowed to continue again and again.

Instead, encourage your mayor and city council to reject these resolutions because they stoke division and hateful rhetoric, are outside the jurisdictional scope and purview of the body, and they open the door to more actions and more time consuming division. Here is sample wording to consider and edit to represent your community’s needs. 

In summary:

1) The best outcome is no resolution. Any resolution opens the door to multiple hours of further engagement by city councils and other local bodies on highly divisive issues not within their subject matter jurisdiction. 

2) Advocates should record and file complaints against any rules violations. In particular advocates should look at the rules for the body on decorum, and make sure that the presiding officer is held to account for any violations of decorum. 

3) Advocates should make sure that “both sides” are given equal treatment by the body in terms of breeches of decorum, procedures for public speaking, rules regarding the use of media etc. Any disparate treatment should be recorded and a complaint filed.  

4) Advocates should report all incidents they believe rise to the level of a hate incident to their local police department, Cal vs Hate (https://www.cavshate.org/), and local officials such as City Attorneys, City Managers, District Attorneys.

5) Some bodies insist on writing a resolution or proclamation. In such cases, the closer you can get to one that reads similar to the City of Montclair’s from April 15, 2024, the better. There is also a more general proclamation that the City of Vallejo passed here

Navigating the basics of local governments

Here are some suggestions that can help you when (and even before) an anti-Israel resolution comes to your local government.

  • Understand the mechanics of how resolutions work in that governmental body. Where are the levers of power? Some allow just 1 member to introduce it. Some require more than one. Some have a resolutions committee. Some allow the mayor to have a lot of control over the process; in Santa Rosa, the mayor can unilaterally issue a proclamation in the name of the city.  If you can’t easily find this information online, usually the City Clerk’s office can give it to you.
  • Find out the mechanics of how your council takes comments: Zoom/phone or only in person? Emails? (Less useful as less emotional impact). For public comment for items not on the agenda—some have people just line up at a microphone, others by submitting comment cards which are given to the council, then the mayor decides how much time to give each person, which can vary widely. A few speakers, you often have 3 minutes; a moderate number usually allows 2 minutes and larger numbers 1 minute. Does the Council allow yielding of time? Or video presentations? In Palo Alto there was a meeting in which 8 people yielded time to one speaker who presented a PowerPoint to the Council.
  • At the meeting itself, it’s important that people who plan to give public comments rehearse them in advance for time. You don’t want your big closing line to be cut off because it took you 130 seconds to read a speech you thought would be 120 seconds. A good rule of thumb is to estimate that it will take a minute to read 125 words.
  • It’s perfectly fine to read your speech from paper or your phone, especially if you are worried that you might get flustered. 
  • In some venues (Oakland, San Francisco, Berkeley) they have been openly and verbally abusive, and physically threatening Israel supporters. So make sure you stick together, You can ask for a police escort when leaving the chambers. 

A case study: Sacramento City Council

On March 19, 2024,  the mayor and city council voted 6-1 to pass a “ceasefire now” resolution. Even though it was touted as a compromise resolution, those opposing it became increasingly disruptive. At about 9 pm the mayor announced a recess and ordered the chambers cleared. About 50 anti-Israel protesters began chanting loudly: “Yemen’s boycott did no harm, Israel’s the one who should have been bombed.” Following this, 12 protesters refused to leave and were arrested by police. You can view the full meeting, including all public comments, votes and discussion here.

The one opposing voice to the mayor’s resolution was Councilmember Lisa Kaplan. Ms. Kaplan had been personally, verbally attacked by anti-Israel activists at the January 23 City Council meeting during public comment. At 1:30 am the following morning, Kaplan and her husband, who have two young children, were awakened by a strobe light shining into their bedroom by protesters.

As the only vote in opposition to the resolution, Kaplan commented why she opposed its passing:

This also brings up policy questions we as councilmembers must answer:

    • What is our job for the city? What were we elected to do?
    • Article II, of our City Charter – Section 10 clearly lays out our General Powers – international is not a word found in our general powers.
    • Our City Charter does not set forth how the City should weigh in on international conflict.
    • What our City Charter does lay out is that we should make and enforce all the laws in respect to municipal affairs – (aka spending our time on addressing the unhoused crisis, our budget deficit, making our streets safe for pedestrians and bikes, putting an end to gun violence and building all types of housing for everyone).
    • Our Charter and Council Rules are silent on conflicts and wars – so how do we choose which conflicts and wars to weigh in on? How do we define the threshold of when the Council should weigh in on international affairs – which is not in our charter?
    • How do we define when we do it – how we do it – how often we do it?

These are all unanswered questions that relate to us on the Council as a policy-making body for city /municipal affairs. So again, I ask – why is the Council spending time on a resolution which does not address any of the serious local issues facing our city?

You can read Councilmember Kaplan’s full comments here.


The question Councilmember Kaplan asks: “[W]hy is the Council spending time on a resolution which does not address any of the serious local issues facing our city?” is one that should be asked of all municipal leaders, again and again; particularly when the majority of these resolutions bring so much division, bigotry, bullying, harassment and even threats. Each city does not exist in a bubble. Elected leaders need to understand the growing trend and capacity for harm indulging these resolutions can bring. It is incumbent upon us to be very clear in conveying what is happening here.