The Multnomah County Board of Commissioners will discuss a resolution calling for a cease-fire in the war in Gaza at the county’s next board meeting Thursday, March 7. 

The resolution, initiated by Commissioner Lori Stegmann, comes amid mounting pressure for national and local elected officials to denounce the war that has resulted in the deaths of more than 30,000 people in Gaza. 

The resolution calls for an “immediate, negotiated cease-fire,” and states “in alignment with other localities across the United States, we recognize the local impact of global events on our communities.” 

But the statement isn’t as firm in its support for Palestine as some people hoped, leaving out some key points cease-fire advocates had asked Stegmann to include and believed would be in the resolution presented to the rest of the commission. Pro-Palestine organizers say they’re disappointed by the resolution, which has been significantly edited from its original version in order to court unanimous board approval, but they recognize that getting unanimous approval on their preferred verbiage was likely a long shot.  Still, they’d like to see changes before the resolution is adopted. 

Heated conversations 

Multnomah County’s board meetings have lately been a hotbed for contentious discussions, usually about local issues, like the county’s response to the fentanyl crisis. Since the war in Gaza began in October, however, county commissioners have had several intense and divided conversations about how they should respond. 

Shortly after the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel and the subsequent Israeli military bombardment of Gaza, Multnomah County commissioners debated what their message should be. Commissioners Sharon Meieran and Julia Brim-Edwards strongly encouraged their colleagues to sign a statement of support for Israel and adopt a resolution to light the Morrison Bridge with the colors of the Israeli flag. Chair Jessica Vega Pederson signed the statement of support, too. 

But then-Commissioner Susheela Jayapal and Commissioner Lori Stegmann voiced concerns about demonstrating unqualified support for Israel, considering the long history of Israeli military attacks on Palestine. 

“I feel like it would be tone-deaf not to acknowledge our community members who are Palestinian or Middle Eastern,” Stegmann said at an October 12 meeting. “While this is a horrific act that has been committed, there has been a long-standing conflict of colonization and displacement of Indigenous people.”

Advocates for Palestine came en masse to a February 1 county board meeting to testify in support of a county cease-fire resolution. 

During the meeting, Stegmann was steadfast in her approval for the action and said she would draft a statement. 

“The current conflict in Gaza has led to an alarming loss of innocent lives, with Palestinian civilians bearing the brunt of the violence,” Stegmann said. “These are not just statistics, they are people…who dreamt of a future filled with hope and promise. It’s incumbent on us to stand together and demand an end to the violence that has claimed so many lives.” 

Advocates say proposed resolution is toothless

Led by pro-Palestine organizations Jewish Voice for Peace PDX and the Oregon to Palestine Coalition, advocates sent a draft cease-fire resolution to the county, and asked commissioners to sign on. Their resolution, which has been endorsed by more than 50 other community groups, includes statistics about the many thousands of people in Gaza that have been killed, wounded, and displaced by the Israeli military so far. 

In addition to calling for an “immediate and permanent ceasefire” and to allow needed aid into Gaza, advocates want the county’s resolution to recognize the historical context of the relationship between Israel and Palestine before October 7, 2023, and to be detailed about the scale of violence Gazans have experienced over the last five months. Organizers say Stegmann’s original resolution fulfilled much of that criteria, and was very similar to their proposal. 

“Stegmann started with a draft of a resolution that was great in our minds,” Olivia Hasencamp, one of the organizers who has called for the county to adopt a cease-fire resolution, told the Mercury. “[But] I think we already knew she might be up against real pushback.” 

In comparison, the version of the resolution on next week’s agenda is “less specific,” as Rebecca Stavenjord, Stegmann’s chief of staff, put it to the Mercury.

“We’ve gone through a couple of different iterations, with the hope that we’d be able to get the board to consensus,” Stavenjord said. “We remain committed to striving for consensus on Thursday. However, our office will stand firm in upholding our values and principles.” 

Maxine Fookson is a long-time Pro-Palestine activist and member of Jewish Voice for Peace PDX who worked on the advocates’ proposed cease-fire resolution. Fookson told the Mercury she thinks the current resolution is “problematic in that it essentially doesn't hold Israel accountable for the magnitude of the crimes that they are committing.” 

“You need to describe Israel committing an atrocious massacre, including shooting at people waiting in front of a food truck to alleviate the starvation that's been imposed upon them,” Fookson said. “I mean, what more is needed?”

Fookson said she thinks if commissioners aren’t willing to include those details, the current resolution would be better if it was whittled down to the bare “essence of a cease-fire resolution.” 

“We suggested editing by eliminating, just make it shorter,” Fookson said, clarifying she thinks the commissioners could do away with certain aspects of the resolution, like the call for a “two-state solution that will enable both Palestinians and Israelis to live in peace and safety.”

 “We don't get to prescribe a final resolution and what it needs,” she said. “It’s the process of how it gets there that’s important.” 

The county resolution appears more like the call for a cease-fire issued by the Multnomah County Democrats, which Commissioner Sharon Meieran told the Mercury in a February 12 interview she would support.

“I feel that we as a board should be able to get to a unanimously- supported cease-fire resolution,” Meieran said. “I believe that is possible.”

She said it’s important for the board to lend its voice to those calling for a cease-fire, but she would prefer to focus the majority of the time on local issues.

“There's one [resolution] that is out there that has been vetted by a very large number of Multnomah County Democrats,” Meieran said. “I would support this. Can we agree and issue a resolution and move on?”

Meieran received significant backlash from protesters during and after her comments in the meeting, with cease-fire supporters taking issue with her focus on Hamas. They also called on Meieran to use the word “genocide” to describe the actions of the Israeli government in Gaza. 

During the February 1 meeting, Meieran called the Netanyahu government response to Hamas’ attack “shameful and horrific,” saying the Israeli government has committed “atrocities” and “war crimes.” She also distinguished the Israeli people from their government, which she acknowledged “for decades has committed apartheid and systematic acts of oppression that have resulted in the dehumanization, suffering and death of innocent Palestinians who too deserve a homeland and to live in peace.”

Why a Multnomah County resolution at all?

With so many local issues right here in Multnomah County, some might ask why commissioners are spending so much time working on a cease-fire resolution for a conflict happening across the globe. Fookson said any local action to support Palestine is important to “pass a model to national leaders [for] what they should be doing.”

“Obviously, local governments don't directly approve appropriations to send weapons,” she said. “But members of Congress are being silent, and the Biden administration is actively aiding and abetting this genocide. Whenever you can have leaders, even if they’re local city or county leaders, as role models, it shows there are people that care and are going to speak out…we’re not going to be part of the voices of history that were silent when this was happening.” 

“Governments, no matter how small, do have a voice that people listen to,” Hasencamp said. “We’ll just keep making bigger waves, and hopefully, eventually, we’ll feel like actual action is happening.”

But it’s unclear whether or not advocates will support the current resolution on the table, considering the changes that have been made. 

Fookson said while she can’t speak for others in her coalition, she “wouldn’t block [the resolution] from passing”— despite her many concerns with it. 

“Is it good? No, it’s not good at all. It’s embarrassingly bad…I’m hopeful we’ll get some changes and improvements to it,” Fookson said. “But I want to see every location in the world making cease-fire resolutions, because something needs to be lifted up to the Biden administration to say you have to call for a cease-fire. Every way we can add our weight to that, I think we should do it.”