Students denounce demonization of student activism by Anti-Defamation League – October 18, 2010

On campuses around the country, groups promoting Palestinian freedom respond to attack by the Anti-Defamation League


UNITED STATES (October 17, 2010) – Representing campus organizations at over 60 campuses around the country, university students promoting Palestinian freedom have responded to a vilifying report by the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) listing “Students for Justice in Palestine” (SJP) and a variety of other American organizations as the “Top 10 Anti-Israel Groups in America.”  The report was released the same day the ADL honored Rupert Murdoch, the media mogul who owns Fox News Network.

The report – which also names prominent Muslim-American organizations, Jewish Voice for Peace, and the Christian ecumenical organization Friends of Sabeel – criticizes SJP chapters for “regularly organiz[ing] activities presenting a biased view of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, including mock ‘apartheid walls’ and ‘checkpoint’ displays.” SJP chapters have independently proliferated across the country as awareness about the brutality and violence of Israel’s occupation grows on university campuses. In an unprecedented statement, 60 student groups around the country affirmed, “we are unified by our purpose of confronting these wrongs that cause so much death and suffering.”
Recent investigations by the United Nations and reports by human rights organizations including Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch frequently criticize unrelenting Israeli settlement expansion, the siege of Gaza, the military occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem, and brutal Israeli violence that has killed thousands of Palestinian civilians. Ilana Rossoff, from Hampshire College SJP, continued, “We see the urgent need to educate our communities about the injustice of the occupation and work to hold our communities and governments accountable for our own complicity in US support of the occupation.”

The signatory groups affirmed that they were dedicated to non-violent activities, such as promoting Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions in solidarity with the call from over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations. The groups explained, “we locate ourselves in a legacy of social justice movements working for a free and just world.” The groups invited the ADL “to reflect and to choose to build this world, rather than to stop it.”

See the “Joint Statement on Anti-Defamation League’s ‘Top 10′ List” at this url:

www.sjpalestine.com/statement.pdf

CONTACTS BY REGION:

EAST COAST:
Yaman Salahi [Connecticut]: 203-491-0092, yaman.salahi@yale.edu
Alex Cachinero-Gorman [Massachusetts]: 908-705-6033, alex.cachinerog@gmail.com

MIDWEST:      
Andrew Dalack [Michigan]:734-645-6860, ajdalack@umich.edu
Sami Kishawi [Illinois]:773-822-8157, kishawisami@gmail.com

WEST COAST:
Lana Khoury [California] 650-274-9085, lkhoury06@gmail.com
Gabriel Schivone [Arizona]: 520-302-6006, gabrielm@email.arizona.edu

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Oct 18th, 2010 | Filed under Announcements

UC Irvine Student Government Resolution Calls for Divestment from Firms Aiding Israeli Apartheid

UC Irvine’s Student government has  voted for a resolution calling for divestment from companies with links to Israeli military.The resolution was passed unanimously!

REQUEST FOR ACTION BY THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL
All requests may be typed and submitted to the Executive Vice President no later 5:00 p.m. Thursday in order to be included in the agenda for the following Tuesday. The Executive Vice President reserves the right to delay the Request for Action to a later Council session if the Executive Vice President feels the agenda for the next schedule meeting is full.
Item Number: 16 Legislation Number (B: Bill, R: Resolution): R48-15
Author:   Sabreen Shalabi Second:  Shadi Jafari
Synopsis: Divestment from Companies that Profit from Apartheid


Date of Presentation: November 13, 2012
Divestment from Companies that Profit from Apartheid


WHEREAS, it is UC Irvine’s duty to maintain the values of “respect, intellectual curiosity, integrity, commitment, and empathy” which includes the promotion of human rights, equality, and dignity for all people without distinction# ;

WHEREAS, it is the mission of the UCI Foundation to “ensure the appropriate use of all funds” in order to uphold the values of respect, intellectual curiosity, integrity, commitment appreciation, and empathy #;

WHEREAS, students have a legacy of standing against oppression and injustice at UC Irvine and across the U.S.;


WHEREAS, the role of student activists in exposing South Africa’s apartheid system and  supporting equality, freedom, and dignity sets an example for us to follow as students of global conscience;

WHEREAS, as the example of South Africa shows, it is imperative for students to stand unequivocally against all forms of racism and bigotry globally and on campus, including but not limited to Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, patriarchy, and Israel’s system of apartheid;

WHEREAS, the occupied Palestinian Territory is controlled militarily by the Israeli government#;

