November 20, 2019

Berkeley students vote to divest from Israel latest in a UC string

UC Berkeley student senators approved a bill on Thursday calling for the University of California system to divest of stock in American companies that provide technological and weapon support used by the Israeli military in the Palestinian territories.

After an emotional all-night debate involving hundreds of students, faculty, and community members, the pro-divestment bill passed by an 11-9 vote.

The Berkeley vote was the latest in a resurgence of the Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement, which appears to be a new rite of spring on UC and other college campuses across the country, but with different outcomes.

One week earlier, the student senate at UC Santa Barbara rejected a similar resolution, which charged that U.S. companies were profiting from the illegal occupation of Palestine,” by a 11-10 margin, with one abstention.

In the checkered history of the BDS campus movement, Berkeley students earlier passed a divestment resolution in 2010, which was subsequently vetoed by the senate president.

Divestment bills have won on the UC San Diego and Irvine campuses, as well as at UC Riverside, but the UCR decision was recently rescinded in a second vote.

According to a report in The Daily Californian, the Berkeley campus paper, the 10-hour debate on Senate Bill 160, which called the UC system a “complicit third party in Israel’s illegal occupation and human rights abuses,” was marked by emotional arguments on both sides.

Kamyar Jarahzadeh, a third-year student, reportedly declared that “There are few experiences more traumatic than losing your home or being forced out of the place you call home. This university’s money — our money — is complicit in the deprivation of human rights.”

On the other side, opponents of divestment recalled the hostile campus climate Jewish students faced in the earlier divestment attempt. “Many said they felt alienated and unwelcome and warned that passage of SB 160 could affect Jewish students’ decision to come to UC Berkeley,” The Daily California reported.

Striking a middle note, Jason Bellet, a student senator, is quoted, “If we walk away with anything tonight, it’s that the conflict is nuanced…but divestment and the language set forth frames Israel as the sole aggressor. This is more than just divesting from three companies. Divestment is undoubtedly taking a side in the conflict.”

While important as indicators of campus political sentiments, the divestments bills have no concrete impact. UC’s governing Board of Regents decided in 2010 that the university would divest from American companies doing business with a foreign government only if that regime was committing acts of genocide. The U.S. State Department has never issued such a declaration about Israel.