Pro-divestment poster, courtesy of US Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel

The controversy over relations between Israel and Palestine has been wreaking havoc in the halls of UC Berkeley in recent weeks.

On March 18, after an emotional four-hour session with 80 speakers, the Associated Students of the University of California, the ruling body of Cal, voted 16-4 to divest from stocks that do business in Israel.

The Senate’s resolution criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and its continued building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It called for all student-controlled funds to be divested from General Electric and United Technologies, two US companies that supply military equipment and other products to Israel.

Just a few days later, the president of ASUC vetoed the resolution, calling it ill considered.

Now the student Senate is expected to consider overriding the veto on March 31, and there is a good chance the attempt will succeed. It only takes 14 votes to override a presidential veto and there were 16 votes in favor of divestment the first time around.

The bill and vote have drawn considerable attention, in blogs and in Jewish newspapers around the country and in Israel. An article in the Daily Californian drew 367 comments.

The original wording of the bill compared Israel to South Africa and described its policies as “apartheid.” That word was stripped from the final version. Supporters of the bill also tried to broaden it by promising to condemn other countries for war crimes after doing a little more research to discover which countries those may be. This expansion of the targets of the bill prompted two of the ASUC’s Jewish senators to vote in its favor.

The Senate is also calling on the university to divest, although it has no influence over the university’s investment policy. However, in 1986, ASUC divested from companies doing business in South Africa and the university eventually divested $3.1 billion, according to the Daily Californian.

UC Berkeley has been the site of numerous clashes between pro-Israelis and pro-Palestinians. In April 2002, members of Students for Justice in Palestine occupied a building on campus where 600 students were taking midterms. Almost 80 people were arrested. In November 2008, Tikvah: Jewish Students for Israel interrupted a panel at Boalt Hall that was discussing Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza.

Frances Dinkelspiel

Frances Dinkelspiel (co-founder) is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California,...

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  1. A state that favours a group based on religion/ethnicity is just not acceptable.

    Yet this is the rule, not the exception in the world

    From reading anti-Israel screeds, one would never know that these preferences are quite common in the world today. The legal term for this right is lex sanguinis. Countries that provide such preferences include Armenia , China, Finland, Germany, Greece, Hungary, India, Ireland, Italy, Japan, Poland, Romania, Russia and Spain. That covers a pretty fair-sized chunk of the world’s population right there.

    When I was in t he peace corp, the tiny Island I lived in prohibited non-natives from owning land, as did all the surrounding islands.

    In Jordan, btw, Jews are prohibited from owning land. And in Saudi Arabia, Jews are prohibited from even setting foot on their soil.

  2. Ron –

    Is it perfect in Israel or always entirely fair? No. Do I like that? No. But it is a democracy and it is not apartheid. If the students want to divest, they can start with one of the many countries where the government has a policy of salughtering innocent civilians or doesn’t allow all its citizens to vote. It can start with one of the nations that kills people for “sorcery” or for being gay. These things don’t describe Israel.

  3. Susan Barnes obviously has not heard of the Jewish nationality law that “entitles persons of Jewish race to superior rights and privileges, particularly in land use, housing development, immigration and access to natural resources (such as water ) and also describes the indigenous inhabitants of the Occupied Palestinian Territories as ”alien persons” and thus prohibited from building on or renting large portions of land designated by the Government of Israel as State land”

  4. Israel is a democracy. In Isreal non-Jews can, and do, serve in the Knesset (the Israeli version of Congress). Non-Jews can, and do, hold high offices in the government and in private industry. Non-Jews can, and do, own property and get a fair shake in the justice system. This includes Christians, Muslims, Druze, etc., as well as Jews. It is not like South Africa was at all.

  5. A basic question which none of the news reports have addressed substantively is whether the funds in ASUC’s budget (which appears to be about 1.6 million dollars per annum — —

    includes any stock portfolios or any other investments of any kind (let alone in GE or United Technologies). Assuming the answer to this basic question is “no,” then we establish that this measure is, in fact, purely symbolic in force and is only meant to blacklist one nation on earth as the most worthy of condemnation and exclusion from the family of nations. There is a long and ugly history of singling out the “Nation of Israel” for special scorn and condemnation. It used to be called “anti-Semitism.”

    For a thoughtful perspective on the dark implications of this bill, see this commentary in today’s Daily Cal by a UC Berkeley professor:

    As the article concludes:

    The veto by the ASUC President Will Smelko should stand and the university should take concrete steps to create a more hospitable campus environment for supporters of Israel, making it clear that democracy trumps dictatorship, that divestment harms the weak more than the powerful, that public deliberations must be fair, that dialogue overcomes divisiveness, that we do not ridicule one another at UC Berkeley, that no hate will be tolerated here, none.

  6. Question: What exactly does it mean that an article got 367 comments? Is that a lot? A little? How about compared to readership?

    Non sequitur.

  7. Israel is NOT a democracy more than South Africa was one. A state that favours a group based on religion/ethnicity is just not acceptable. It is wrong when Iraq did it (Sunni/Shia). It is wrong when America+South Africa did it (Black/White). And it is wrong when Israel does it (Jew/Goy). It is about time the world accepts the Holocaust for the terrible tragedy it is and separate it from the crimes done in its name today.

  8. The notion of “occupying a building on campus” and thus disrupting ANYTHING is a joke, and any tolerance of same is another joke. Civil unrest due to perceived injustice is understandable, and even noble, but at a college campus, where mommy and daddy have paid for their kids to receive an education–well, it just isn’t the time and place for it. There indeed ARE times and places for that action, but first and foremost, you have no RIGHT to be there in the first place, only privilege. I suppose, and I think this fair, I suppose if you are willing to suffer expulsion, your cause so noble, you should go ahead, and the school likewise should go ahead and throw your hind end out of the school. Fair enough, but I somehow doubt that is what you have in mind. More like continue with full privileges, while denying those same things to the other students who want an education, and recognize it has been paid for.

  9. As a Berkeley grad, it was a sad day for me when the students passed this shameful resolution. I am proud of, and grateful for the ASUC president who had the courage to veto it. I hope facts and reason will overcome hateful propaganda so enough students change their position for the veto to stand

    As the only democracy in the Middle East, and the only country I’ve ever heard of that goes to such enormous lengths to avoid civilian casualties, including advance phone calls and leaflets, Israel deserves our support, not our condemnation.