Burlington’s Democratic Party leadership united against a resolution calling for a ceasefire in Gaza during Monday night’s city council meeting, two weeks after three Palestinian students were shot in Burlington. The resolution did not pass, tying on a 6-6 vote.
Democratic mayoral nominee Joan Shannon and City Council President Karen Paul voted against the resolution, accompanied by councilors Sarah Carpenter, Ben Traverse, Tim Doherty Jr., and Mark Barlow. Activists expected Mayor Miro Weinberger to veto the resolution, which was brought forth by councilors Ali Dieng, Joe Magee, and Gene Bergman, if it passed with fewer than eight votes.
Despite a rally of approximately 300 Burlington residents before the meeting and hours of testimony provided by nearly 60 residents, including UVM Professor of History David Massell and former City Councilor Jack Hanson in favor of the resolution, many on the City Council remained intransigent. Seventeen residents testified against it. Recent polls suggest that 60 to 80 percent of Democrats nationwide support a ceasefire.
One resident, a Palestinian doctor, spoke briefly, noting, “I have 52 seconds [of my allotted two minutes] left. It’s a great pleasure to know how much time I have left. The Palestinians in Gaza do not have any time left.”
The resolution condemned the November 25th shooting of three Palestinian students in Burlington and called for an immediate ceasefire as well as conditions on military aid to Israel. After the vote, the councilors exited Contois Auditorium to audience chants of “Free Palestine,” “Shame!”, and “We’ll be back.”
“Because of the silence of my representatives in Burlington about Palestine, I’ve never been more ashamed to be a resident of this city,” said Mirza Korajkic, who described fleeing the Bosnian genocide to live in Vermont as he implored the city council to pass the resolution.
Those who testified against the resolution called it divisive. Some claimed that anti-Zionism is antisemitic—a charge that many Jews testifying in favor of the resolution rejected. Others suggested that Burlington, which withdrew its “sister city” status from the Russian city of Yaroslavl in 2022 in response to Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, should stay focused on local affairs. Many supported an alternative resolution proposed by Traverse that only condemned the shooting.
This city council vote comes in the broader context of growing sentiment against Israel’s war on Gaza turning into a renewed movement for Palestinian rights and against Israel’s decades-long occupation. Almost two dozen major public actions have taken place in Vermont since October 7, including an event in front of US Senator Bernie Sanders’ Burlington house last week.
In an effort that began in late summer, activists are collecting signatures to get a referendum on the ballot for Burlington’s election in March that would declare Burlington an “apartheid-free city” and commit to justice and equity for the Palestinian people. The referendum, if added to the ballot, would provide residents an opportunity to voice their opinion and demand further action from Burlington’s government to protect Palestinians.
Alison Adams is a Burlington resident and member of the Vermont Coalition for Palestinian Liberation.