"Instead of passing a symbolic resolution, let’s do something … that will actually have a material impact on those profiting from the apartheid in Gaza," said council member George Syrop during a Jan. 23 Hayward City Council meeting. (Screenshot)
"Instead of passing a symbolic resolution, let’s do something … that will actually have a material impact on those profiting from the apartheid in Gaza," said council member George Syrop during a Jan. 23 Hayward City Council meeting. (Screenshot)

Hayward council votes to divest from ‘top priority targets’ of BDS movement

Updated Feb. 6 at 10:15 a.m.

The Hayward City Council has voted to unwind municipal investments in four Israel-linked companies as an act of protest against the military campaign in Gaza.

The four companies were chosen from the boycott, divestment and sanction movement’s list of “top priority boycott targets” for their ties to the Jewish state. None of the companies is based in Israel. Intel, Chevron and Caterpillar are U.S. companies. Hyundai is South Korean.

Hayward’s decision represents a significant, tangible act of protest against Israel — one that contrasts with statements of support for a cease-fire that have proliferated in city councils across the Bay Area since the Israel-Hamas war began on Oct.7.

The vote came after Hayward had declined to take up a cease-fire resolution, despite pressure from the Hayward Community Coalition and other vocal pro-Palestinian activists who have been attending city council meetings. In 1977, the city adopted a rule prohibiting the council from taking positions on international affairs.

The measure, which passed Jan. 23 on a 4-3 vote, came after scores of activists delivered public comments at the meeting. The Hayward Community Coalition did not respond to J.’s request for comment.

Israel’s regional consulate, which is based in San Francisco, strongly criticized the decision.

It will have “zero effect on what’s happening on the ground,” Matan Zamir, deputy consul general, told J. on Monday in a phone interview. “It will only create more tension on the ground here, with the Jewish community in the city, with Jewish and Israeli businesses, with kids going to school, between parents, and between neighbors.”

Hayward’s city manager had recommended against the decision, saying more time was needed to work out its financial impacts. But George Syrop, the councilmember who spearheaded the effort, said he wanted the body to act.

“Instead of passing a symbolic resolution, let’s do something we can control … that will actually have a material impact on those profiting from the apartheid in Gaza,” he said from the dais to cheers of approval.

Syrop delivered a stark speech in support of the action, which amended the city’s investment strategy to divest $1.6 million from the four companies.

Referencing the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and the anti-apartheid movement in South Africa, he said the U.S. is “financing a genocide” against Palestinians similar to the one suffered by Native Americans.

Israel vehemently rejects allegations of genocide, arguing that it is waging a defensive war to destroy Hamas after the unprecedented attack that killed 1,200 people, mostly civilians, on Oct. 7. Israel also rejects allegations of apartheid as anti-Zionist propaganda.

Syrop linked U.S. support for Israel with financial woes faced by city schools and hospitals. “It’s all connected,” he said.

“Every bomb dropped could be a teacher’s salary,” he said. “Half of our taxes are being spent on a war, while we sit up here and have to wrestle over the crumbs.”

He added: “They’re messing with our city. They’re messing with our people. They’re stealing from us. And if we don’t do anything about it, if we don’t say anything about it, while they do it to us, who is supposed to?”

It was unclear who Syrop meant by “they.” He did not respond to J.’s request for an interview.

The vote came after public speakers, many wearing kaffiyehs and waving Palestinian flags, addressed the council for more than an hour in support of the measure.

A supporter of the measure addresses the Hayward City Council at the Jan. 23 meeting. (Screenshot)
A supporter of the measure addresses the Hayward City Council at the Jan. 23 meeting. (Screenshot)

Audience members were passionate, shouting approval at councilmembers like Syrop and others who supported the motion and angrily condemning those who didn’t.

“We charge you with genocide!” one person shouted at councilmember Ray Bonilla Jr. while he spoke. Bonilla said he voted against the motion because he hadn’t been presented with enough information to make an informed decision about the city’s financial portfolio.

Mayor Mark Salinas, who sits on the council, also voted against it.

The measure came amid considerable confusion and wasn’t considered in the city’s budget and finance committee, Salinas told J. in a phone interview. Syrop, for example, said the motion targeted “stocks” held by the city. However, the city does not hold stocks. It holds corporate bonds, which are investments that come with periodic interest payments and full repayment on maturity, similar to government bonds.

Salinas added that he didn’t have much knowledge about why the companies were chosen.

“To be honest with you, I had no knowledge of the BDS website,” he said. “We had no knowledge of what this website was advocating. We had no knowledge of that.”

He noted that the number of companies suggested by Syrop had also changed.

“Syrop had asked for — the first list was — I don’t know, 17? Or 14?” he said. “And then there was another random number of, he said, seven. And then there was another number of four. He was randomly choosing the number of companies just out of thin air.”

On Jan. 24, the city’s budget and finance director called Hayward’s investment portfolio manager and told them to withdraw the city’s interests in investments tied to the four companies, the mayor said.

The councilmembers who voted in favor of the motion said they wanted to send a message.

“Our vote is a shot across the bow to change course urgently,” councilmember Daniel Goldstein said in an email to J.

Goldstein, who has a Jewish background but is a practicing Evangelical Christian, said that his mother was born in Tel Aviv prior to the establishment of the state and that he has cousins who live in Israel.

“I believe in Israel’s right to exist and in her right to self-defense,” he wrote, adding, “I’ve always held that ‘Never Again’ and ‘Never Forget’ are a call to humanity to protect the innocent — whoever and wherever they may be.”

Councilmember Francisco Zermeño said in an email to J. that he hopes the city can influence Israel’s decision-making.

“My vote was an attempt to try to lessen the violence there and have Israel rethink a bit how it is going after Hamas in defense of their country; namely, no collateral damage,” he said.

The BDS movement, which long predates the Israel-Hamas war, is a highly divisive tactic used against Israel. The Anti-Defamation League describes BDS as an “international campaign aimed at delegitimizing and pressuring Israel, through the diplomatic, financial, professional, academic and cultural isolation of Israel, Israeli individuals, Israeli institutions, and, increasingly, Jews who support Israel’s right to exist.”

This story was updated to reflect the fact that Daniel Goldstein is a practicing Evangelical Christian.

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.