The seacoast communities of Durham and Portsmouth, both known for progressive politics, are scheduled to vote on resolutions Monday night calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Hamas war currently raging in Gaza. The issue has divided Granite State politics, inspired anti-Israel protests at the University of New Hampshire, and has even led to property damage and arrests.

Why, critics ask, are local officials wading into this divisive issue involving events some 6,000 miles away?

Portsmouth City Councilor Kate Cook, who teamed up with Councilor Josh Denton to bring the resolution, told SeacoastOnline it has nothing to do with foreign policy.

“The goal really is to think about our residents and community here in Portsmouth,” Cook said, providing a “safe space in Portsmouth so they can feel like they can heal from the trauma.”

“I feel like that is the role of the City Council,” Cook added.

The two resolutions are very similar, calling on President Joe Biden and the state’s federal delegation to “pursue the safe release of all hostages, pursue the provision of humanitarian aid to civilians in Gaza, and pursue a durable bilateral ceasefire among the parties to the conflict in Gaza and Israel.”

Neither mentions Hamas’s role in starting the war with the Oct. 7 attack on Israeli civilians, killing 1,200 and injuring some 4,800 more. The attack also involved both widespread hostage taking and the use of rape as a weapon of war.

Portsmouth City Councilor Josh Denton

Denton, who is Jewish, told SeacoastOnline he thought Israel’s response to the attack was “disproportional.”

“On more than one occasion they have dropped 2,000-pound bunker busters on refugee camps,” Denton claimed. “Tensions have been high in the region for decades.”

Tensions are high in New Hampshire as well.

In Merrimack, out-of-state protesters threw paint, broke windows, and ignited incendiary devices at the Elbit Systems facility, which is owned by an Israeli defense contractor. Three of the people arrested were indicted by a grand jury last week on felony charges of riot, burglary and criminal mischief.

Last week, someone threw paint at representatives of BAE during a UNH campus job fair. The motive is believed to have been protesting U.S. military aid to Israel, though the suspect has not been found.

UNH has also been the site of multiple pro-Palestinian protests featuring the antisemitic chant, “From the river to the sea, Palestine shall be free.”

And a push to get Manchester to vote on a ceasefire resolution led to loud, angry protests and a shutdown of the most recent Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting. Mayor Jay Ruais and several aldermen said afterward the issue wasn’t germane to the governance of the Queen City and would not be taken up.

Jason Grosky is chair of the Rockingham County GOP, which includes the city of Portsmouth.

“Any city councilor worth his or her salt in any city in this state should say up front that a resolution like this has nothing to do with good governance of our community, that we have enough important issues to address and this is a distraction,” Grosky told NHJournal.

“As for a ceasefire resolution, I hope somebody reminds these city councilors that there was a long-standing ceasefire in effect on Oct. 6 — right up until the Hamas terrorists broke it. People who want a ceasefire should demand Hamas hand over all the hostages and surrender. That’s how you get a successful ceasefire.”

Tracy Richmond, chair of the Jewish Federation of New Hampshire, told NHJournal her organization “is always available to meet with leaders in any community looking to provide support for its citizens and have constructive conversations about how to bring our local communities together.

“We know there are people all over our state that are in pain as a result of this conflict. We don’t agree that local town politicians should be creating resolutions on international matters but as the only statewide Jewish organization in New Hampshire we are dedicated to supporting the members of all communities here at home.”

Last week another deep-blue community, Lebanon, N.H. voted to have the city’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Committee draft a ceasefire resolution. The vote was 4-0, but with three abstentions. One of those abstaining was Karen Liot Hill, a Democratic candidate for state Executive Council.

The author of the Durham Town Council resolution is Town Administrator Todd Selig. His resolution declares, “The Town of Durham encourages open and respectful dialogue within our community, promoting an atmosphere of peace, empathy, and mutual respect, while recognizing the varied and deeply personal connections many residents have to the Israel-Gaza conflict.”

The word “Hamas” does not appear anywhere in the document. Nor does it condemn protests featuring the “river to the sea” chant on the UNH campus, which the council represents.

Selig admitted to SeacoastOnline that “the council and the town doesn’t typically weigh in on international and national issues.”

“In many respects, it’s beyond what we can impact,” Selig added.