The Quality of Mercy in Petaluma: A Case Study

Police guard singing ceasefire supporters outside City Hall. Photo by Peter Byrne.

How a Jewish-supported civic resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza was killed

The quality of mercy is not strained;
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath. It is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes:

–William Shakespeare, The Merchant of Venice, 1596

Since October, the legislative bodies of Chicago, Seattle, Detroit, Minneapolis, Eugene, Long Beach, Saint Louis, Atlanta, Akron, Albany, and Wilmington have passed resolutions calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. These cities were joined in Northern California by Richmond, Oakland, San Francisco, Cotati, Sacramento, and Davis. But, the city councils of Berkeley, Sebastopol, and Petaluma rejected even considering proposed ceasefire resolutions, as did boards of supervisors in Sonoma and Marin counties.

Why have some local governments in Northern California passed ceasefire in Gaza resolutions, while others have not? Demographics? Community resistance? Lobbying?

In Petaluma, such a proposed civic resolution was killed after the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Bay Area, the New York City-based The Lawfare Project, the B’Nai Israel Jewish Center of Petaluma, and a Jewish city councilor cowed city officials by conflating petitioning for a ceasefire in Gaza with antisemitism and terrorism.

The case of Petaluma offers an example of how national and local organizations supporting Israel’s destruction of Gaza are able to squash a Jewish- and Palestinian-supported ceasefire resolution. Public records and interviews with players on all sides during a period of six months reveal how a popular call for humanitarianism and mercy was constrained in Petaluma, and how that could happen in your town, too.

Composed of a highly educated, affluent population of 60,000, Petaluma votes majority Democrat. The city has legislated a minimum wage of $17.45, and the mostly white homeowners tend to pay more than that amount to mostly Spanish-speaking house cleaners and landscapers. In 2017, the city council passed a resolution refusing to implement draconian federal immigration laws. There is no statute, rule, or custom prohibiting the council from weighing in on any matter whatsoever, including football and Little League awards, global climate change, wars, revolutions, genocides, or the tortured croons of Taylor Swift.

As the war on Gaza ineluctably worsened in October and November, scores of Jewish and Palestinian Petalumans organized peace vigils and rallies calling for a city council resolution in support of a multilateral ceasefire. Petaluma Mayor Kevin McDonnell declined to use his prerogative to put a ceasefire resolution on the agenda for a vote. But, since two council members can together create an agenda item, Dennis Pocekay, a medical doctor, and John Shribbs, a retired high school science teacher, offered to propose a resolution calling for cessation of hostilities by all sides, repatriation of hostages and prisoners, and allowing humanitarian aid to freely flow into Gaza.

The two councilors met with Jewish and Palestinian ceasefire activists and, at McDonnell’s insistence, with Rabbi Shalom Bochner of the B’Nai Israel synagogue to negotiate the wording of a resolution. Meanwhile, Vice Mayor Janice Cader Thompson, a retired dental hygienist, privately lobbied her colleagues on the council against supporting such a resolve—apparently in violation of California’s Brown Act which prohibits non-public discussion of such matters by councilors.

But first, some history.

Gold, chickens, shtetl socialism!

In 1849, tens of thousands of gold-seekers flooded into California, displacing and murdering Indigenous people and ruining ecological systems. From the destruction of the Land rose an entrepreneurial class. Merchants sold mining equipment, Levi’s, tinned beans, and cheap whiskey to the itinerant miners, most of whom, finding no riches for their grubby toil, gravitated into industrial and agricultural work.

The urbanizing populations of the San Francisco Bay Area were fed by cattle and dairy ranches in Marin and Sonoma counties. Serviced by a muddy, tidal slough draining into the Bay, Petaluma merchants transported untold tons of butter and eggs from surrounding ranches to San Francisco and beyond. Mansions were built.

In the early years of the 20th century, Petaluma lit up as a beacon for socialist-minded Jews fleeing pogroms in the Ukraine and counter-revolutionary violence in Russia. Yiddish speaking immigrants established poultry farms in the fertile valleys of Sonoma County. They organized themselves as political “progressives,” centering at the Jewish Community Center on Western Avenue, (a few hundred feet from Hermann Sons Hall, the club for German immigrants, which was to be a locus of Nazi bund activities in the 1930s).

Beginning in 1974, Kenneth L. Khan recorded 200 interviews with first and second generations of the politically energized immigrants in Petaluma, published in 1993 as Comrades and Chicken Ranchers: The Story of a Jewish Community.

