California Democratic Party convention locked down amid anti-Israel protests

Pro-Palestinian demonstrators sit in front of the stage, disrupting the afternoon session of the 2023 California Democratic Party November State Endorsing Convention, Saturday, Nov. 18, 2023, at SAFE Credit Union Convention Center in Sacramento, Calif. (Lezlie Sterling/The Sacramento Bee via AP)
Pro-Palestinian demonstrators protest at the California Democratic Party convention Saturday at SAFE Credit Union Convention Center in Sacramento. (Lezlie Sterling / Sacramento Bee via AP)

A protest by about 1,000 people angry over U.S. support for Israel in its war with Hamas entered the convention center where the California Democratic Party was meeting Saturday evening, causing security guards to lock entrances to the SAFE Credit Union Convention Center in downtown Sacramento and prompting an early end to the day's official events.

Delegates and other participants were temporarily blocked from exiting and entering the building after demonstrators barged through security around 6 p.m. and opened several doors, allowing more people to stream into the building where California Democrats gathered for a weekend of events gearing up for the 2024 election.

“Cease-fire now. Cease-fire now," they chanted as they marched through the convention hall waving Palestinian flags and carrying "Free Palestine" signs.

California Democratic Party officials canceled evening meetings and parties "for the safety and security of our delegates and convention participants," spokesperson Shery Yang said in a statement.

The demonstration was not as dramatic as Wednesday's protest at the Democratic National Committee headquarters in Washington, in which police clashed with demonstrators calling for a cease-fire as members of Congress gathered inside. Both instances highlight how the war between Israel and Hamas is dividing the left as the U.S. heads into an election year.

Protesters in Sacramento called President Biden “Genocide Joe,” and said, “bombing hospitals and children is a crime."

Read more: 32 babies in critical condition are among the patients left at Gaza's main hospital, U.N. team says

Israel’s military has been searching the Gaza Strip's largest hospital for a Hamas command center that it alleges is located under the building, a claim Hamas and the hospital staff deny.

The Sacramento protest began earlier in the afternoon in a park blocks away. The crowd heard from speakers decrying the Israeli bombardment of Gaza after Hamas’ Oct. 7 incursion in which militants massacred about 1,200 people in Israel and abducted about 240. In response, the Israeli military has killed more 11,500 Palestinians, according to Palestinian health authorities, with an additional 2,700 missing, believed buried under rubble.

Several Jewish delegates to the convention expressed frustration that protesters who had not registered to attend the convention could so easily enter the facility.

Naomi Goldman, a Democrats for Israel California board member wearing a “Nice Jewish Girl” T-shirt, said it was painful to hear protesters chanting, “From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free.” While many Palestinians consider the refrain a cry for liberation, many Jews hear it as a message that Israel should be obliterated.

“I am eagerly anticipating meaningful comment from my party on hate speech and violence targeting the Jewish community," Goldman said, "as well as a total denunciation of what delegates did to disrupt our assembly, and how it will ensure safe inclusive spaces for everyone who hold a diversity of opinions.”

The California Legislative Jewish Caucus issued a statement saying many Jewish delegates who were already anxious about attending the convention, due to a rise in antisemitism since the Oct. 7 massacre, "now believe it is unsafe to participate at all."

“We fully support the right to protest loudly and vociferously. But storming through security and shutting down a democratic process — particularly with chants calling for the destruction of Israel and appearing to justify the Hamas attack — is completely unacceptable,” said the statement from the caucus, which is led by Assemblymember Jesse Gabriel (D-Encino) and Senator Scott Wiener (D-San Francisco).

Read more: Inside the Israeli lab 'reassembling and reconnecting' the mangled bodies of the dead

Ameera Abouromeleh, an 18-year-old Palestinian American who joined the protest with six members of her family — including her 74-year-old grandfather who she said was born in Jerusalem — said she looks forward to voting next year for the first time as a way to show solidarity with family who remain in the West Bank.

“I’m feeling really lucky to be 18 because this is when I can really make a change about what happens to my people and my land,” said the community college student from the East Bay Area. “Even though you squish someone under the rubble, our voices will be heard further.”

She said that in the presidential election she plans to vote for Cornel West, a progressive academic who is running as an independent. But she was unsure about whom she prefers in California's race for the U.S. Senate seat formerly held by the late Sen. Dianne Feinstein.

Democratic candidates in that race — including Reps. Katie Porter of Irvine, Adam B. Schiff of Burbank and Barbara Lee of Oakland — made the rounds at the convention Saturday seeking their party's endorsement. In preliminary results released Saturday night, none of the candidates earned the 60% support necessary to win the Party's endorsement.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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This story originally appeared in Los Angeles Times.