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WA Democratic Party will send ceasefire letters to Biden, party leadership

caption: Tariq Yusuf, a delegate to the 2024 Washington State Democratic Convention, raises his hands to show support for passing three resolutions relating to Israel's war in Gaza.
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Tariq Yusuf, a delegate to the 2024 Washington State Democratic Convention, raises his hands to show support for passing three resolutions relating to Israel's war in Gaza.
Scott Greenstone

Washington state Democrats approved three resolutions related to the ongoing war in Gaza this past weekend. Their passage did not come without anxiety about division in the party — and potentially losing both the presidency and the Washington governor's seat in November.

RELATED: A tight governor's race and Gaza: 4 takeaways from Washington Democrats’ convention

In a corner of Bellevue’s Meydenbauer Center, Yaz Kader was hard to miss. He’s a tall Palestinian-American with a keffiyeh draped over his shoulders. All day Sunday, he was running around the convention hall talking to members of his coalition.

These were the last hours of the Washington state Democratic convention, and the so-called “ceasefire delegates” were running out of time to pass three resolutions on the war in Gaza.

The proposals called for an immediate stop to the conflict, and for putting conditions on military aid to Israel, among other things. But they were slotted at the very end of Sunday's agenda — and their supporters were running out of time.

“So, we have seven, eight, and nine still?” someone asked Kader, looking at the other agenda items.

“Inshallah,” Kader said, chewing gum nervously.

Though none of these resolutions changed official policy, they direct the party to send official letters to the president and Washington state's Congressional delegation. It's a rare win for a movement that hasn't been able to shift party policy very much in the last eight months.

The convention was mostly ceremonial, but leadership saw it as a chance to portray a sense of unity — and draw a contrast with a raucous and divided Republican convention in Spokane two months ago.

RELATED: Chaos and division erupt at Washington Republican convention in Spokane

The Democratic convention was smaller and quieter — clapping was even discouraged in consideration of delegates with sensory sensitivities — and divisions mostly buzzed in the background.

caption: Yaz Kader, a delegate to the 2024 Washington state Democratic convention, wears a keffiyeh as he listens to speakers.
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Yaz Kader, a delegate to the 2024 Washington state Democratic convention, wears a keffiyeh as he listens to speakers.
Jeanie Lindsay

But there was an underlying anxiety among Democrats this weekend that the party will lose in November and former President Donald Trump will retake the White House.

Even state Attorney General Bob Ferguson, the party’s anointed candidate for governor, took pains to emphasize how close his race is going to be. (Washington hasn’t elected a Republican governor since 1980, the longest Democratic gubernatorial streak in America.)

“If the dark day was to come — and we'll do everything we can to avoid this — that Donald Trump is elected president again,” Ferguson said to a gala on Saturday, “we will need a governor who knows how to stand up to that anti-democratic individual. We will need that.”

But President Joe Biden was a touchy subject at times over the weekend — like in the Jewish Caucus on Saturday, where members traded barbs over the president’s military support for Israel.

RELATED: How are Washington’s governor candidates responding to pro-Palestinian campus protests?

David Kaplan, who helped found the caucus in the 1980s and sat across the room from the ceasefire delegates on Sunday, worried the Gaza resolutions would help Republicans win. He sees Trump as a threat to democracy.

“The survival of Israel as an entity is very important to me, but the survival of the United States, you know, as a democratic republic, is also very important to me,” Kaplan said.

Though all the roughly 1,000 gathered delegates were Democrats, they weren't all sure Biden voters.

“I'll never vote for Trump, but am I definitely going to vote for Biden? No,” said David McBale, another Palestinian delegate standing near Kader. He wore a rainbow keffiyeh for Pride.

Polls show most Democrats support a ceasefire. The first of the three resolutions -- calling for a ceasefire and the return of Israeli hostages held in Gaza since the Oct. 7 attack -- had considerable support at the convention. Even Kaplan planned to vote for it.

But the other resolutions, such as calling for conditions on military aid to Israel, were more controversial.

“I want all three to pass, but we just need it to get to a vote at this point. As long as we get to a vote, then we know where we're sitting," Kader said. "Where we sit with the Democratic Party as Palestinians.”

Four o’clock – when the convention was scheduled to end – came. Security seemed to be gathering in one corner. Ceasefire delegates shuffled about and talked nervously.

RELATED: Israel-Hamas war: Hostages are rescued in Gaza, Israeli war cabinet shakeup

Then, the state party chair extended the proceedings, and the Gaza resolutions were moved up in the agenda. Kader and McBale spoke for the resolutions.

Others spoke against: delegate Karol Brown pointed out that the morning after the Seattle City Council passed a ceasefire resolution last year, a synagogue in Mercer Island was defaced with graffiti saying “shame on Israel” and “stop killing.”

“I'm really worried for my Jewish community here in Washington,” Brown said. “It's overly broad language that could be misconstrued, and it could also amplify unresolved and volatile allegations.”

Rep. Tana Senn, the chair of the Legislature’s Jewish Caucus, said she would vote “yes” on the resolution calling for a ceasefire and return of hostages, but not on the other two measures related to the war.

“We have one resolution on abortion, one on homelessness, one on mental health. Do we need three on Gaza?” Senn said.

“Yes!” someone in the audience shouted.

RELATED: A closer look at Hamas' Gaza leader Yahya Sinwar

Jim Walsh, the state’s Republican party chair, watched parts of the convention on the livestream.

“Limousine Leftists dictated a platform that’s extreme in its support of Hamas and criticism of Israel,” he wrote in an email. “How does such ideological preening help working families here in Washington, who are worried about groceries and gas prices?”

Back at the convention, the voting on the resolutions began. It was all done on Google Forms, and because there are over 700 delegates casting votes, Google thought it was a bot attack. Delegates had to confirm they were humans before voting.

“I only had to identify three sets of stairs,” McBale said, deadpanning. “So, it was not that bad.”

In the end, though, all three Gaza resolutions passed. The ceasefire delegates celebrated — muted at first, then louder, clapping and whooping.

"We did it!" said Tariq Yusuf, a delegate wearing a keffiyeh with American stars and stripes.

Near the door, hearing them cheer in the background, Kaplan was getting ready to leave. He only voted “yes” on one resolution — the one that called for a ceasefire and release of Hamas’ hostages. That measure passed with the widest margin.

RELATED: Biden has introduced a plan to end the Israel-Gaza war. Either side has yet to agree

“It's been a long day. I'm not happy with the way the resolutions went down this time,” Kaplan said, getting ready to go. “I wish there was more nuance.”

As delegates streamed out of the convention hall, a few dozen of the ceasefire supporters gathered around Yaz Kader as he stood on a chair. He took a second to recognize the state party’s cooperation with them.

“Without yelling, without screaming, following the rules, doing the right things, they helped us get to the resolutions,” Kader said.

In August, Kader will be a delegate to the Democratic National Convention. He doesn’t expect such a warm reception.

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