* Fran Rubenstein Ginsburg recalled, “There were maybe 100 families of Yiddish-speaking people on little chicken ranches. [Our parents] talked about Zionism and communism and socialism and Yiddish culture as if we were in New York. Petaluma had a national and international reputation in those days. ‘We were on the map,’ my father would say, ‘because we are an organized Jewish farming community.’”

* Yossele Garner said, “The bug hit me my first year in America, I became a proletarian socialist. […] Zionism at that time meant a kibbutz. […] I believed that the salvation for the Jewish people is to have our own socialist country. […] I never made it to a kibbutz. Instead, I found a shtetl in California.”

In August 1935, as Depression gripped America, migrant apple pickers in Sebastopol struck for better wages. The strike was openly supported by many Jewish chicken ranchers, including Ben Hochman, who was known to quote Karl Marx and Torah in the same sentence.

The Chamber of Commerce and American Legion organized a violent response to the strike—workers and supporters were terrorized by vigilante apple farm-owners and deputy sheriffs. One night, Hochman’s farmhouse near Petaluma was surrounded by a gun-toting lynch mob; law enforcers were summoned by phone, in vain, since deputies were already there.

The masked vigilantes shot a tear gas bomb into Hochman’s house, seized him when he ran out to escape the gas, and, rope in hand, ordered him to kiss the American flag. When Hochman bravely refused, his neighbors stripped him naked, cut off his hair, poured hot tar on his body, doused him with chicken feathers.

Hochman survived to testify in a criminal trial against some of his assailants. They were all acquitted, Hochman told Kahn, because “the defense lawyers turned it into a case against communism.”

Was the tar and feathering antisemitic? According to Yossele Garner, “It was an attack on Jewish social consciousness [and] people in the Jewish community took it as a warning.”

Children of pioneer Jewish chicken ranchers were sometimes called “Christ-killer” in school, especially those who opposed America’s war on Vietnam. Antisemitism was always a real and present danger in Sonoma County. But, as the descendants of the chicken farming families began moving away, and urbanized Jews moved into Petaluma, the Jewish Community Center lost its political energy. According to the official history of B’nai Israel Jewish Center, “In the 1950s the Center evolved into more of a synagogue than a place for different groups to meet.”

In Kahn’s history, Basha Singerman elaborated, “There were reactionaries in the Jewish community who couldn’t stand the progressive movement during the time of McCarthy and the Cold War. They threw us out [of the Jewish Community Center]. Some of them were fascists. Actually, some of them were afraid the government will persecute all the Jewish people if the progressives met at the Jewish center. It’s a terrible thing that a small Jewish community and a small town should be divided. “

Seventy years later, those divisions persist.

Sorrow and safety

On October 13, B’Nai Israel’s Rabbi Bochner and city officials organized a multi-faith “peace vigil” in Walnut Park with police protection. A press release advertised “A gathering to pray for peace, and mourn the death of so many Israeli and Palestinian children and civilians, and an opportunity for everyone, including local faith and civic leaders, to stand with their Jewish neighbors and share a positive message of peace.”

For the record, there are more than a few Palestinian families in Petaluma, and several Palestinian owned businesses, but from the outset city officials looked toward Bochner for crafting permissible civic responses.

The Petaluma City Council meeting of October 16, 2023 began with McDonnell, a civil engineering consultant, ordering the crowd to stand and face the American flag and recite the Pledge of Allegiance to One Nation Under God. The mayor dedicated the meeting to “the victims of atrocities in Israel and Gaza.” The main topic of the meeting was planting trees, however. The record does not reveal any public comments on Israel or Gaza. But, because at the previous council meeting, white supremacist and anti-Jewish trolls had Zoom-bombed, McDonnell prohibited Zoom attendees from making public comments. Mike Healey, a lawyer serving his 26th year on the council, objected to the censorship of all online public comment. Zoom bombers can be specifically disconnected.

Two days later, Cader Thomson reprimanded Healey by email. “Mike, I was alarmed with your aggressive behavior to open Zoom audience participation. You are a privileged white Christian male: You are not on the target list. As an outed Jewish elected official, I am alarmed at your lack of knowledge, understanding and compassion for those of us who’ve personally experienced antisemitism. Jewish elected officials throughout Northern California continue to be targets from white supremacist groups; and they are not going away. Our safety should be a priority. Demanding Zoom audience participation shows a lack of understanding of how dangerous these people are. This is not the time to play politics.” Thus said a politician elected to the council in 2022.

