Here’s an update to the Boycott U.C. Berkeley Article that I wrote last week after the disappointing vote by the ASUC (11-9) to adopt Senate Bill 160 which actively asks for divestment by the University of California from a few companies that are doing business with Israel.
Like many people I was and remain very disappointed in this issue. Since that first article, I actually received a call from the Chancellor’s office and had an opportunity to present my point of view in full. I have to say in all fairness to the University, that their response to this situation has been relatively positive and I do believe thoughtful.
However, in my opinion, the response from the University also falls short of where I believe it needs to be.
First let’s look at exactly what the relevant parts of SB 160 says:
LET IT BE RESOLVED, that the ASUC [Associated Students at the University of California] will examine its assets and UC assets for funds being invested in companies that a) provide weaponry or other military support for the occupation of the Palestinian territories or b) facilitate the building or maintenance of the wall or the demolition of Palestinian homes, or c) facilitate the building, maintenance, or economic development of illegal Israeli settlements on the Occupied Palestinian Territory;
LET IT FURTHER BE RESOLVED, that if at any time it is found that campus or UC funds are being invested in any companies meeting any of these criteria, including Caterpillar, Cement Roadstone Holdings, and Hewlett Packard Company, the ASUC will itself divest, and will advocate that the UC system divest all stocks and investments in such companies with the goal of maintaining the divestment, in the case of said companies, until they cease the specific offending practices; moreover, the ASUC will not make further investments, and will advocate that the UC system not make further investments, in any companies materially supporting or profiting from Israel’s occupation in the above-mentioned ways, until a point in time at which they cease such practices;
Now in response to this passage the Chancellor of UCB had this to say: (Excerpt):
To the members of the UC Berkeley community:
In the wake of the ASUC Senate’s passage of SB 160, “A Bill In Support of Human Rights in the West Bank and Gaza Strip,” I want to offer some thoughts about how we can move forward as a campus community. I also want to acknowledge that this may be the first step in a process that could, among other things, include consideration of other proposed bills that support Israeli-Palestinian cooperation.
As you all know, the ASUC is an independent student organization, and its vote in this matter will not change investment policy established by the Regents of the University of California. In addition, it is my personal opinion that targeting a single nation or state in this highly complex world is not appropriate and does little to advance the cause of peace and coexistence…..
ASUC President Connor Landgraf could have vetoed this as did his predecessor William Smelko did when this bigoted measure last arose in 2010. Landgraf, who had been known as a “friend” to Israel decided NOT to veto this important issue, and while he spoke strongly against it in a letter to the Daily Californian, condemning it as part of a One-Sided narrative that in his words “Divided campus”, foster(ed) anger, and encouraged divisiveness” he did nothing to push this aside. Here is Langdorf’s letter in full
But there is one other telling thing in this letter… Langdorf says:
“I want to make clear that Senate Bill 160 is not linked to the International Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. The International BDS Movement, which has been known to attach itself to this legislation cannot and should not take this as its victory….”
Well newsflash to Langdorf, whether you think it cannot or should not take this is as a victory, IT DOES. Regardless of what you may think, there is a reality out there which tells a completely different story. The International BDS Movement is portraying this – (and I don’t hear anything different from “Pro-Divestment” Activists) as a “victory” for their side and just one more piece of campus activism that supports their ultimate goal. Remember, that night, the ASUC also rejected bills calling for a Two State Solution AND recognizing the legitimate rights of self determination of the Jewish people.
Remember also, that the bill expressly makes a call to not only boycott what it calls the “Occupation” (without defining what they mean by “Occupation”, as remember… Hamas and much of the Palestinian Polity call Israel’s existence an “Occupation”) but it calls for a boycott of things that the Israeli Defense Forces use to defend Israel. Caterpillar bulldozers are used for many more things than demolishing housing. HP systems are used in all manner of ways. Cement is used to build many other things other than walls.
And that is the deeper intent of the bill. Aside, from of course, beginning to establish dialogue that demonizes one side and reduces all their actions to cartoon like villainy, it also seeks to make sure that Israel doesn’t have the means to physically defend itself.
So back to the boycott…. I was asked by the University “IF you could have anything done about this what would it be” (and Kudos to them for asking that question). My response was that I think the University HAS to make a much more forceful statement on the issue than Chancellor Birgenaeu’s initial letter which in my mind tries to give the University an “easy out”.
The University’s strategy (if I understand it correctly) is to quietly address issues and work directly with students to reassure them of their value to the University and Campus Community. They feel that by assuring Jewish students of their support they can work towards “smoothing over” the situation.
Could this be effective? I suppose it could be. BUT, I don’t think it will be.
Why? Well for two reasons. The first is that this bill sets the groundwork for bigger and more expansive condemnations of Israel and its supporters. It gives the divestment activists a “foot in the door” and allows for future much more heinous type of legislation all of which would do nothing but create tension and a hostile atmosphere for Jewish students. I don’t think that the words of the Chancellor or President Langdorf do anything to address this possibility. If anything their actions only encourage it.
Secondly, it creates an overall atmosphere (as President Langdorf) mentions of divisiveness and hatred. Quiet diplomacy is nice, but, now the campus is primarily known as a place where BDS and this kind of bigotry is acceptable. Nothing that is done in private can change the overriding statement made when the ASUC passed SB160 and President Langdorf allowed it to stand.
So I ask that you all join me in insisting that the University make a much more forceful statement rejecting this vote and the bigotry behind it. They can’t undo the bill and they can’t outlaw it (First Amendment issues) but they can make a statement to counter it and effectively and publicly reject it.
IF they cannot do this, then I say, BOYCOTT! It is time to stand against bigotry and hate in all of its forms. Anyone who was at that meeting or saw the twitter feeds from that meeting can tell you what really happened as well as the prejudice and bigotry that was expressed there.
If the University feels that it does not need to reject this kind of hateful legislation then we need to let the University know just how we feel and use tools at our disposal (such as boycotts) to make sure that this behavior is rejected.