WHEREAS, certain companies have promoted and been complicit in these ongoing human rights violations systematically committed by the Israeli government, which have been documented by human rights organizations including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, Al-Haq, Defense for Children International, Addameer, B’tselem, Adalah, Badil, and the Israeli Coalition Against Home Demolitions;

WHEREAS, according to the International Court of Justice (ICJ), “the construction by Israel of a wall in the Occupied Palestinian Territory and its associated régime are contrary to international law”#;

WHEREAS, according to the same ICJ decision, the establishment and expansion of settlements in the West Bank and Eastern Jerusalem is also illegal by international law#;

WHEREAS, according to the UN General Assembly’s application of the Fourth Geneva Convention to occupied Palestinian territory, the establishment and expansion of settlements “…in Occupied East Jerusalem and the rest of the Occupied Palestinian Territory, especially settlement activities…remain contrary to international law and cannot be recognized, irrespective of the passage of time”#;

WHEREAS, a US Department of State official said that the US policy “on Israeli settlements has not changed and will not change. Like every American administration for decades, we do not accept the legitimacy of continued settlement activity.”#;

WHEREAS, according to the UN General Assembly’s application of the Fourth Geneva Convention, the exploitation of natural resources in the occupied Palestinian territory is also illegal by international law#;

WHEREAS, these violations of human rights and international law have been recognized and have resulted in the condemnation of the state of Israel by the international community in the UN Security Council, Human Rights Council Fact-Finding mission in Gaza, and the above mentioned governmental bodies and organizations, which consequently resulted in dozens of resolutions concerning the state of Israel (i.e. 106, 111, 127, 162, 171, 228, 237, 248, 250-252, 256, 259, 262, 265, 267, 270, 271, 279, 280, 285, 298, 313, 316, 317, 332, 337, 347, 425, 427, 444, 446, etc.);

WHEREAS, our university invests in, and thereby profits from companies, which have an active role in the human rights abuse and institutionalized structural violence against the Palestinian people, thereby making it a complicit third-party;

WHEREAS, these companies have been previously engaged by various solidarity campaigns and concerned investors about their complicit involvement in the previously mentioned human rights violations of the Palestinian people to no avail;

WHEREAS, the following illustrative and non-exhaustive list of companies, which the university invests in, plays a role in these human rights violations;


WHEREAS, Caterpillar has helped sustain the occupation by providing engineering tools and bulldozers to destroy Palestinian houses, neighborhoods (in refugee camps), agriculture, and water cisterns#;

WHEREAS, Caterpillar has also provided engineering tools and bulldozers to expand illegal settlements and construct the Wall and checkpoints#;

WHEREAS, Cement Roadstones Holding (CRH) has also contributed to the construction of military checkpoints, the Wall, and the settlement enterprise by providing cement and other building material#;

WHEREAS, CRH and Cemex have supplied building materials used to build illegal settlements, the Wall, and checkpoints #;


WHEREAS, Cemex also illegally owns and operates manufacturing plants in West Bank settlements, exploiting Palestinian natural resources in violation of international law#;

WHEREAS, General Electric Company (GE) manufactures and supplies engines for A64 Apache Helicopters, systematically used by the Israeli military; in attacks on Palestinian civilians which constitute severe human rights violations and war crimes# ;

WHEREAS, Hewlett-Packard Company (HP) has supported restricting the freedom of movement of the Palestinian peoples within the West Bank by providing biometric identification systems used in the Israeli military checkpoints#;

WHEREAS, Raytheon’s guided missiles were used to ruthlessly level civilian dense regions during Operation Cast Lead#;

WHEREAS, Sodastream operates its main manufacturing plant in an illegal Israeli settlement in the West Bank# ;

WHEREAS, L-3 Communications has provided the Israeli occupation with equipment used in military checkpoints throughout the occupied West Bank, used to promote the dehumanization and humiliation of the Palestinians; to take away Palestinian freedom of movement between Palestinian towns and cities; to fragmentize and strangle the Palestinian economy# ;


LET IT BE RESOLVED, that ASUCI will further examine its assets and UC assets for investments in companies that a) provide military support for, or weaponry to, support the occupation of the Palestinian territory or b) facilitate the building or maintenance of the illegal wall or the demolition of Palestinian homes, or c) facilitate the building, maintenance, or economic development of illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory;

LET IT FURTHER BE RESOLVED, that we call upon, our university, the University of California Treasury, and the UCI Foundation to divest their holdings from these aforementioned companies;

LET IT FURTHER BE RESOLVED, that if its found that UCI funds or UC funds are being invested in any of the above mentioned companies, UCI will divest, and will advocate that the UC system divests, all stocks and securities of such companies with the goal of maintaining the divestment, in the case of said companies, until they cease these specific practices. Moreover, UCI 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;

LET IT FINALLY BE RESOLVED, that we, the students, call upon our university to dissociate itself from groups or companies that promote systematic prejudiced oppression, whether this system targets people based on their religion, gender, race or orientation, by divesting from companies that participate in or profit from human rights violations.

