Blogging Bayport Alameda

February 1, 2018

Going along to get along

Filed under: Alameda — Lauren Do @ 6:01 am

Really well done piece on the scuffle over the proposal to create a Sister City relationship with a settlement in Palestine by Steven Tavares for the Alameda Magazine.

Side note: I’m really enjoying the reporting going on for the Alameda Magazine since Robert Gammon joined from the East Bay Express.  What used to be a nice, albeit a bit fluffy pretty magazine has produced a bunch of great in depth pieces on local Alameda politics.


The City Council meeting, as you can guess, did not go the way that other Sister City proposals would normally go.  This one had multiple speakers against the proposal and some very uncomfortable characterization of someone who is a respected faith leader in Alameda.

From the piece:

The controversy centers on a proposal for Alameda to create a sister-city relationship with the small Palestinian village of Wadi Foquin in the Israeli-occupied West Bank. The Alameda Sister Cities Association, which is the local chapter of an international organization, recommended that the Alameda City Council adopt a sister-city relationship with Wadi Foquin last year. The association maintains that the proposal was not intended to be political, but at a December council meeting, councilmembers decided to table the plan after it engendered a backlash.

The council appeared to be particularly concerned about a strongly worded letter emailed to the city by the Israeli Consulate in San Francisco. The consulate dispatched the letter after Mayor Trish Spencer had notified the consulate about the sister-city plan. The consulate’s letter questioned the legality of a sister-city relationship in light of 2016 state law that prohibits boycotts of Israel. (Spencer declined to comment about why she decided to notify the Israeli Consulate about the proposal.)

It’s notable that Trish Spencer, who will comment about everything and anything, did not want to say why she alerted the Israeli Consulate about this issue.  I will say that there’s been a bit of a pattern of Trish Spencer attempting to throw wrenches into the operations of Alamedans that she perceives as being not 100% supportive of Trish Spencer.  I’ll expand on this in a future post with an example from the last City Council meeting.


Karen Fong, president of the Alameda Sister Cities Association, said the Israeli Consulate’s assertions that the proposal is overtly political is “off-base.” “All this issue does is bring to light the reasons why we should be doing it,” said Fong. “We have cultural differences and religious beliefs that need to be understood so we can just get along.”

Yoshii argued that the deputy consul-general’s letter unfairly blurred his role as pastor of the church and his involvement in the sister-city movement. (In addition to being pastor of the Buena Vista United Methodist Church, Yoshii is chair of the sister city committee for Wadi Foquin and co-chair of Friends of Wadi Foquin.) “Obviously, the consulate general is targeting me because I’ve been involved with BDS, making an indirect charge and conflating BDS with this situation. This has nothing to do with BDS. It’s about human rights. Furthermore, there’s no contract involved in this proposal,” said Yoshii.

Without a doubt, the spotlight on Yoshii’s past activism upset him and his followers who huddled outside Alameda City Hall for nearly an hour after the city council on Dec. 5 decided to table the sister-city item. “We make no apologies for our political advocacy,” said Yoshii.

One I will point out that the ACLU recently sued the State of Kansas over its anti-BDS law on behalf of a public school teacher and a judge temporarily suspended the law.  It’s not immediately clear how different or similar California’s law and what effect the ruling will have on other states with anti-BDS laws.

I do think that the proposal to seek simultaneous sister city agreements with communities in both Israel and Palestine would be good compromise in keeping with the spirit of the whole Sister City initiative.


  1. The association maintains that the proposal was not intended to be political


    They wade into one of the most tensely charged political issues on the planet and then say it wasn’t intended to be political? People regularly die over this issue and it’s never far from the headlines. If they are telling the truth — and their claim strains credulity — then they are quite naive & uninformed.

    That’s not to say it’s a bad idea. Cultural connections can help build bridges and foster the kind of trust that brings peace, albeit slowly. But to say they’re shocked, shocked! that it turned political is a difficult statement to believe.

    Comment by dave — February 1, 2018 @ 6:17 am

    • The association’s claim that it was not intended to be political must also be evaluated in light of Rev. Yoshi’s statement that, “It’s about human rights”.

      What are the overall costs (fisc and staff time)/benefits of the sister city program. How many sister cities do we plan on collecting? If our small city has many, does each one mean less?

      Comment by MP — February 1, 2018 @ 7:38 am

      • I believe the Sister City Association does — mostly — everything under its non profit status. The City of Alameda gets involved when it’s time to do the ceremonial stuff like actually approve the relationship or shake hands and take photo ops. This is the first time I can recall that the City Attorney’s office has had to do anything with regard to the Sister City-ship because of said controversy above.

        I think that all Sister City relationships can be evaluated on the worst takes based on the political issues, but typically we haven’t done that. We went ahead and established a Sister City relationship with a town in the Philippines even though there’s a major issue with the Filipino government and the extra judicial killings of suspected undesirables condoned at the highest level of the government. We have an existing “Friendship City” in China and the human rights issues in China are too numerous to list.