Petaluma is not a Mississippi Goddamn, but it does have racial issues. In early November, a Palestinian owned deli in downtown Petaluma was vandalized with racist graffiti. Racist postcards were reportedly mailed to city council members. In years prior, flurries of antisemitic fliers were distributed around town by a local white supremacist, Jon Eugene Minadeo, who has relocated to a presumably more ideologically convivial Florida.

According to FBI statistics through 2022, assault and battery, vandalism, and intimidation, including by cyber methods, are the most common types of hate crimes, defined “as committed on the basis of the victim’s perceived or actual race, color, religion, national origin, sexual orientation, gender, gender identity, or disability.” By far, most hate crimes in the FBI database are directed against African Americans by whites.

In recent years, the reporting of crimes targeting Asians, Jews, Muslims, trans people and lesbians is on the rise. In Sonoma County, however, law enforcement is the worst hate crime offender with a history of vigilantism and lynchings and a track record of harassing and killing Blacks and Latinos because of the color of their skin.

Coalitions emerge

On November 8, Bochner and four rabbis and 14 officers of local Jewish organizations coalescing as Sonoma County Jewish Community Leadership issued a statement “Regarding the War in Israel and Gaza.” They called upon Hamas to return hostages and for the “US administration to work with the Israeli government to minimize civilian casualties in Gaza […] and for continued humanitarian aid.”

Also on November 8, Sonoma County for Palestine demonstrated at the Petaluma office of congressperson Jared Huffman, who strongly opposed a ceasefire. Two days before the demonstration, Huffman had issued an apology to “my friends in the Jewish Community” for voting against a bill proposed by Burgess Owens, a Trump supporting Republican representative from Utah that had condemned Students for Justice in Palestine and professors at major universities as Hamas supporters.

The Owens resolution subsequently supported by Huffman falsely accused universities of “the glorification of violence and usage of antisemitic rhetoric [which] creates a hostile learning and working environment for Jewish students, faculty, and staff.” Huffman explained in the local press that he now regretted not voting for the MAGA bill because it “was seen by many in the Jewish Community as a test of where members of Congress stand on growing scourge of college antisemitism.” They needn’t have worried. Huffman consistently supports arming Israel. His largest two campaign funders are Honeywell, a weapons manufacturer, and J Street, an Israeli-centric lobby that opposes calls for a Gaza ceasefire that do not echo conditions set by the theocratic government of Israel.

The Jewish lobby reaches out

On November 28, on behalf of the city council, Cader Thomson presented a proclamation at Sonoma State University honoring the 40th anniversary of the Holocaust and Genocide Lecture Series. “The City of Petaluma joins communities across our nation in raising awareness about the importance of Holocaust and Genocide education,” it proclaimed. Of note, that organization studies genocidal violence in Rwanda, Cambodia, and Bosnia, but not Palestine. Also of note, as the existence of the proclamation reveals, the council weighs in on moral and international issues outside its legislative authority.

On November 30, the Jewish Community Relations Council of the Bay Area (JCRC Bay Area) emailed an “Action Alert” to Cader Thompson (“Dear Janice,” it began), which she forwarded to Pocekay. According to the paranoic Alert, “On Monday, over 30 million people witnessed the unprecedented chaos that took place as the Oakland City Council considered a resolution about the Israel Hamas War. The meeting featured over five hours of public comment plagued by antisemitic jeering, the perpetuation of conspiracies, and a general lack of decorum. And now, San Francisco’s Supervisor Dean Preston is working with the same antisemitic groups to introduce a similar resolution of the Board of Supervisors meeting next Tuesday.”

The Action Alert advised Cader Thompson that governmental bodies considering the ceasefire issue must, “Condemn the October 7th massacre, call for the immediate release of all hostages in Gaza, acknowledged that Hamas is an impediment to any sustained ceasefire, and support on-the-ground efforts to bring Israelis and Palestinians closer to a shared future of coexistence and prosperity.” The Alert did not specify how such a rosy future might emerge from a pulverized Gaza and the illegal Israeli settlements of the Occupied Territory of the West Bank.

According to its website, “JCRC Bay Area is the largest collective voice of the Jewish community across San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin, Sonoma, Napa, Alameda and Contra Costa Counties.” Operations of the Jewish Community Relations Council are largely funded by several family run foundations, including Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, and the Jewish Community Federation of San Francisco, the Peninsula, Marin & Sonoma.