Referred to: Committee on:
Vote Required: Two-Thirds FINAL VOTE: Passed YEA: 16 NAY: 0 ABS: 0
THE LEGISLATIVE COUNCIL OF THE ASSOCIATED STUDENTS OF THE UNIVERSITY OF CALIFONIA, IRVINE ON THE DATE OF HAS TAKEN ACTION ON THIS LEGISLATION.

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Nov 13th, 2012 | Filed under Announcements, News, UC Irvine, Uncategorized
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Olympia Food Co-Op Removes Israeli Goods from Shelves

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
July 19, 2010

Contact: contact@olympiabds.org
www.olympiabds.org
360-918-8665

Olympia Food Co-op removes Israeli goods from shelves; first US store to institute boycott

Olympia, WA– The Olympia Food Co-op Board of Directors has decided to boycott Israeli goods at their two locations in Olympia, Washington. At a July 15th meeting packed with Co-op members, the Board reached this consensus. The Co-op becomes the first US grocery store to publicly join the international grassroots movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions (BDS) on Israel for its human rights abuses.

Co-op board member Rob Richards explained, “My hope is that by being the first in the US to adopt the boycott we act as a catalyst for other co-ops to join in. Each additional organizational entity that joins may have a very small effect on the big picture, but drop by drop fills the tub.”

Noah Sochet, a Co-op member and OlympiaBDS organizer adds, “Both as a US citizen and as a Jew, I’m proud to say that my Co-op no longer underwrites the suffering in Palestine.”

In accordance with its mission statement, the Olympia Food Co-op has a longstanding boycott policy which has included a boycott of China (for its occupation of Tibet) and a previous boycott of Colorado (for legalizing discrimination against gays, lesbians, and bisexuals in 1992). The Co-op also has policies for rejecting items whose packaging feature exploitive or oppressive imagery.

One Israeli product is exempt from the boycott: “Peace Oil,” a brand of olive oil fairly traded from Palestinian farmers in the West Bank and the Galilee, will continue to be carried by the Co-op.

The boycott follows on the heels of a similarly historic event at the nearby Evergreen State College. On June 2, students at the Olympia-based college voted overwhelmingly to approve two resolutions calling on the college’s foundation to divest from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine, as well as calling on the college to ban the use of Caterpillar equipment due to Caterpillar’s complicity in Israeli war crimes. The college is the alma mater of Rachel Corrie, who was killed by a weaponized Caterpillar bulldozer in the Gaza Strip in 2003.

News of the boycott has drawn praise from around the world, including in Israel. “I salute the great work of the people in Olympia,” said Yonatan Shapira, an Israeli Air Force captain and co-founder of Combatants for Peace. “The decision taken by the Olympia Food Co-op is an important step toward just peace for all people living in Israel/Palestine. It is also a step toward accountability for Israel’s murder of Rachel Corrie.”

The BDS movement began in 2005 when over 170 Palestinian civil society organizations in Israel and in Palestine issued a call for the nonviolent tactic of BDS on Israel until the country abides by international law and human rights standards. The BDS call has become an international movement, endorsed by renowned figures such as Desmond Tutu, Naomi Klein, and Alice Walker. The Co-op boycott comes two months after Italy’s largest supermarket chains, COOP and Nordiconad, declared a boycott of products exported by Israeli Carmel Agrexco.

Israel has responded to the BDS movement by arresting prominent Palestinian endorsers. The Knesset is currently considering legislation to outlaw endorsement of BDS by Israelis.

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Jul 20th, 2010 | Filed under Announcements, News
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Northern Illinois Conference votes to divest from companies that benefit from the occupation of Palestine

CONTACT: CONNIE BAKER, 630-363-7713
End the Occupation, Northern Illinois Conference of the United Methodist Church

ST. CHARLES, ILL. June 15, 2010 – At its annual conference, the Northern Illinois Conference (NIC) of the United Methodist Church (UMC) voted to divest all holdings in three international corporations that profit from the occupation of Palestine. This action is in response to a plea by Palestinian Christians for action, not just words.

