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Town Meeting tables ceasefire resolution, bypassing vote with no debate

May 31, 2024  Updated June 4, 2024 at 1:38 p.m.

Town Meeting on Thursday used a rarely-employed parliamentary procedure to avoid a vote and skip debate on a controversial resolution calling for a ceasefire in Israel and Gaza.

By a 181 to 42 vote, with 10 abstentions, the town’s legislative body agreed on a “motion to table” Warrant Article 19, which was the last item up for debate in this spring’s Town Meeting session.

The resolution would have had Town Meeting call for “an immediate, enduring, bilateral ceasefire and unrestricted passage of humanitarian aid into Gaza” as well as “the immediate safe return of all hostages held in Gaza.”

One sponsor of the resolution, Omar Mabrouk, told Brookline.News previously, “Our main goal is that we want to voice our concern about what’s happening in Israel and Palestine and we want the war to end.”

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A group of four Town Meeting members who helped organize the motion to table wrote in a statement that “Heeding the hundreds of phone calls and emails from residents on this issue, Town Meeting viewed this article as inappropriate for further consideration by this legislative body.”

Shira Fischer, one of the Town Meeting members who organized the motion, called the article “divisive,” arguing that the conversation around Israel and Gaza is a painful one and that she wanted to avoid a formal debate with a vote. “This type of conversation, while important and productive, Town Meeting is not the place for it. It’s not a legislative conversation … It’s not a vote. It’s something that should happen in the community,” Fischer said.

The sponsors of the ceasefire resolution, who were part of a group called the Brookline Peace Coalition, argued that by tabling the proposal, Town Meeting was suppressing debate.

“I feel sad that we couldn’t have the debate. I feel sad that the other side, some group of people, was so frightened of us just talking to each other, in a very controlled, organized setting in a high school auditorium” said Beth Miller, another sponsor of the resolution.

Miller said the Brookline Peace Coalition will keep working on its goals, which are to stop the killing of civilians and easing the pain felt in the Brookline community.

“This is a work of years, not weeks, to shift a narrative that is deeply embedded, to find the places of agreement, which we were very open to doing,” she said.

Rep. Tommy Vitolo, a Brookline state representative who has served in Town Meeting for 16 years, said he voted for the motion to table out of concern that the debate would have led to hurtful statements, damaging current and potential relationships.

“I voted to table because I wanted to save Town Meeting from self-inflicted harm that would have reduced Town Meeting members’ ability to work with each other in the future on items related to the schools, to the roads, or the operation of the town,” Vitolo said.

The motion had also divided the town’s Select Board, its executive branch.

“Stopping debate without any discussion is so repugnant to me,” said Bernard Greene, the chair of the board. “I’m not willing to say, ‘we’re not going to let you have that discussion.’”

Board member David Pearlman countered that there is a community forum in the works for June which will be a better place to have a “detailed, truly meaningful conversation on the issues.”

“It’s precisely because it’s such an important issue for so many that it ought to be treated with the respect that the Town Meeting format really can’t afford it,” Pearlman said.

The board ultimately voted 3-2 in favor of the motion, with Paul Warren, Pearlman and Mike Sandman voting yes and Greene and John VanScoyoc voting no.

Vote punctuated by large crowds

The start of Thursday’s Town Meeting session was accompanied by two competing rallies outside Brookline High School, separated by a police barricade. 

Around 400 people in total, roughly evenly divided between supporters and opponents of the ceasefire resolution, stood holding signs and speaking through megaphones. 

See photos from the two rallies.

Paul Campbell, a deputy superintendent at the Brookline Police Department, said there were no arrests or incidents of note .

The group in favor of the resolution held prayers led by clergy members from several faiths and speeches by residents, and chanted phrases including “Ceasefire Now,” “Free the hostages” and “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free,” carrying signs supporting the warrant article and saying “Let Gaza Live.”

The group opposed to the ceasefire resolution carried Israeli and American flags and signs that read “No on 19”. They also chanted “bring them home,” in reference to the Israeli hostages still being held in Gaza by Hamas. Some sounded sirens during speeches on the other side. 

Editor’s note: This article has been updated to include more information about the content of the rallies before the vote. 

 Stay tuned next week for our story wrapping up Town Meeting, including coverage of important votes on the Community Preservation Act and school budget.