AUGUSTA — City councilors declined to take action on a proposed resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza last week following emotional testimony on both sides of the issue.

At-Large Councilor Abigail St. Valle sponsored the proposal, but her motion failed for lack of a second at Thursday’s council meeting. The resolution would call on Maine’s congressional delegation and President Biden to use their positions and influence to end the violence that has killed tens of thousands of people in Gaza and Israel.

While no councilors spoke about their reasoning on Thursday, several councilors said at a meeting earlier this month that while they agree with the resolution’s sentiment, international politics are not the City Council’s responsibility. They said the council needs to focus on local issues affecting city residents.

In public testimony Thursday, which lasted more than 90 minutes, several speakers said advocating for an end to violence is everyone’s responsibility. Other Maine cities have issued similar resolutions, and Augusta, as the state capital, should take a stand.

“I’ve been moved, as so many other people have been moved, by the terrible loss of life, the maiming, the destruction, that seems to be at a critical point now,” said resident Chris McKinnon. “As a citizen I want my voice heard … I think 60% or more, in polls, indicated people want a permanent cease-fire in this conflict. So I’m appealing to this council … to bring everything they can to bear on putting an end to this horrible conflict.”

But many members of the public, including some members of Temple Beth El, Augusta’s Jewish synagogue, said the City Council should not get involved in the issue.


Scott Davidson, of Readfield, a member of the synagogue, said while he acknowledges the resolution was an attempt to be even-handed and simply condemn the war, the issue is far more complicated, and taking a stand could divide Augusta residents.

“Even a call for a cease-fire is political now,” Davidson said. “We here cannot guarantee that peace will be secured with a cease-fire and the return of the hostages. And so it leads to you taking a side. And when you take a side, we’re divided as a community. We cannot pretend this has not ignited a very complicated, destructive and hateful controversy, even here. Please don’t invite this conflict here into Augusta, into our community.”

St. Valle, in the previous discussion of the resolution, and members of the public who spoke Thursday, said the resolution does not seek to take sides; it simply calls for the end of the violence, release of the hostages, and for humanitarian aid to be given Palestinians in Gaza.

David Offer, president of Temple Beth El, said he and Rabbi Erica Asch are strongly opposed to the resolution, which he said would unnecessarily raise tensions in the community at a time when antisemitism is already on the rise. He said in the last six months in Augusta there has been antisemitic graffiti found at Cony High School, swastikas painted in public areas and a bomb threat to synagogues nationwide. Just last week, there were anti-Israel sentiments written in chalk in front of Temple Beth El, he said.

“This is happening right here, right now, in Augusta,” Offer said. “Times are tense. We hope you as our city leaders will not add to that tension or amplify divisions within our country. Augusta faces significant challenges, from a lack of affordable housing to encouraging economic growth. We urge the council to focus on finding creative solutions to those challenges, those local challenges, and focus on meeting the needs of local residents.”

St. Valle said she’s spoken to councilors in the Maine cities that have passed similar resolutions and they said they have seen no increase in violence or antisemitism since passing them.


Fahad Alvires, an 11-year Augusta resident who is originally from Iraq, said watching the scenes of war from Gaza reminds him of his childhood in Iraq, losing cousins to war. He urged councilors to take a stand and speak out against violence by approving the resolution.

“Who is going to pay the price when war is going to happen? The price is paid by innocent people, children,” he said. “My experience here in Augusta, I saw what the people of Augusta support is peace. That’s why I’m here, why I stand up, I speak up, to support the cease-fire.”

Some who commented at Thursday’s meetings blamed Israel for the dire situation and violence and others blamed Hamas and Palestinians.

City councils in Portland, Lewiston and Belfast have approved similar resolutions calling for a cease-fire.

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