Skip to main content

'Historic decision': Hamtramck becomes first US city to boycott Israel

The Michigan city pledged to refrain from purchasing goods and services from any companies targeted by BDS campaign
Protesters hold a banner in Madrid reading 'BDS' (Boycott, Disinvestment, Sanctions) during a rally in support of Palestinians in Gaza, on 1 March 2024 (Thomas Coex/AFP)

The city of Hamtramck, on the outskirts of Detroit, Michigan, passed a Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) resolution on Tuesday, becoming the first US city to fully support a boycott campaign in support of Palestinian rights.

The resolution says that Hamtramck "shall make all best efforts to refrain from purchasing goods and services from any vendor that is the target of a BDS campaign", as well as refrain from investment in the Israeli state as well as "Israeli companies that sustain Israeli apartheid".  

It further encourages residents to participate in the boycott and supports student activism on college campuses, and emphasises that support for BDS is not antisemitic since many prominent BDS proponents are Jewish themselves. 

The Palestinian-led BDS movement is a non-violent initiative that seeks to challenge Israel's occupation and abuses of Palestinian human rights through economic, cultural and academic boycotts, similar to the boycott campaigns of apartheid South Africa.

In a recorded meeting of Hamtramck's city council from Tuesday night, the city council members declared that the decision to endorse BDS has been taken to "send a significant message of support for the Palestinian people and their efforts to end the Israeli occupation of their indigenous lands".

Stay informed with MEE's newsletters

Sign up to get the latest alerts, insights and analysis, starting with Turkey Unpacked


"We need every angle we can take to help the Palestinians out," a city council member said, adding that "we clearly need to boycott using their products and we cannot have our taxpayer money used to kill people".

As of 2013, Hamtramck is the only Muslim-majority city in the United States with an activist track record.

'We cannot have our tax payer money used to kill people'

- Hamtramck City Council member 

In February this year, the Hamtramck City Council passed "Move the Money" Resolution 2024-22, calling on Congress and the president to shift significant funds from the military budget toward funding essential social services programmes. 

In October last year, the city council called for a ceasefire and renamed one of its main streets "Palestine Avenue", as part of a symbolic display of solidarity with Palestinians in Gaza. 

Another city council member present at Tuesday's meeting spoke of the "historic decision that is about to be taken".

"Apparently, most of the American people are against the war but our government of course does not listen to the concern of the people," Hamtramck's mayor, Amer Ghalib, said. 

Several polls have shown that the majority of Americans support a ceasefire in Gaza.

Local government's role in BDS

Two Californian cities, Hayward and Richmond, have both voted to divest from companies doing business in Israel. Their resolutions, passed in January and May this year, however, target specific companies to boycott, while Hamtramck’s resolution supports the entire BDS movement.

Richmond city council member Soheila Bana, who co-authored the resolution, thanked the student movement, saying that it was the students that brought to our attention that "one thing we can do actively, is divestment". 

The BDS movement began in 2005 with the mission to "end international support for Israel's oppression of Palestinians and pressure Israel to comply with international law", its mission statement reads.

"Apparently most of  the American people are against the war but our government of course does not listen to the concern of the people"

- Amer Ghalib, Hamtramck Mayor 

Under this aim, local government bodies such as municipal and regional councils play a key role, since these often "have relationships with companies and institutions that help Israel to oppress Palestinians", BDS further specifies.

In 2018, the Irish capital of Dublin became the first European capital to endorse the BDS movement for Palestinian rights and called for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador to Ireland. 

A range of European cities have made similar moves, signalling support for BDS.

In September, Barcelona cancelled its twin cities agreement with Tel Aviv, although the decision was later reversed when then-mayor Ada Colau lost the election. 

In April 2023, Norway's capital Oslo announced that it would not trade in goods and services produced in areas that are illegally occupied in violation of international law, such as the occupied territories in the Golan Heights and the West Bank, including East Jerusalem.

Companies that directly or indirectly contribute to Israel’s illegal settlement enterprise will be excluded by the city's procurement policy, Oslo's city council decided. 

Ireland, Norway and Spain have all since recognised a Palestinian state. 

Middle East Eye delivers independent and unrivalled coverage and analysis of the Middle East, North Africa and beyond. To learn more about republishing this content and the associated fees, please fill out this form. More about MEE can be found here.