UC Berkeley votes to divest from Israel’s occupation

ASUC Senate passes divestment bill SB 160 11-9

By Jeremy Gordon | The Daily Californian | 18 avril 2013 |

In a dramatic vote that was emotional for all sides, the ASUC Senate voted 11-9 to divest from companies affiliated with Israel’s military early Thursday morning.

The heated debate began Wednesday evening and carried on for 10 hours, continuing into Thursday. Anna Head Alumnae Hall overflowed with hundreds of UC Berkeley students, faculty and community members engaging in a contentious debate regarding the bill, SB 160.

SB 160, authored by Student Action Senator George Kadifa, calls the UC system a “complicit third party” in Israel’s “illegal occupation and ensuing human rights abuses” and seeks the divestment of more than $14 million in ASUC and UC assets from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Cement Roadstone Holdings. According to the bill, these companies provide equipment, materials and technology to the Israeli military, including bulldozers and biometric identification systems.

The final vote, which occurred just before 5:30 a.m., was met with cheering, stomping and cries of joy by supporters of the bill.

Independent Senator and bill co-sponsor Sadia Saifuddin said she saw the vote as the culmination of years of struggle.

“Tonight is not about corporations,” she said. “It’s about asking ourselves before we go to sleep whether our money is going toward the destruction of homes, toward the erection of a wall. I am a working student. And I don’t want one cent of my money to go toward fueling the occupation of my brothers and sisters.”

But across the aisle, opponents of divestment were silent, absorbing the defeat with dismay.

SQUELCH! Senator Jason Bellet decried the bill for ignoring an important side in the issue.

“If we walk away with anything tonight, it’s that this conflict is nuanced,” he said. “But divestment and the language set forth in SB 160 frames Israel as the sole aggressor. This is more than just divesting from three companies. Divestment is undoubtedly taking a side in the conflict.”

The vote was emotional for senators as well as spectators. At least three senators broke down in tears as they gave their final comments following the vote.

Dozens of community members spoke at the beginning of the meeting, pleading their cases to the senate late into the night.

Supporters of the divestment bill — which included Muslim and Jewish students alike as well as members of other campus communities — said they opposed the ASUC and university’s financial involvement with companies that benefit from alleged human rights violations perpetrated by the Israeli government.

“There are few experiences more traumatic than losing your home or being forced out of the place you call home,” said UC Berkeley junior Kamyar Jarahzadeh. “This university’s money — our money — is complicit in the deprivation of human rights.”

Pulitzer Prize-winning author Alice Walker, who said she had visited the Gaza Strip, was present at the meeting and publicly voiced her support for SB 160.

The senate was also set to vote on an opposing bill, SB 158, but the bill was tabled following the long discussion of SB 160. SB 158 “seek(s) investment opportunities that strengthen Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in pursuit of a two state resolution to the conflict” rather than divestment.

Many members of the Jewish community decried SB 160’s targeted divestment from Israel as choosing one side of the conflict at the expense of the other when suffering has occurred on both.

“Divestment does nothing to better the lives of Palestinians,” said political science professor Ron Hassner. “It seeks to undermine, harm and destroy and offers no vision of an Israeli-Palestinian future.”

Opponents of divestment also reminded the senate of the hostile campus climate Jewish students faced after the 2010 divestment attempt. Many said they felt alienated and unwelcome and warned that the passage of SB 160 could affect Jewish students’ decision to come to UC Berkeley.

“We will take home that an amendment asking for a two-state solution was failed,” said SQUELCH! party chair and former Daily Cal columnist Noah Ickowitz. “We will take home that an amendment asking for recognition of Israel as a Jewish state was failed. We will take home that this body takes divestment as a weapon of choice when that is not the only weapon in our arsenal.”

The senate passed a similar divestment bill in 2010, but it was later vetoed by then-president Will Smelko.

Contact Jeremy Gordon at jgordon@dailycal.org.

Berkeley SJP – 2013 Divestment Bill