Richmond becomes 2nd US city to divest from Israel after Hayward

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Thursday, May 2, 2024
Richmond becomes 2nd US city to divest from Israel
In a 5-to-1 vote, Richmond's city council voted to divest from companies doing business in Israel. It's the second U.S. city to do so, after Hayward.

RICHMOND, Calif. (KGO) -- In a 5-to-1 vote, Richmond's city council voted to divest from companies doing business in Israel. It's the second U.S. city to do so, after Hayward.

"One thing we can do actively, is divestment. And thanks to the student movement, they brought it out to our attention again. It was the right time," says Richmond City Councilmember Soheila Bana, who co-authored the resolution.

Bana says Richmond has a pool of roughly $600 million to invest. But just a small percentage, around 7%, is likely invested in portfolios that hold companies the city will divest from.

Defense contractors and arms manufacturers like Lockheed Martin, are obvious examples. But companies like Microsoft and Airbnb are also on the list.

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"They have properties in the occupied region and advertise it as Israel. So, that is why they are on the list," Bana said.

"Settlements on Palestinian territory are illegal. It is not, at least under international law, allowed. Nonetheless, Airbnb hosts a lot of properties that are on illegally occupied land," said Shiva Mishek, chief of staff to Mayor Eduardo Martinez. She gave a detailed explanation of the legislation at Tuesday's city council meeting.

The resolution reads: "This restriction it is the city policy not to invest in a predetermined list of companies and their subsidiaries that are involved in Israel's violation of Palestinian rights."

But it also targets companies involved in exploiting prison labor, mass surveillance and issues at the border.

MORE: Netanyahu vows to invade Rafah 'with or without a deal' as cease-fire talks with Hamas continue

Israeli peace activist Dr. Dov Baum spoke at the city council meeting. She called the vote "historic" because it expands the debate on where and how American tax dollars are being spent.

"This is what it took. The genocide in Gaza is what it took to for people of conscious here in the U.S. to start moving money away from Israeli apartheid, occupation and genocide," said Baum, who is Jewish.

"Right now, for the Israeli genocide happening in Gaza, in fact, direct support of the U.S. sending more and more billions of dollars in weapons to Israel enables these crimes. And actually takes away from our ability to live, or to even imagine future of living in peace with Palestinians," she added.

Bana says Richmond faced legal challenges after becoming the first U.S. city to pass a Gaza ceasefire resolution. City councilmembers emails were subpoenaed. And she says she still faces personal threats.

MORE: Chants of 'shame on you' greet guests at White House correspondents' dinner shadowed by war in Gaza

But California has laws against the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, or BDS, against Israel. Bana says the Richmond resolution was written with future legal challenges in mind.

"There is nothing antisemitic about respecting human right of everyone," Bana said. "It is a constitutional right to go for divestment. And we added specific language (so) that this is not discriminatory."

Professor Emeritus George Bisharat at the UC College of the Law San Francisco, says these kinds of local resolutions matter even more in an election year, where voter sentiment doesn't align with White House policy.

"I think that President Biden is seriously jeopardizing his chances at reelection, but especially in swing states like Michigan, Wisconsin and Pennsylvania," says Bisharat. "And so statements like this from local level governments percolate upward and are heard in Washington D.C., and hopefully will have an impact on policy."

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