A December 2023 investigation in The Nation by James Bamford, revealed that a political blacklisting organization called Canary Mission is largely funded by the Jewish Community Federations of San Francisco and Los Angeles. Based in the United Kingdom, Canary Mission’s anonymous researchers maintain a list of “Individuals and organizations that promote hatred of the USA, Israel and Jews on North American college campuses and beyond, according to its website.” Canary Mission works with Israeli security organs to try and damage the reputation of academics who criticize Zionism and the displacement and murder of Palestinians by settlers and the Israeli Defense Forces. In California, Canary Mission targets 540 students, professors, professionals, and organizations by publishing their facial photographs and making inflammatory statements about their activities; many of the subjects of attack are Jews. Being doxed by Canary Mission, as at least one Petaluman ceasefire activist is experiencing, is no joke. The Israeli state regularly assassinates those who it perceives as ideological enemies;  although the McCarthyite blacklisting can be viewed as a badge of courage.

JCRC Bay Area claims that according to a poll of its membership, “The Bay Area has become increasingly hostile toward Jews following the October 7 attack by Hamas and the subsequent Israel-Hamas war.” However, the non-randomized poll is anecdotal and statistically invalid. It collected self-analyses of emotional states and perceptions of supposed antisemitic intentions of others from its self-selecting membership. For what it is worth, 61 percent of those surveyed feel “less safe” and are “wary of revealing Jewish identity since October 7, 2023. … 40 percent of respondents experienced hatred or discrimination related to Israel. Whether or not particular anti-Israel words or actions rise to the level of being considered antisemitic, a sizable number of Bay Area Jews have experienced some form of hostility based on events in, or even the mere existence of, Israel.”

JRCR Bay Area warned civic leaders to avoid listening to certain types of Jews: “It is important to note that the data demonstrates that ‘anti-Zionist’ Jews […] do not represent the Bay Area Jewish community, and civic leaders should be advised against their counsel on matters of Israel. Anti-Zionism doesn’t just criticize Israel’s policies or actions—it criticizes its existence. That is antithetical to the values of the vast majority of Bay Area Jews.” JCRC Bay Area presented no proof of that sentiment, however.

In fact, throughout the Bay Area Jewish people are proudly taking the lead in organizing calls for an end to the daily slaughter of Gazan families, the torture, the mass graves, and the blockading of food and medicines in obvious violation of international laws. The JCRC Bay Area’s obfuscatory public relations tactic of equating objections to Israeli massacres of Palestinians to racism and antisemitism is a logical fallacy which has been effectively weaponized as a propaganda trope even though abundant evidence reveals the opposite: It is the apartheid practices of Israeli state implemented Zionism that are racist. And certainly not “a vast majority” of Jewish people are Zionists, as JCRC Bay Area speciously claims. The reality is quite the contrary, as is testified to by the presence of the many thousands of Jewish people who regularly show up for ceasefire protests across America, horrified by the US-sanctioned atrocities performed in our names.

Forging Jewish-Palestinian unity in Petaluma

At the December 4 city council meeting, a score of speakers, many identifying as Jewish, urged the council to put a ceasefire resolution on the agenda. Speakers were often cut off in mid-sentence as McDonell imposed an arbitrary 60 second rule. Hanan Huneidi, a Palestinian resident of the Petaluma area, testified, “There is no justification for the murder of innocent people,” before being silenced by a dead mic.

McDonnell then disallowed a Jewish advocate for a ceasefire, Sam Tuttleman, to yield his time to Huneidi. Tuttleman used his minute to speak on “the elephant in the room: criticism of Israel is not antisemitic. Many of my relatives were killed in the Holocaust, but Israel does not deserve its free pass since 1948 to humiliate and oppress Palestinians—” McDonnell cut off his mic.

Up next to support a ceasefire resolution was Beverly Voloshin, a member of the B’nai Israel synagogue in Petaluma who was collaborating with Huneidi and many local Jews and Palestinians to draft a ceasefire resolution for council consideration. Voloshin is a former Fulbright Scholar to one of the Palestinian universities who was back on a short visit to teach American Studies when the explosions began on 7 October.

For his part, Bochner rose to speak against considering any form of ceasefire resolution, “A city council resolution will not end the conflict in the Middle East, but it will almost certainly cause more conflict and lack of peaceful coexistence here in Petaluma.”

