Protesters shut down San Antonio City Council meeting after proposal to support Israel-Hamas ceasefire rescinded

Activists carried signs reading ‘Free Palestine’; Councilmembers McKee-Rodriguez, Castillo left with show of support

SAN ANTONIO – About two dozen protesters shut down a San Antonio City Council meeting Thursday morning to voice their support for a ceasefire between Israel and Hamas.

Carrying Palestinian flags and signs reading “San Antonio stands with Palestine,” activists chanted “Free Palestine” and “Ceasefire now!” during council proceedings.

Mayor Ron Nirenberg initially put the meeting in recess.

“We will not stop disrupting, no business as usual as long as Palestine is under attack,” one woman said.

After about eight minutes of the demonstration, Nirenberg called members into a closed-door executive session.

The protesters then walked up to the front of the chambers and continued chanting and demonstrating for roughly another 30 minutes.

As Councilwoman Teri Castillo (D5) and Councilman Jalen McKee-Rodriguez (D2) left the dais, they held fists up in solidarity. Both council members had tried to call a special meeting to consider a ceasefire resolution.

However, that effort was stymied earlier this week when Councilman Manny Pelaez (D8) pulled his support from the effort. He told KSAT Wednesday that he had decided there were not enough votes to pass a resolution, and the meeting would likely devolve into a “circus.”

Nirenberg has said he does not think a resolution is a good idea. And without enough council members signed on to force a special meeting on the subject, he said a ceasefire resolution would not be added onto a future agenda.

Protestors called Nirenberg and Pelaez out by name in their chants, saying “you can’t hide. We charge you with genocide.”

Pelaez was not present at Thursday’s meeting. His spokeswoman said he was in Houston to renew his passport ahead of a city trade mission to Panama and Colombia next week.

The protest came right at the end of the invocation and pledge to open the meeting. A dual invocation was given by Rabbi Mara Nathan from Temple Beth-El, then Waheeda Kara from Ismaili Jamatkhana.

The pair had been invited by Councilman Sukh Kaur (D1) who said she wanted to show the community would not tolerate any form or antisemitism or Islamophobia.

Tori Cruz, one of the protestors, told KSAT the purpose of the demonstration was to encourage city council to “debate and discuss that resolution.”

She also said the group wants the City of San Antonio to end their friendship city agreement with Tel-Aviv.

The group will continue to disrupt council meetings and other events where Nirenberg is in attendance, Cruz said.

“We’re going to keep on doing it until he actually commits to ending the Friendship City agreement with Tel-Aviv, Israel, and when - not only a cease fire resolution gets put back on the table - but when it passes,” Cruz said.

She said the group of activists are a group of community members and was jointly organized. She said is a member of the Party of Socialism and Liberation.

“If you don’t want people to be doing civil disobedience and protesting (the council), they should stand on the right side of history,” she said.

Following the protest, more than a dozen San Antonio police officers blocked the public entrance to City Hall so the protesters could not re-enter the building.

The council meeting then resumed at about 11:10 a.m.

Background

Pelaez, who is considering a run for mayor next year, had joined McKee-Rodriguez and Castillo on Dec. 20 in calling for a special meeting to consider a ceasefire resolution. The move came after weeks of activists urging the city council to take action locally.

“The City of San Antonio is calling for an immediate and permanent ceasefire in Israel and Palestine and the return of all hostages immediately.”

Proposed resolution language

The trio originally requested the resolution be considered at a special meeting on Jan. 11, essentially adding it to the meeting already scheduled for that day. However, Pelaez came back two days later to ask for the meeting to be scheduled for February instead because he would be out of town for much of January, and he also wanted council members to have time to talk with stakeholders.

But on Tuesday, just under three weeks after he submitted his signature, Pelaez rescinded his support.

Speaking with KSAT on Wednesday morning about his decision, Pelaez said he had gone on a “fact-finding mission.” After talking to “people in every sector in San Antonio,” he decided the resolution likely did not have the votes to pass, and the meeting “would have devolved into a circus.”

“I think that this topic of the Israeli-Palestinian war and its consequences in San Antonio -- I think that that merits dignity and solemnity. And I think that putting people through that meeting, which was in my mind — I’m convinced it was going to devolve into a circus and be chaotic and hurtful... would have done more damage than just putting forth a resolution knowing that we were going to lose,” Pelaez said.

His withdrawal angered McKee-Rodriguez, who posted on X Tuesday night that it was “one of the weakest moves I’ve ever seen from any councilmember ever.”

Speaking to reporters about Pelaez’s decision on Wednesday, McKee-Rodriguez said, “I think what it speaks to is a(n) internalized belief that he has that we, as a council, and our constituency, and the people that we represent can’t have an intelligent, respectful conversation about this issue, which I think is false.”

Without Pelaez’s support, City Attorney Andy Segovia said there is no longer a requirement to hold a special meeting. Though, he said the mayor is “working with the city manager” and could decide to add the resolution to an agenda anyway.

However, Nirenberg made it clear that he has no plans to do so. He sent a memo Wednesday saying the special meeting “will not be scheduled now that the request lacks the required support.”

When KSAT asked about the possibility of putting it onto the schedule himself, Nirenberg said, “I’ve made my thoughts on the appropriateness of the resolution very clear. So, I’m not moving forward with this meeting without the required support from a three-signature memo.

I do not think this is the right thing to do for a local community. If our focus is to address trauma and alleviate pain and... trauma within our local community regarding the Arab-Israeli conflict. We are not in a position to do that without a full understanding. And that’s not where we are with a local city council resolution.”

KSAT asked Castillo for an interview before a council meeting on Wednesday, but she referred us to a spokesman. Despite speaking with other media outlets, no one from Castillo’s office made her available Wednesday.

Instead, a spokesman texted a lengthy statement on her behalf, which said, in part, “While Council chooses to sit on its hands and abstain from a public discussion on the need for a ceasefire, more innocent civilians will continue to be killed.”

Local activists believe a city council resolution could, in part, help pressure the federal government, which has resisted calling for a ceasefire.

“People can talk about how this isn’t sort of within the scope of the city of San Antonio because they’re local government. But this is just another way that local government can carry the voice of its city, right? And the city is asking for a ceasefire,” Moureen Kaki with San Antonio for Justice in Palestine said in a Zoom interview Wednesday.

Another member of the group, Alex Birnel, told KSAT that “we need to continue to organize.”

“So we will continue to pursue a local resolution here... by other means. We will find another signature for that resolution, and we will continue to move forward with or without (Pelaez’s) support,” Birnel said.

SEE THE ORIGINAL DOCUMENTS

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About the Authors

Garrett Brnger is a reporter with KSAT 12.

Kolten Parker is digital executive producer at KSAT. He is an amateur triathlete, enjoys playing and watching soccer, traveling and hanging out with his wife.

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