A supporter of a measure requiring Hayward to divest from four companies that do business with Israel speaks at a Hayward City Council meeting on Jan. 23, 2024. (Screenshot)
A supporter of a measure requiring Hayward to divest from four companies that do business with Israel speaks at a Hayward City Council meeting on Jan. 23, 2024. (Screenshot)

Hayward City Council’s vote to divest from Israel will have unintended consequences

As a teacher at a synagogue serving the Hayward area, I am disappointed by the Jan. 23 decision by the Hayward City Council to divest from four companies that do business in Israel.

There was no due diligence regarding this decision. The council did not put forth a principled policy to guide city investments. There is no clearly defined policy change goal. And there was no consideration of the unintended consequences for the Hayward Jewish community.

It is possible to create an approach to investment that reflects Hayward’s principles without targeting any group, and it is both sad and hurtful that the council chose to make a reactive decision without considering all the facts or taking steps to mitigate harm to Hayward residents.

The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel is considered antisemitic by most Jewish organizations because it does not target specific policies or advocate for specific changes, unlike the boycott movement against South Africa that reached its peak in the 1980s. Rather, BDS advocates simply for the abolition of Israel itself, while holding Israel’s actions as distinct and separate from any context.

This is evident with the companies they target — often simply corporations that happen to do business in Israel

Subjective decisions like this, not based on concrete policy goals, can inflict harm on members of communities who are connected to the issue at hand. In this case, Jews may be targeted because of policies targeting Israel. It is similar to what happened to Japanese Americans during WWII, to Arab Americans following 9/11 and to Asian Americans during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Now it is happening here. A Jewish business-owner in Hayward recently told me they received a threatening, antisemitic package at work. During the 2022-23 school year, a Hayward public school teacher used antisemitic material in class. And at city council meetings across the East Bay, demonstrators with an us-versus-them mindset bully those who ask for collaboration or compromise.

For me, however, the most compelling harm I see is fear and sadness in my religious school students’ eyes.

My students, including those who live in Hayward, ask me, “Why do they hate us so much?” and “When will it be over?” These kids, who aren’t even 10 years old yet, don’t know all the history and data. They know what they see and feel. And they feel terrified.

As an alternative, the Hayward City Council can establish a set of principles to guide its investments reflecting the city’s values. Here’s how:

Inclusively write a set of principles to guide investments. Apply these principles fairly and even-handedly to all countries and businesses.

Clearly articulate specific governmental or business policies that run counter to these principles and thus suggest a response by the city government.

Develop investing strategies to promote changing the offending policies and remove them once the policies do change. Target policies, never people.

Acknowledge that groups with connections to any targeted entity become targets themselves. Work with these groups to take proactive measures to mitigate any unintended consequences.

Such an approach would enable Hayward to follow its principles while demonstrating that the city values all who live here.

Recognizing that the council’s greatest influence is on life in Hayward, there are more beneficial actions it can take right now that would embody its values and provide leadership to a better future.

Jews, along with Muslims, Arab Americans and Palestinian Americans, are hurting. The Hayward City Council can immediately help in two ways.

The council can meet with organizations representing these groups, with Hayward businesses run by members of these groups and with other residents to understand what they are experiencing and collaboratively develop interventions to help.

It can also offer support to help these groups come together and start a healing process. An example would be offering a meeting space at the library for a joint learning or healing session.

I cannot say what the outcome will be, but I know we must start by taking steps together rather than being divided by the loudest voices who wish to continue the pattern of conflict.

These two actions would show that Hayward is a place that actively values its diverse citizens and works to create a community where all can live peacefully together. This is a vision the world needs today and one that Hayward could be a proud example of.

Jeremy Templeton
Jeremy Templeton

Jeremy Templeton is a teacher and trustee at Congregation Shir Ami in Castro Valley. He previously served as board president and security committee chair.