The rabbi was followed by Irene Hodes, an executive at the JCRC Bay Area, who reiterated her organization’s talking points. “I urge you to reject outside attempts to adopt divisive resolutions about the Israel Hamas war [creating] a forum for hate, as the whole country witnessed in Oakland and Richmond. The mere consideration of these divisive resolutions resulted in hours of public comment plagued by anti-Semitic jeering and hateful conspiracy theories, as well as general confusion and lack of decorum.” (These endlessly regurgitated JCRC Bay Area talking points are nonsensical and provably false, but that is another story.)

McDonnell then allowed a speaker to support violence as they urged that Hamas (Gazans) be destroyed.

The president of B’nai Israel, Jamie Bloom, hypothesized that considering a ceasefire resolution would “tear the community apart.”

Bloom was followed by a stream of speakers echoing JRCR Bay Area propaganda:

* that a ceasefire resolution is outside the council’s remit

* that a ceasefire resolution will empower Hamas terrorists

* that a ceasefire resolution will render Petaluma Jews less safe

* that the council should instead pass a resolution condemning antisemitism and Islamophobia, as that action was (presumably) within its remit.

Leading up to the next council meeting, at McDonnell’s urging, Huneidi, Voloshin, Tuttleman consulted with Bochner on the wording of a resolution acceptable to him. The result was, “Resolution calling for respectful discourse in the Petaluma community about current violence in the Palestinian territory and Israel.” The text condemned “racist and xenophobic actions and sentiments in our community” and advocated for “dignity and safety” and “peace diplomacy” between Palestinians and Israelis,” and it did not speak to the issue of a ceasefire. According to Voloshin, “The rabbi wanted the ceasefire clause taken out. Given the circumstances, we thought that this might be the best we could get.” “We had hoped it was a step in the right direction,” Tuttleman recalled. Rather, it was a step in the direction of JCRC Bay Area’s agenda.

The no ceasefire resolution fails

The next meeting was Monday, December 18. Huneidi led public comment, saying she had met variously with McDonnell, Bochner, and Shribbs. A Petaluma resolution is needed, Huneidi commented, because local congressmen, Jared Huffman and Mike Thompson, strongly oppose asking for a ceasefire at the federal level.

Huneidi told the council, “I met with Rabbi Shalom. We had a very beautiful conversation, a very difficult conversation, and we have put together a part one of what we hope to be a multiple part resolution. The first part is addressing [a need for] the ending of violence.

“This a very difficult conversation to have with people from different backgrounds and extremely different lenses. The hope, the promise is that there will be continued conversations. We do intend to return with another ask, council people, because we are committed to freedom and justice and safety for all human beings.”

Voloshin spoke the text of the proposed resolution into the record.

Almost all of the nine speakers advocating for the resolution identified as Palestinian or Jewish, including Abbey Levine, a board officer of B’nai Israel.

Not all of the speakers were pleased with the draft.

Ellen Obstler complained “that the Mayor wants a local rabbis’ okay before the council will even considering placing a ceasefire resolution. As a Jewish person, I cannot tell you how disappointed I am.”

A high schooler, Sena Mughannam, announced, “We have Black Lives Matter and LGBQT flags painted on our streets, so why do I have to stand here to ask the adults running this city for you to see Palestinians as human beings? Shame on all who sit idly by as my people are being massacred by the thousands. Release all hostages and end this genocide.”

Luigi Petrov-Dove, an ethnic Palestinian who organizes weekly vigils for a Gaza Ceasefire in downtown Petaluma, remarked, “Cities are the lifeblood, the cells of the organism of national identity. When the federal government does not respond, as during the war on Vietnam, this is how we reclaim democracy, with town halls.”

After public comment, Shribbs remarked, “I’d like to see a lot stronger language than just calling for a ceasefire […] supporting our anti hate message that should be worldwide.”

Pocekay urged that the wording directly call for a ceasefire.

Healey reiterated his position that the ceasefire was not council business, and that in any event he did not want to have to listen to hours of hate speech by non-Petalumans.

Further action was put off until the next meeting.

The second resolution

In January, a letter requesting a resolution supporting a permanent Ceasefire was signed by 144 local Jewish persons and delivered to the city councils of Petaluma, Cotati, and Santa Rosa.

During Christmas break, the Petaluma resolution was rewritten by a consortium of Jewish and Palestinian activists to ask for a ceasefire. Bochner withdrew his support.

On January 7, Cader Thompson emailed Bochner, copying Petaluma City Manager Peggy Flynn, “Rabbi, I just received this document and it is very disturbing.”

