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67 Vermont lawmakers sign letter calling for Gaza cease-fire

A man in a suit stands at a podium in front of the statehouse. Around a dozen people stand in a row behind him.
Pete Hirschfeld
Vermont Public
Rep. David Templeman, a Democrat from Brownington, speaks at a podium in front of the Statehouse on Feb. 27, 2024. He helped draft a letter signed by 65 Vermont lawmakers that calls on President Joe Biden to demand an immediate cease-fire in Gaza.

Sixty-seven Vermont lawmakers have signed onto a letter urging President Joe Biden to demand a permanent cease-fire in Gaza.

The correspondence represents a rare foray into foreign policy by the Vermont Legislature. But Brownington Rep. David Templeman, who helped draft the letter, said Israeli military operations in Gaza demand a response from every level of government.

“There are no lanes,” Templeman said. “Every citizen must declare that we will not stand idly by and leave resolution efforts to our superiors.”

Templeman was one of about a dozen Vermont lawmakers who held a press conference on the Statehouse steps Tuesday to denounce the “suffering of innocent civilians” in Gaza, where government officials say Israel’s military operations have killed more than 29,000 people.

The letter, now signed by more than a third of lawmakers serving in Montpelier, says the Israeli government’s response to the Oct. 7 attacks by Hamas is “alarming and disproportionate.”

Find the full letter here.

“The trauma and poverty being inflicted on the entire civilian population of the region is unacceptable,” the letter to Biden says. “We cannot stand idly by while civilian lives are lost and communities are destroyed.”

Some Vermont lawmakers, such as St. Albans Rep. Casey Toof, say they’re worried the correspondence, and the publicity surrounding it, will fuel antisemitism in the Green Mountain State. The Anti-Defamation League has reported an “unprecedented” increase in antisemitic incidents in the U.S. since Oct. 7.

Toof said Jews living in Vermont have experienced that rise in hate.

“I’ve heard many concerns from citizens, friends and neighbors who feel like they’re the target of antisemitism,” he said. “And this letter really sends the wrong message to them.”

Rachel Feldman, a Vermont Jew currently living in Israel and who was until recently residing in Vermont, she’s personally been targeted in this state "in ways that I have never experienced in my life.”

“People are taking pictures of me and sending them to me and sending them to other people to tell them who I am and where I live,” said Feldman, who attributed those acts to her public support for Israel in the months after Oct. 7. “People are tampering with my car here in Vermont.”

She said she doesn’t think the letter to Biden is borne of “bad intent,” and that lawmakers are “truly trying to advocate for peace.”

But she said the line between fair criticism of the Israeli government, and being antisemitic, can be difficult for people to distinguish.

“I felt very disappointed that lawmakers felt a need to weigh in on an international conflict that quite frankly is not going to be impacted by letters like this, but that do have a very real safety impact on Vermonters here at home, especially the Jewish community,” Feldman said.

Templeman said he in no way wants to exacerbate the hate experienced by Jews in Vermont or elsewhere.

“This is absolutely not my intention is to further that fire,” he said. “What we need to do right now is collect together and recognize together that this is oppression and that it needs to end.”

A group of people, some holding signs or Palestinian flags, stand on the steps of the Vermont Statehouse.
Pete Hirschfeld
Vermont Public
More than 150 people gathered at the Statehouse on Tuesday to rally in support of 65 legislators calling for a cease-fire in Gaza.

Groups including the Vermont Coalition for Palestinian Liberation, Jewish Voice for Peace and Vermonters for Justice in Palestine held a rally on the Statehouse lawn prior to Tuesday’s press conference.

Debra Stoleroff, with the Vermont-New Hampshire chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace, said during the press conference that Israel’s actions in Gaza do more to spur antisemitism than calls for a cease-fire.

“Violence against Palestinians on the part of the Israeli government make it less safe for Jewish people in and outside of Israel, as most of the world equates Israel with Jewish people,” Stoleroff said. “It is not antisemitic to criticize a government. It is courageous to call out governments committing inhumane acts of violence.”

Jewish Voice for Peace, Vermonters for Justice in Palestine and other organizations advocating for an end to hostilities in Gaza say lawmakers’ letter to Biden is an important first step, but they’re also pushing for legislation that would force Vermont to divest any pension-fund holdings in bonds or stocks with ties to Israel.

“Such a bill would have concrete impact on the lives of Palestinians,” Stoleroff said.

Templeman said he pursued divestment legislation early on in the legislative session, but pivoted away from the idea.

“It wasn’t being received with the enthusiasm I imagined," he said.

Organizations calling for a cease-fire in Gaza have sought to advance their cause by pushing for action at the state and local level across the United States.

City councils in places including San Francisco, Detroit, Minneapolis and Atlanta have all approved resolutions calling for a cease-fire.

The Burlington City Council in December rejected a resolution calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas War.

The Vermont Legislature most recently weighed in on global affairs in 2022, when the House and Senate passed a joint resolution condemning the Russian invasion of Ukraine, and affirming its support of U.S. military aid to Ukraine.

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Updated: February 28, 2024 at 3:09 PM EST
This article and its headline have been updated to reflect additional signatories on the letter, now totaling 67 lawmakers.
The Vermont Statehouse is often called the people’s house. I am your eyes and ears there. I keep a close eye on how legislation could affect your life; I also regularly speak to the people who write that legislation.
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