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Resolutions on Gaza conflict face uncertain future

Supporters of a cease-fire in Palestine rallied in Annapolis in February in support of resolutions sponsored by Dels. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery) and Ashanti Martinez (D-Prince George’s). Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

The fate of a resolution calling for a cease-fire in Gaza faces an uncertain fate after an hours-long hearing Monday before the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee.

Del. Anne Healey (D-Prince George’s), chair of the Rules panel, said she has not scheduled a vote for either as a key deadline approaches.

Del. Anne Healey (D-Prince George’s), chair of the House Rules and Executive Nominations Committee. Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

“I just don’t know yet,” Healey said Monday night following a hearing that lasted more than four hours. “It was just a very emotional day, listening to all of those heartbreaking stories. I think we just need to take a minute to think about it before we do anything.”

House Joint Resolution 2, sponsored by Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery) condemns both the Oct. 7 attack on Israel by Hamas as well as the Israeli response. Additionally, it signals support for a long-term cease-fire as well as the return of all hostages and for providing humanitarian aid to Palestine.

As part of the resolution, the legislature would also publicly oppose antisemitism, Islamophobia, and anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab bigotry.

“Colleagues, what is happening in Gaza is both a travesty and a crisis of humanity,” Acevero told the committee Monday. “Like so many across my district, this country and the world we want to see an immediate ceasefire and an end to the decades long occupation of Palestine.”

Del. Gabriel Acevero (D-Montgomery County). Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

Baltimore Jewish Council Deputy Director Sarah Mersky Miicke said the resolution will only inflame a situation that has given rise to an increase in hate speech and related violence.

“This ceasefire resolution does not align with our values,” said Miicke. “It absolves the terrorist organization Hamas of responsibility and attempts to strip Israel of the basic right to self-defense that every nation deserves. This resolution promotes antisemitic vitriol, divides the community, and will only exacerbate the rhetoric that has already led to an astronomical rise of antisemitism and Islamophobia since Oct. 7.”

The Rules committee also heard another measure Monday that attempts to address the violence in the Middle East and its impact in the U.S.

House Joint Resolution 8, sponsored by Del. Ashanti Martinez (D-Prince George’s), condemns Islamophobia, anti-Palestinian hate, and antisemitism.

The resolution is a stand against increases in anti-Muslim and anti-Arab hate, he said.

“Hate has no place anywhere in Maryland and I ask that we stand with all of our communities by signing and passing this resolution,” Martinez said.

But that measure has opposition among Jewish groups as well.

“We cannot support the resolution which fails to include and condemn anti-Israel hate, especially at this moment when antisemitism is at an all-time high,” said Deborah Miller, the Maryland director of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Greater Washington. “The vast majority of Jews consider Israel to be part of their identity. Thus, to draft a resolution which ignores this reality is tone deaf, harmful, and dehumanizing. The complexity of what it means to be Jewish is erased if antisemitism is condemned, but anti-Israel hate is not.”

Similar efforts have failed in recent months in both Baltimore City and Howard County.

Some in Annapolis question the role of the legislature in such matters.

“I don’t believe the Senate will be wading into foreign policy that we have no control over,” said Senate President Bill Ferguson (D-Baltimore City). “I don’t think we’re gonna spend any time on it.”

Supporters of the current resolutions, however, point to resolutions in 2022 supporting Ukraine following the Russian invasion.

Zainab Chaudry, spokeswoman and Maryland Director for the Council on American-Islamic Relations. File photo by Bryan P. Sears.

“The state of Maryland has an opportunity this session to be a global beacon of compassion, morality and courage,” said Zainab Chaudry, director of the Maryland Chapter of Council on American-Islamic Relations. “This Assembly rightfully and unanimously passed a resolution supporting Ukraine.”

Some lawmakers say the resolutions passed two years ago were very different.

“It was a different context,” said Ferguson. “There was more of a unified front around it. At the end of the day, I just don’t think that it’s an issue that we’re going to spend time and energy on. We’ve got a lot of issues on the table that affect Marylanders today.”

The clock is running on Acevero’s and Martinez’s bills as a key deadline approaches. The Rules committee could vote the resolutions down outright or stuff them in a drawer.

If they get a vote, they will have to receive final approval and go to the Senate by March 18, otherwise they would head to the Senate Rules Committee.

Ferguson has already declared that many late-filed Senate bills will not come out of that committee. The panel, he said, is “surrounded by a shark-infested moat.”

The anger and hurt and debate over the attack in Israel and the subsequent invasion of Gaza have had ripple effects in Maryland.

In November, Acevero and CASA, the immigrants’ rights group, came under fire for comments made at rallies and on social media expressing solidarity with Palestinians.

Soon after, private donors announced they would withdraw support from CASA. Lawmakers from Montgomery County and others similarly threatened to cut off state support. CASA issued an apology but it is not yet clear to what effect.

In January, the 20 Jewish legislators in the 188-member General Assembly, in coordination with Ferguson and House Speaker Adrienne A. Jones (D-Baltimore County), formed the Jewish Legislative Caucus.

And while the resolutions await a vote in the House, Acevero’s could face tough sledding in the Senate if it makes it over to the upper chamber. The identical Senate Joint Resolution 5, filed by Sen. Joanne C. Benson (D-Prince George’s). languishes in the Senate Rules Committee.

Benson said she is hopeful for a vote.

Sen. Shelly Hettleman (D-Baltimore County) chair of the Senate Rules Committee and co-chair of the Jewish Legislative Caucus. Photo by Bryan P. Sears.

Her resolution was filed late. This year, the Senate is digging out from under nearly 1,200 bills.

“I don’t know that there are going to be a whole lot of bills that are coming out of the Rules Committee, period,” said Sen. Shelly Hettleman (D-Baltimore County), chair of the panel. “I don’t know that we will treat this any differently from any of the other pieces of legislation that were introduced late.”

Hettleman estimated in February that the committee had between four and five dozen late-filed bills to consider. Three more were introduced Monday night. Roughly half a dozen bills have managed to successfully navigate that moat in the last 10 days.

Benson’s seems unlikely to be one of them

Hettleman is also Senate co-chair of the Jewish Legislative Caucus.

“I don’t know that it’s any different from any other issues,” said Hettleman. “There are lots of issues here that are important to me as a female as a woman legislator. I don’t know that I would consider it any differently.”


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Resolutions on Gaza conflict face uncertain future