The document was a letter written by the Chair of the Sonoma County Human Rights Commission, Katrina Phillips. It called for “an immediate Ceasefire in Gaza, recognizing that we do NOT support the terrorist attacks on October 8, 2023 [sic] .”

Phillips equated the deaths of 22,400 Gazans “to murdering every resident in Sebastopol, Guerneville, Forestville and Healdsburg.” The letter included an unreferenced quotation: “‘Holocaust’ means a burnt offering-literally a sacrifice. What are they going to call this one? As I think we are running out of other words for genocide.” The commission did not officially pass the ceasefire resolution until late February. Phillips did not respond to queries about the source of the “Holocaust” reference.

On January 8, a quiet, peaceful, youngish crowd congregated outside City Hall around tables with art supplies, making homemade signs, variations on “Ceasefire Now,” “Free Palestine,” “Stop the Genocide.” The expectation was Shribbs and Pocekay would move to put the ceasefire resolution on the agenda.

City hall overflowed with ceasefire supporters on January 8, 2024. Photo by Peter Byrne.

During public comment, 11 of 13 speakers, mostly self-identified as Jewish or Palestinian, spoke in favor of a ceasefire. But now, two members of B’nai Israel spoke against it, including board president, Jamie Bloom, who said that the majority of his congregation opposed a ceasefire, and that congregants are “overwhelmingly anxious and fearful of being targeted.”

Ma’ayan Pe-er countered, identifying as an Israeli Jew and a Petaluman who was in Tel Aviv on October 7. “I do not fear an increase in Jewish hate after adopting a ceasefire resolution that shows a commitment to all human life and the return of all Palestinian and Israeli hostages. I am mad that the mayor gave Rabbi Shalom the power to represent all of Petaluma’s Jewish residents.”

After the public had its say, Pocekay remarked, “Not using the word ceasefire could be increasing anti-Semitism locally. If we don’t join the calls for peace, we’re implicitly advocating for continued war and death.” Shribbs concurred, “I’m now fully in support of this new resolution and would like to see the council vote on it. Unfortunately, I’m going to be absent the next [meeting], but I sure hope that it does move forward.”

With two council members sponsoring it, McDonnell was obligated to add the resolution to the agenda for the next meeting. Sidestepping, he chose to talk about the antisemitic postcards previously mailed to council members. “The City stands united with our Jewish community and all marginalized groups against hate and all forms of hate speech. We have reached out to local Jewish groups and we will continue to work with Jewish partners to understand and confront antisemitism. Our police department actively investigates these kind of incidents.”

With that, the room exploded—figuratively.

Chanting “Ceasefire Now,” a hundred or so Petalumans rose from their seats, many linking hands in front of the dais. Twenty unsmiling police officers materialized from a backroom. The mayor recessed the meeting and walked away; the crowd moved outside, semi-blocking the entrance. For the next hour, people kneeled in prayer, sang sad peace songs, and chanted for a ceasefire. The council gingerly reconvened behind a platoon of police and made zoning changes as singing echoed throughout the building.

The Press Democrat covered the “disruption,” quoting protestors and anti-Ceasefire activists. A lawyer member of B’Nai Israel, David Saul, said, “I fear that a ceasefire resolution, no matter how benign, will stoke antisemitism in our community and will attract greater pro-Hamas activism in our city.” Rabbi Irwin Keller of Ner Shalom congregation in Cotati disagreed, “There’s an expectation that American Jews should not criticize Israel and should not object to whatever policies or actions it takes. That doesn’t have to be the case.”

The next day, January 9, with the support of Rabbi Keller, the Cotati city council passed a ceasefire resolution, “joining other cities in calling for our Congressional Members to demand an immediate and permanent ceasefire; release of all hostages; the unrestricted entry of humanitarian assistance into Gaza; the restoration of food, water, electricity, and medical supplies to Gaza; and respect for international law.”

And in March, the Sacramento City Council was to pass a Ceasefire in Gaza, a tour de force of diplomacy which incorporated multiple viewpoints. It was championed by Mayor Darrell Steinberg, who is Jewish, and who had previously opposed such a resolution.

Why was the Petaluma city council so recalcitrant?

Internal lobbying

California’s Brown Act prohibits a quorum of legislators from discussing city business outside a duly noticed public meeting. That means that four or more Petaluma city councilors are not allowed to serially email or in any way communicate about ongoing or possible agenda items. Public records show that Cader Thompson repeatedly emailed all of the council members individually and collectively (creating a quorum) on matters relevant to the ceasefire resolution, which she strongly opposed.

