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A blue wooden sign with the words "The city of El Cerrito" in white and a simple sketch of hills and a tree above the words sits on a grassy patch.

Israel-Hamas War leads to clashes in El Cerrito, on the street and before City Council

on April 28, 2024

Tensions over the Israel-Hamas War have surfaced in many communities across the country, including El Cerrito, which has made two arrests for hate crimes against Jewish people since the violence began on Oct. 7.  

In the latest arrest, a Hayward man was charged in Contra Costa County with three hate-crime-related felonies stemming from a January attack on Jewish demonstrators that included allegedly shoving a woman and taking the Israeli flag that was draped around her neck, and grabbing an Israeli flag from another woman and burning it. 

The incident heightened emotions that have spilled into monthly El Cerrito City Council meetings. The council has been under pressure for months to follow Richmond, Oakland and the United Nations Security Council in calling for a ceasefire in Gaza. So far, council members have resisted, though dozens of public speakers have implored them to act. Many other residents, however, have taken the opposite stance, thanking council members for not getting involved. 

“In public comment, both written and in person, we do not have a community consensus,” Mayor Tessa Rudnick said in an interview this week. “And we don’t need to agendize something to see that we don’t have community consensus.” 

Gaza has been under Israeli bombardment since Hamas attacked Israel, killing about 1,200 people and taking some 250 people hostage. Over 30,000 people in Gaza have been killed, including more than 13,000 children, and some 70,000 have been injured, according to the United Nations

Calls for a ceasefire have sparked countless demonstrations across the Bay Area, including on Jan. 6 when about 100 protesters — some taking up the plight of Palestinians, others in support of Israel — made their way up San Pablo Avenue in Albany to Carlson Boulevard in El Cerrito. While most of the demonstrations have been peaceful, protesters sometimes have clashed. The Contra Costa County District Attorney’s Office said that happened in El Cerrito, when a man confronted two women who were holding Israeli flags. 

Christopher Khamis Victor Husary, 36, was arrested in connection with the incident, on Feb. 28 at his home in Hayward and charged with second-degree robbery, grand theft, and arson, all with special hate crime allegations attached. According to jail records, he was released from the Martinez Detention Facility on March 5 under $50,000 bail.  

In an El Cerrito incident report, one 911 caller said that her Jewish husband was at the protest and was becoming “upset” and that it was “dangerous.” Another 911 caller reported that she and her friends were surrounded by protestors and that they were unable to leave. 

“While the First Amendment is fundamental to our democracy, it doesn’t protect threats, injury, intimidation, or property damage,” District Attorney Diana Becton said in a January news release. 

With the incident captured on video, the El Cerrito Police Department was able to release photos of a suspect to the public, who then helped identify him. Nathan Peterson, who is listed on court documents as Husary’s attorney, did not return emails for comment.

Both groups targeted

El Cerrito Police Chief Paul Keith said this was the second hate crime in the city since October. The first was a swastika etched into a playground slide, but no one has been charged with that crime. Since 2019, El Cerrito police have investigated 21 hate crimes.

Across the country, antisemitism has “skyrocketed” since Oct. 7 according to a report released by the Anti-Defamation League. A total of 3,291 incidents took place between Oct. 7 and Jan. 7, a 361% increase compared to reports in that same period the previous year. 

Pro-Palestinian protesters also have been targeted, including one who was stabbed during a demonstration in Texas. And the ADL documented about 30 cases of assaults, harassment and vandalism against Muslims and mosques in the first two months of the conflict.

In San Francisco, the District Attorney’s Office filed charges of felony vandalism with the special allegation of a hate crime this month against Robert Peter Gray, 35. The DA’s office said Gray used his skateboard to break several windows at Masjid Al-Tawheed mosque in Nob Hill.  Records show Gray was being held at San Francisco County Jail without bond.

Keith said it’s unusual for demonstrations in El Cerrito to turn violent or destructive. 

“I think for both us and Albany, we had a lot of expectations that the outcome of January 6 would be that people would follow the game plan of having their voices heard and having their message out there, without there being violence and obstruction on the side of it,”  Keith said. 

Police are concerned about maintaining safety at City Council meetings, given that council members have been under pressure to approve a ceasefire resolution.

Last October, the City Council decided to no longer allow public comments by Zoom participants, after speakers, presumably from an outside group, made antisemitic and racist remarks. 

“We definitely have an increased awareness around City Council meetings,” said Keith. “We want them to remain a place where people can civilly engage in discourse and provide feedback to the government without them impeding on the operations of city government and trampling on other people’s rights.” 

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  1. M S on April 29, 2024 at 10:01 pm

    “In public comment, both written and in person, we do not have a community consensus,” Mayor Tessa Rudnick said in an interview this week. “And we don’t need to agendize something to see that we don’t have community consensus.”

    Surely there has never been an agenda item before the city council where we didn’t have consensus from the entire community!

  2. Sherry L Drobner on April 29, 2024 at 11:14 pm

    Actually I believe the reason we do not see the item on the agenda is because the Mayor is afraid there well may be a community consensus. And even if there were no consensus, to start, isn’t that what discussion is about…building consensus? The Mayor from day one decided that a resolution would not reach the Council.

    What is happening in El Cerrito is happening in cities across the country as organizations like the Jewish Community Relations Council’s campaign to do Israel’s bidding. They are actively organizing residents to prevent ceasefire resolutions from moving onto local agendas. The organization has the right to organize, but when our Mayor is an active member of that organization, perhaps she should excuse herself from carrying out their mandate and ask other Council members to step in.

    How is it that Albany managed to pass a resolution? I can tell you that the City Council Mayor did not curtail the number of speakers at any given meeting, the Mayor reached out to the residents and sought their opinions, and crafted a resolution for agenda discussion. The City Council had a fruitful discussion at a special meeting attended by those for and against the resolution. The city is still standing and there were no police in the room.

    Honestly, all of this could have been easily handled if the Mayor had simply allowed consideration of a ceasefire resolution to be put on the agenda. Silencing constituents is a sad execution of leadership.

  3. Somaia on May 3, 2024 at 11:16 am

    Unlike most other cities, in El Cerrito the mayor has complete control over what goes on the agenda and what doesn’t. The city council consists of multiple members for a reason, so that when there are issues that don’t have “consensus” they can be voted on in a fair and democratic way. Mayor Rudnick’s absolute refusal to even agendize a ceasefire resolution is undemocratic and completely serves her own personal interests and those of outside zionist groups like the JCRC for which she is regional chair. There is no way for her to know whether or not a resolution would or would not pass unless of course she has violated the Brown Act by discussing it would her fellow city council members. This is an abuse of power and a silencing of the residents of the city.

  4. ritchie cook on May 19, 2024 at 9:33 am

    Is this really true? Only the mayor can place matters on the agenda? This is comp-letely undemocratic. Furthermore, it appears she has an obvious conflict of interest and should recuse herself.

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