Zionist organizations leading campaign to stop ceasefire resolutions in D.C. area
Participants hold signs as they stand on the National Mall at the 'March for Israel' on Nov. 14, 2023, in Washington. | Mark Schiefelbein / AP

WASHINGTON—Lobbyists advocating on behalf of the Israeli government are out to stop local lawmakers in the nation’s capital from taking up a proposed resolution calling for a ceasefire in the war against Gaza.

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington (JCRC) posted a notice on its website in March 2024 calling for the D.C. Council to not consider taking up a ceasefire resolution. Issued jointly with the D.C. chapters of the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Council, the statement asks citizens to sign on as part of a campaign to sway lawmakers.

The anti-ceasefire resolution efforts of these and other groups backing the Israeli military’s genocidal policy in Gaza come on the heels of a Christian Zionist delegation arriving on Capitol Hill to lobby Congress against President Joe Biden’s remarks requesting that Israel not respond any further to the recent Iranian attacks after Israel bombed its embassy in Syria. Many are warning that Israel’s Gaza campaign is moving toward a wider regional or even global war.

Criticizing activists who have been pushing for a ceasefire, the letter states that “anti-Israel agitators are relentlessly pressuring the D.C. Council to vote on a ceasefire resolution regarding the Israel-Hamas War.” It says that activists “repeatedly disrupt Council hearings and prevent the normal functioning of government.” A ceasefire resolution, the lobbyist group claims, “would do nothing to advance peace in the region and would only increase hatred and inflame tensions here in the District.”

Seeking to freeze debate, the letter alleges that ceasefire resolution hearings have been characterized by “anti-Semitic rhetoric at a time when Jews are experiencing unprecedented antisemitism.” While there has been a rise in anti-Semitism across the country in the course of the current war, ADL has also counted Palestinian solidarity marches and ceasefire rallies, including those organized by Jews, as instances of anti-Semitism—a conflation that many say is inaccurate.

There has also been a serious explosion of anti-Arab, anti-Palestinian, and Islamophobic hatred, which has a chilling effect on free speech at universities and workplaces. Many people have been fired for speaking out against the atrocities being carried out by the Israeli military in Gaza, leaving many afraid to speak out.

JCRC recently hired a new community relations director for D.C. earlier in 2024, apparently to organize efforts to block a ceasefire resolution in the D.C. Council. Just last week, the organization hosted an “advocacy day” at the John A. Wilson Building, meeting with several councilmembers, including Brooke Pinto (Ward 2), Robert White (At-Large), Brianne Nadeau (Ward 1), and Charles Allen (Ward 6).

At the event, JCRC not only campaigned against a ceasefire resolution while backing other progressive issues before the Council, like support of the early childhood educator pay equity fund.

On April 15, an interview with the local executive director of JCRC, Ron Halber, was published in the online journal Jewish Philanthropy, which broadcast details of some of his organization’s political work. One item discussed is JCRC’s relationship to public schools and school boards in the D.C. metropolitan area.

There have been a variety of incidents reported by students and parents connected to alleged suppression Palestinian students, the silencing of teachers, and of pro-Israeli government propaganda being shared among parents of the students. The executive committee of the Washington Teacher’s Union put out a statement calling for a ceasefire a few months ago, and some believe this may be part of the reason behind a JCRC school’s campaign.

In the interview, Halber advocates what he calls a “tough tack” to shutdown any effort to pass local government resolutions criticizing Israel or calling for a ceasefire. Halber said: “I know some of my colleagues want to wordsmith these resolutions. I’m against that. I think it’s nonsense. Our job is to stop these resolutions from happening. Just stop them, and we’ve stopped them.”

He bragged of the success in preventing resolutions in some locales and lamented the passage of a ceasefire statement in Takoma Park, which he called “a very isolated…socialist hamlet of our country.”

And as for other ceasefire efforts in the region, he said: “It’s not going to happen. They’re trying to push for it at the D.C. Council. It will not happen. If they tried to push it in Virginia or Maryland on the state level, it will not happen.”

The JCRC leader advocated “a very, very aggressive response to these resolutions,” which he claimed are the work of “anti-Israel activists…frustrated at their lack of ability in Congress to get what they want.” He accused peace proponents of “directing their energy towards local and state government where it’s easier to stoke the flames.”

The Zionist political approach of the JCRC has been met with resistance and pushback by the progressive Jewish community in D.C. and surrounding areas. On March 25, the D.C. chapters of IfNotNow and Jewish Voice for Peace issued a joint statement demanding a ceasefire resolution from the D.C. Council.

They said the coalition of groups for ceasefire is made up of “pro-peace, pro-justice advocates—including many Jewish D.C. residents.” They argued that the D.C. Council passing a ceasefire resolution would “represent the will of most D.C. residents who, like most of the U.S. public, want a permanent ceasefire.”

The joint statement pulled no stops, and named the groups that are opposing the effort to win a ceasefire: the JCRC of Greater Washington, the Anti-Defamation League, and the American Jewish Committee-Washington—all the backers of the JCRC’s public letter-writing campaign.

“These groups do not represent the D.C. Jewish community nor are they in line with current public opinion or that of experts who study genocide and humanitarian disasters,” the ceasefire advocates concluded.

Their statement went on to say:

“The JCRC, the ADL, and the AJC state that a ceasefire resolution would be ‘divisive,’ as though the present reality of U.S.-backed killing of Palestinian civilians is somehow a recipe for peace and harmony…. Saving a life is the highest priority in Jewish law and tradition. If these organizations are not guided by pikuach nefesh—which undergirds our support for a ceasefire as Jews—they certainly cannot claim to represent the Jewish community in D.C.”

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Jamal Rich
Jamal Rich

Jamal Rich writes from Washington, D.C. where he is active with the Claudia Jones School for Political Education.