On January 19, Cader Thompson emailed the entire council a link to a column by The New York Times’ Bret Stephens, headlined “The Genocide Charge Against Israel is a Moral Obscenity.” The headline adequately describes Stephen’s Islamophobic stance.

On January 23, Cader Thompson emailed another Bret Stephens column to council members. In it, Stephens stated, “If Hamas builds the entrances to those tunnels inside private homes, schools or hospitals, those places all become military targets. … Hamas bears the blame for every death in this war.”

During January, Cader Thompson continued to email a quorum of council members about the ceasefire resolution. The texts included,

-Theorizing that ceasefire proponents have a hidden agenda: “Defunding Israel? I always said first they want resolution, second defund Israel. Would may seem innocent, may not be [sic].”

-A link to a January 31 Bret Stephens column calling to, “Abolish the U.N.’s Palestinian Refugee Agency,” in which he falsely states that the United Nations Relief and Works Agency is “infested with terrorists.”

-A link to a January 30 podcast by a notorious Islamophobe, Sam Harris, “5 Myths about Israel and the War on Gaza.” Cader Thompson wrote, “I’m asking the Council to please listen to the attached podcast. It gives a clear understanding of the complexity of the Middle East and Jihadist worldwide. For the city council to spend more time on a resolution on a very complex is irresponsible and dangerous [sic].”

The Harris podcast advocates for waging total war on the people of Gaza, “However horrific, even unthinkable, sometimes war is necessary … But there is no way of waging it without a massive loss of innocent life … But there are certain groups of people that have kicked themselves loose of the Earth—and they can’t be reasoned with or incentivized. And this is where the use of force becomes necessary. … There is simply no good way to fight an enemy of this kind. When you are fighting jihadists, your own scruples—the shame and horror you feel at killing noncombatants—become another weapon in their hands. Jihadists are very clever.”

According to an email exchange with Cader Thompson in late January, city councilor Karen Nau “warned” Petaluma police chief Brian Miller that ceasefire activists were planning to stage a protest at a local pro-gun control forum which congresspersons Huffman and Thomson were schedule to attend. “This group says they will be peaceful, but that might not include others who show up and want to be part of a loud protest,” Nau told Cader Thompson, who transmitted a separate warning about the event to Miller. Huffman and Thompson cancelled; the peace protest was, well, peaceful.

In an interview with this reporter on April 22, Shribbs said he had asked City Attorney Eric Danley if Cader Thompson’s serial emails about ceasefire issues were violating the Brown Act, as appeared to be the case to him. “Danley wouldn’t tell me if it was a direct violation or not,” Shribbs said. Danley subsequently told Counter Punch that he had found “no evidence of a prohibited serial meeting” in the Cader Thompson emails and replies because “the communications give no indication of a collective […] discussion by a quorum.” By way of clarification, the Brown Act prohibits a quorum to even “hear” about an actionable item from one of its members outside a public meeting. The Cader Thompson emails and replies by council members clearly document a serial platforming or hearing of her position on the ceasefire resolution to the full council.

Cader Thompson declined comment.

A meeting with the rabbi

On February 3, Petrigh-Dove announced the continuation of the Saturday Vigil and Rally for a Ceasefire in downtown Petaluma, and the continuation of lobbying the city council. He acknowledged “the wounds of unhealed Jewish intergenerational trauma, the generations of oppression of the Jewish people which has gone unhealed and which makes it so that the events of one day has Israelis running on fear, and many of them able to justify any amount of killing in their name.”

At the Petaluma City Council meeting of February 5, Bloom and another member of the B’Nai Israel congregation again asked the council not to consider a ceasefire measure. Others spoke in favor of that possibility.

On February 7, this reporter met at B’Nai Israel with Bochner, who said,

-“I strongly encourage you to talk with folks from the Jewish Community Relations Council. Jewish Voice for Peace does not have support from any mainstream organization. I question the Jewishness of their voice. … People involved in it may be ethnically Jewish, but they represent […] a perspective that potentially calls for the dismantling of the one Jewish majority, democratic nation in the world. So I don’t know that I would personally think of them as a Jewish group, despite the word Jewish in their name. And I don’t think of them as a peace activist group.”

– “The Jewish community is represented by congregations such as this one [and] fundraising groups like the Jewish Community Federations.”

