Hartford Selectboard narrowly rejects Gaza cease-fire resolution

By PATRICK ADRIAN

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 06-12-2024 7:30 PM

WHITE RIVER JUNCTION — The Hartford Selectboard rejected, 4-3, a citizen-sponsored resolution in support of a cease-fire in Gaza and an end to U.S. support for Israel’s offensive on Tuesday.

In addition to an immediate cease-fire between Israel and Hamas, the non-binding resolution would have called for a return of all hostages and prisoners and the allowance of humanitarian aid in Gaza, as well as a halt to all U.S. weapons sales and military aid, as a consequence of its “violent campaign against the Palestinian people.”

Chairman Michael Hoyt, Vice Chairwoman Kim Souza and board members Lannie Collins and Sue Buckholz voted against the proposal, while board Clerk Mary Erdei and board members Brandon Smith and Ida Griesemer voted in support of the resolution.

The resolution’s strong language and tone was a concern for a few Selectboard members.

“I’m bogged down in the words,” Souza said at Tuesday’s meeting. “And some of the language in the resolution is very problematic for me as a representative of the town of Hartford.”

The resolution was sponsored by residents who are involved in Upper Valley for Palestine, a coalition group that supports “a free Palestine”, including Israel’s withdrawal from occupied Palestinian territories.

Souza said she met several times with members of the group to discuss possible revisions to make the draft “less aggressive,” but her suggestions were “flatly rejected” by the members.

“Her (proposed language) dropped the military aid embargo, which was really a central tenet of this project — so that wasn’t something we were willing to compromise on,” Lucy Danger, a resolution co-sponsor, said after the meeting.

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Had it passed, the resolution would have been sent to Vermont’s congressional delegates, as well as to the Biden Administration, to show the community’s opposition to using U.S. tax dollars to support Israel’s military, supporters told the board on Tuesday.

The Israel-Hamas war, now in its ninth month, has tallied death counts of more than 34,800 Palestinians and 1,410 Israelis, and displaced 1.7 million people in Gaza since the conflict began on Oct. 7, according to the United Nations.

“We elected you to represent us,” Cori Hirai, of White River Junction, told board members. “We have gone through all the correct, traditional channels (such as calling congressional offices) and we haven’t gotten an answer. So we’re hoping, since we have access to you (that) you all will stand up and make our voices louder so that those with the power will listen to us.”

Similar resolutions were approved by voters in Sharon, Bradford, Vt., Thetford and Hanover at their respective town meetings this year.

The Lebanon City Council approved a written resolution in April, by a 4-3 vote.

Collins and Buckholz said that, despite their personal feelings about the violence occurring in Gaza, the Selectboard should be focused on town-specific matters rather than weighing in on foreign conflicts.

“Don’t assume that we don’t understand how awful (the Israel-Hamas war) is,” Buckholz told group members. “If you took this energy to D.C., you would get a lot further.”

“We, as a local board, need to focus on the needs of the town of Hartford,” Collins said. “Any time that we spend talking about (an issue) of this nature takes away from our job that we are elected by the citizens to fulfill.”

Other board members contended that municipal governments have both a legal right to comment on global issues and a duty to represent their constituents.

“Since Congress and the President have not responded to (voters), the last rhetorical method of dissent that Hartford residents have is to say something about it through us,” Smith said.

Supporters of the resolution expressed disappointment after the board’s vote.

“I would like my Selectboard to be able to condemn genocide,” said Carnia Gressitt, of West Hartford. “And this is what (the resolution) is about.”

Patrick Adrian may be reached at padrian@vnews.com or 603-727-3216.