On Tuesday, November 14, the Carrboro town council became the first municipal government in North Carolina to officially call on the U.S. Congress to back a ceasefire in Gaza.
Council members passed the resolution by a 4-3 margin, only a few weeks after rejecting a similar resolution. Council member Eliazar Posada, the swing vote, said he had previously voted against the resolution because of a misunderstanding over edits to its wording.
That 4-3 split in the intimate council chambers of deeply Democratic Carrboro represents a split among Democrats nationwide, as an NPR poll released this month shows. Forty-five percent of Democrats said their sympathies are “more with the Israelis” and 45 percent said their sympathies are “more with the Palestinians.” But an October national poll by think tank Data for Progress found that a majority of voters, including 80 percent of Democrats, “somewhat” or “strongly” support a ceasefire.
On October 7, Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel, killing more than 1,200 people and taking around 240 hostages, according to the Associated Press. Israeli military forces quickly retaliated. Since then, more than 11,500 Palestinians have been killed. Around 40 percent of the total dead are children. After the October 7 attack, President Biden asked Congress to approve over $14.3 billion in additional assistance to Israel.
In the Triangle, those frustrated by Washington’s financial support for Israel have turned to their local governments, hoping that calls for a ceasefire will climb the ladder of federalism from municipal to congressional to presidential.
“If Congress won’t listen to us as citizens, maybe they’ll listen to you as policy makers, as politicians in your own right,” Darren Campbell said to the Carrboro council at the meeting.
Activists are trying to reach U.S. Representative Valerie Foushee, a Democrat who comfortably won last year’s congressional election with about 66 percent of the vote. She was most popular in ultra-blue Orange and Durham counties, sweeping about 80 percent of the vote there.
This month marks only the most recent chapter in a saga of tension between Foushee, who identifies as progressive, and the often young and online activists who see her positions on Israel as not progressive enough.
In her 2022 primary, Foushee beat Durham County Commissioner Nida Allam, a Muslim American woman. Progressives and Allam supporters criticized Foushee for accepting over $400,000 from the American Israel PAC (AIPAC), in what became the most expensive Democratic primary in the state’s history. In total, AIPAC, its members, and its affiliated super-PAC spent over $2 million dollars to back Foushee.
“AIPAC wouldn’t be in North Carolina’s 4th Congressional District if it weren’t for Allam, who has criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and the $3.8 billion a year in military aid the U.S. gives Israel,” reported The Assembly in 2022, describing Foushee as a means to the end of defeating Allam.
The Progressive Caucus of the North Carolina Democratic Party pulled their previous endorsement of Foushee because of those donations from AIPAC and its affiliates. At the time, Foushee told INDY she had been “fighting for a progressive Congress before those folks on Twitter knew how to spell ‘progressive.’”
A year after the primary, as the death toll in Gaza continues to climb, activists have found municipal governments newly willing to push Foushee on her support for Israel. And while people in Gaza probably aren’t paying attention to a resolution from the Carrboro town council, activists hope it will hit closer to home for Foushee.
“We are looking at other ways to build pressure in [Foushee’s] district, so we saw the Carrboro town council as an opportunity to do that, especially because of her family ties to the area,” says Harry Hoy, an organizer for the Triangle chapter of Jewish Voices for Peace.
Rep. Foushee is related (by marriage) to Braxton Foushee, Carrboro’s first Black council member. Just a few weeks before the Carrboro council passed the ceasefire resolution, it proclaimed “Braxton Dunkin Foushee Day of Service” for December 13 to celebrate his legacy of service and Carrboro’s Black history.
She’s also related to Barbara Foushee, Carrboro’s mayor-elect, who currently sits on the town council. Council member Barbara Foushee did not vote for the ceasefire resolution, pointing out it did not mention Hamas or call for the release of the Israeli hostages.
“The issue is complex and divisive, which is why I don’t want to weigh in on it,” council member Foushee said at the Carrboro meeting. “There is too much to be taken into account, and one resolution could never hold it all. No voices should be muted in this resolution.”
The Carrboro council has passed resolutions on similar issues before, including a March 2022 condemnation of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. That resolution passed 7-0.
Peter Reitzes was one of the few speakers in Carrboro town hall who spoke against the resolution, arguing that Hamas would not honor a ceasefire.
“Calling for a ceasefire is a promise for more violence. A ceasefire means more war, not less war. Hamas is dedicated to the destruction of not only Israelis, but to Jews worldwide,” Reitzes told the council. “I want the killing to stop. A ceasefire will not make the killing stop. A ceasefire means Hamas is going to do this again, the hostages are going to stay in Gaza, and it’s going to be endless war.”
But, at least in the council chambers of the Triangle, supporters of a ceasefire have been louder than their opponents.
As the Carrboro council discussed the resolution, the Raleigh city council heard hours of public comment in support of a ceasefire at its own Tuesday evening meeting. The video recording of the meeting shows activists sitting behind the lectern wearing “FREE PALESTINE” shirts and holding up their hands, painted red. At the end of the meeting, council member Mary Black and Mayor Mary-Ann Baldwin asked the city manager and attorney to consider language for a resolution similar to Carrboro’s.
“And we’ll be back next week!” shouted an audience member in response.
The night after the Carrboro and Raleigh meetings, three speakers asked the Chapel Hill town council to consider a similar resolution. And on November 9, Durham city council member-elect Nate Baker tweeted that he would “explore that option upon taking office” next month, and called out Rep. Foushee by name.
This month, thousands turned out to demonstrate in Raleigh and in Durham, where protesters called Rep. Foushee’s office while blocking a downtown section of NC highway 147. They said they’d leave only if she listened to their demands, though eventually dispersed peacefully after nightfall.
“Under international law, Israel has the indisputable right to defend herself, and must do so without violating humanitarian law by targeting innocent civilians as a part of any military campaign,” Foushee stated. “The ultimate goal of a two-state solution cannot be achieved through forced displacements and bombings that have claimed the lives of so many innocent civilians in Gaza.”
And while Foushee is the member of North Carolina’s Congressional delegation who has accepted the most money from AIPAC affiliates, she is not the only one, nor the only Democrat, who has taken such donations. Rep. Don Davis received over $166,000 from the PAC and its members. Rep. Deborah Ross, whose district includes Raleigh, received about $25,000. Rep. Jeff Jackson, candidate for North Carolina Attorney General, received at least $7,900.
When Carrboro council member Sammy Slade introduced the resolution on Tuesday, he thanked U.S. Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO), who has been advocating for a ceasefire. The online publication Slate recently reported that AIPAC is planning to spend “at least $100 million in Democratic primaries,” especially against Bush and her allies.
The Carrboro resolution didn’t mention Foushee by name; it called on all of North Carolina’s federal officials. Advocates for a ceasefire, however, are unlikely to find support from the state’s Republican senators. Sen. Thom Tillis, who has also received support from AIPAC, published an op-ed this month arguing against a ceasefire.
“Most Americans calling for a cease-fire are sincere in not wanting to see more innocent civilians lose their lives,” Tillis wrote. “This is a fair position; however, it is not a realistic one, especially if the end goal is to truly save lives and end the cycle of violence in the Middle East.”
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