(It turns out that the $1.3 billion Bay Area Jewish Community Federation funds not only the Jewish Community Relations Council, but also Bochner’s synagogue. Tax records show that from 2014 to 2022, the federation gave B’Nai Israel $132,959. Rabbi Keller’s synagogue in Cotati, which supported a ceasefire resolution, did not received a penny from the Federation during those years.)

-“I don’t think that Israel is engaged in killing, as in a deliberate act. […] And if I fault Israel for anything, it’s walking into the trap that Hamas has laid for them in producing the number of casualties that Hamas wanted.”

-“I do not believe it is the purview of a city council in Sonoma or any county for that matter, to be passing resolutions that will have no impact on the actual conflict.

I asked Bochner why he thought McDonnell had so consistently deferred to him? He replied, “That’s a highly problematic statement. The Jewish community does not control strings of government, we’re not going to go down an antisemitic rabbit hole of Jews control the government and the media. Sorry, that’s grotesque.”

Moving backwards

In late February, the newly formed Petaluma Jewish Community Collective held a rally demanding an urgent and permanent ceasefire. The group stated, “A local synagogue, B’nai Israel, has falsely asserted that most Jewish people oppose the ceasefire resolution in their opposition to the resolution. However, Jewish people in Sonoma County and around the world […] support an urgent ceasefire.”

Returning from an ocean cruise vacation, Shribbs was back on the dais for the council meeting of February 26. He was widely expected to deliver on his promise to support a ceasefire resolution. The room was packed with about 25 ceasefire proponents, and a half dozen naysayers, including Bloom, who re-articulated B’nai Israel’s anti-ceasefire position.

Shocking the crowd, Shribbs said he now opposed advocating for a ceasefire in Gaza, preferring to advocate for “ceasing conflict worldwide.”

In the April interview, Shribbs acknowledged that he had changed his mind after council members received 300 similarly formatted anti-ceasefire emails in February from what appeared to be persons organized to blast out emails by The Lawfare Project, a powerful coalition of 350 international lawyers which equates critiques of Israel’s military incursions with antisemitism. The Lawfare Project regularly sues municipalities, universities, and non-profits that it adjudges to be “anti-Zionist” and antisemitic. It is feared.

A March 1 letter to Petaluma city councilors asked them to “Please vote NO for a ceasefire resolution in relation to the Israel-Hamas war. … Your ceasefire vote would normalize hate. … If you are voting on this resolution than you really need to start voting on every international affair including the ongoing Syrian war, the Yemen Civil War, Rohingya Crisis, South Sudanese Civil War and many others. It’s interesting how the world is all of a sudden interested in global politics when it involves Jews. … Feel free to contact Gerard Filitti at with any steps taken.” Filitti is Senior Council with The Lawfare Project. Neither Filitti nor The Lawfare Project’s public relations consultant, Rubenstein Public Relations Inc., replied to requests for comment.

That same day, Cader Thompson emailed McDonnell about a survey of local elected official’s position on supporting peace in Gaza by Ceasefire Now Marin. She asked the mayor, “Is Sonoma County next? This is scary when the criteria of running for office is weighting in on a single international issue, as we ignore, Darfur, Sudan, Yemen, China, Ukraine, etc. Why? Jews are an easy target to hate. This is a historical fact. Janice.”

In early March, ceasefire advocates met again with Shribbs, asking him not to be intimidated by outside agitators such as The Lawfare Project. Shribbs was not moved to follow through on his previous promise to put the resolution on the agenda.

In the April interview, Shribbs explained that although he agrees with South Africa’s brief to the International Court of Justice that Israel is committing genocide in Gaza, he is intimidated by the Israeli lobby. “[The Lawfare Project] sues people. Basically, there was a threat—they’re going to come after us.” Fearing litigation, or worse, he recanted.

The ceasefire resolution is dead in Petaluma.


After April 15, ceasefire proponents across America engaged in multiple acts of civil disobedience. Freeways and the Golden Gate Bridge were shut down in the Bay Area. In Sonoma County, youthful activists targeted the Healdsburg office of weapons corporation General Dynamics. Jewish and Palestinian students are a national movement for a ceasefire in Gaza. And, if they were still with us, the Jewish chicken ranchers who were kicked out of the B’Nai Israel Jewish Center for their social activism would be demonstrating in Petaluma—shouting out in Yiddish: זאל פאלעסטינע זיין פריי! (May Palestine be free!)

Editor Note: The section on Canary Mission was rewritten after publication for security concerns.