        Anyway. That was a long way of saying: if having a Palestine settlement is too “political’ on its own, we should take the compromise of doing both an Israeli and Palestinian sister city because no country is perfect and if we were to use that to measure cultural and educational exchange value, no country would measure up.

        Comment by Lauren Do — February 1, 2018 @ 9:12 am

        • I don’t mean to comment on the merits of any particular agreement. But, as you point out, several of them seem to raise issues proper for consideration by a mini-State Department. We can walk and chew gum and all that, but it is frequently complained of that we seem to be walking and chewing gum well past midnight every other Tuesday.

          Comment by MP — February 1, 2018 @ 9:21 am

      • Edited to add: humanitarian efforts aka “it’s about human rights” is one of the listed activities and evaluation criteria for Sister City relationships.

        Comment by Lauren Do — February 1, 2018 @ 9:14 am

        • Human rights are not an improper consideration.The point is that it seems to be a (quintessential) political consideration and that it is puzzling why the association (according to the in depth reporting) would maintain that it was not political. Maybe they went on to qualify the statement (as Yoshii seems to) but it didn’t make it into the piece.

          Comment by MP — February 1, 2018 @ 9:39 am

        • I believe Council passed a resolution on criteria for sister cities last year. From my memory of the criteria Wadi Foquin does not meet the criteria.

          Comment by Eyeroll — February 1, 2018 @ 9:39 am

        • Here’s the resolution with the guidelines. It’s pretty general and vague, I think you could probably shoehorn a lot into those guidelines.

          Comment by Lauren Do — February 1, 2018 @ 10:20 am

      • Rev. Yoshii’s comment about human rights is with reference to BDS and not any sister city efforts.

        The overall costs are very minimal to the city and will diminish as we proceed. ASCA works with staff to ease their workload and each committee raises funds to almost fully fund our efforts.
        We don’t plan on just collecting sister cities. Our criteria is set so that we have active functioning committees that will function together to bridge cultural, educational and economic gaps that will lead to understanding, tolerance and acceptance.

        Comment by Karen Fong — February 2, 2018 @ 5:16 am

        • I’m confused then because Rev. Yoshii did not seem to be saying that, but rather the exact opposite. The quote from Rev. Yoshii from the excerpt above: “….This [the Sister City proposal] has nothing to do with BDS. It’s about human rights….” Am I misinterpreting this ?

          Comment by MP — February 2, 2018 @ 7:44 am

    • Yes, Alameda Sister City Association (ASCA) maintains that all of our sister city endeavors remain non-political. We are not naive and we are quite informed and we weighed our decision to move forward carefully. It was apparent to us that all of our concerns and all of the potential opposition is exactly why we needed to move forward with a Palestinian sister city. We are more disappointed than shocked as to how far some have gone to oppose a sister city of 1200 people. Shocked would be to describe the personal attacks on the ASCA committee chairperson. Michael Yoshii is a respect member of Alameda’s community and is more than able to function in multiple roles without crossing the line. The things that have been said about him are not relevant to this sister city proposal as he reports to the ASCA Board of Directors and we take the responsibility of overseeing all sister city endorsed functions remain non-political.
      “Cultural connections can help build bridges and foster the kind of trust that brings peace, albeit slowly.” Thank you and please write to your council members to move this forward!

      Comment by Karen Fong — February 2, 2018 @ 4:57 am

  2. Thank you Mayor Spencer for doing the responsible thing and shedding light on this issue. Wadi Foquin is currently in a dispute with Israeli settlers and is the focal point of security checkpoints to keep Israeli citizens safe from terrorist attacks. United Methodists have helped this village of 1500 with installing beekeeping and honey production and publicizing their land dispute. Clearly this is a political issue and Alameda should steer as far away as possible.

    Comment by Nowyouknow — February 1, 2018 @ 6:55 am

    • Those settlers are there illegally to begin with. The “dispute” should start and end there.

      Comment by kurt — February 3, 2018 @ 1:35 pm

  3. Forgive my ignorance, but I don’t know what BDS is. Enlighten, please?

    Comment by abronto4900 — February 1, 2018 @ 7:47 am

  4. Oy vey

    Comment by Rod — February 1, 2018 @ 8:46 am

  5. Sheesh. Why can’t we have a Sister City in a country like, I dunno, Norway? Everybody likes Norway, don’t they?

    Comment by Not. A. Alamedan — February 1, 2018 @ 9:25 am

    • We have one already in Sweden. Lidingo. Don’t know why we need so many more.

      Comment by vigi — February 1, 2018 @ 11:46 am

  6. The issue here is human rights. The Israeli government is stealing water from the Palestinians.

    Boycott. Divest. Sanction.

    Comment by Gerard L. — February 1, 2018 @ 9:34 am

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