Divestment is a nonviolent form of economic protest long-used by churches and other shareholders to encourage companies to end unjust practices.  By selling its investments in Caterpillar (CAT), General Electric (GE) and Terex (TEX), the NIC expresses its commitment to do no harm with its investments and affirms the call of the UMC Book of Discipline to “avoid investments that appear likely, directly or indirectly, to support violation of human rights” (Paragraph 716).

These three companies are among 20 targeted by UMC conferences across the country because they (1) have a presence on occupied land, (2) are involved with the physical settlements, checkpoints and the separation wall, or (3) support activities of the Israeli military in the occupied territories.
Connie Baker from the End the Occupation Task Force of the Board of Church and Society which brought forth the resolution stated: “We are resolute in our support of peace for both Israelis and Palestinians in the Holy Land and the rights of each to co-exist according to the principles set forth in the Geneva Conventions.    It is a small step, but an important one.”

The conference will also send a list of the 20 offending companies to the nearly 400 local churches in Northern Illinois and encourage them to consider divestment from any corporations on the list.

For the list of targeted corporations, which was compiled by the New England Conference (UMC) Divestment Task Force, please see: http://www.neumc.org/pages/detail/375.

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Jun 18th, 2010 | Filed under News

The Evergreen State College Passes Divestment Campaign

Posted by TESCDivest

The Resolutions

Resolution #1: We, the student body of The Evergreen State College, call on The Evergreen State College Foundation to instate a socially responsible investment policy. To this end, we ask them to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation of Palestine. As members of the Evergreen community, we stand with conscientious Palestinians, Israelis, and other international figures such as South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu to endorse the non-violent tactic of boycott, divestment, and sanctions for a peaceful and just resolution to the Israel/Palestine conflict. Do you support this resolution?

Passed by 79.5% of the student vote!


Resolution #2: In 2003, Evergreen student Rachel Corrie was killed by a weaponized Caterpillar bulldozer while non-violently protecting the home of a Palestinian family in Rafah, Palestine. Numerous Palestinian civilians have been killed by militarized Caterpillar bulldozers, as well. Caterpillar, Inc. knowingly sells bulldozers to Israel for military purposes in violation of international law and the US Arms Export Control Act, despite on-going pressure from Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch that they desist. Their equipment is used to demolish Palestinian homes, wells, olive trees, orchards, farmland, and other infrastructure as well as to build Israel’s Annexation Wall, which was declared illegal by the International Court of Justice in 2004. Therefore, we, the student body, demand that The Evergreen State College declare a CAT-Free Campus and instate the following policies:

  1. Refuse to allow Caterpillar equipment to be used for maintenance and upkeep of campus facilities.
  2. Include stipulations in all construction agreements that no Caterpillar equipment will be used for any contracted services with the college.

These policies will remain in effect until Caterpillar, Inc. ends its complicity in human rights violations. Do you support this resolution?

Passed by 71.8% of the student vote!


The final Student Union resolution:

Whereas the passage by student vote of the Divestment and CAT-free Campus Resolutions demonstrates an unambiguous mandate; and

Whereas the Geoduck Student Union is the elected representative of the student body;

Therefore:
We, the Geoduck Student Union, demand:

That The Evergreen State College and The Evergreen State College Foundation instate a socially responsible investment policy and to this end divest from companies that profit off of Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine. This divestment policy will remain in effect until such time as Israel abides by all applicable international law and ceases to illegally occupy and blockade the indigenous Palestinian land of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.

And that The Evergreen State College declare a CAT-Free Campus and instate the following policies:

Refuse to allow Caterpillar equipment to be used for maintenance and upkeep of campus facilities.

Include stipulations in all construction agreements that no Caterpillar equipment be used for any contracted services with the college.

These policies will remain in effect until Caterpillar, Inc. ends its complicity in human rights violations.

The GSU stands with conscientious Palestinians, Israelis, and other international figures such as South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu to endorse the non-violent tactic of boycott, divestment, and sanctions for a peaceful and just resolution to the Israel/Palestine conflict.

By the beginning of the academic year 2010-2011 we insist on full disclosure of all corporations, including those held through mutual funds, in which The Evergreen State College Foundation and The Evergreen State College are invested.

Further we insist that the Board of Trustees and the Board of Governors make public a plan of action for divestment from companies that profit from the occupation of Palestine. In addition, we insist that The Evergreen State College initiates the above CAT-Free Campus policies.

We join with campuses around the world in building a movement for human rights and dignity by working to end the occupation of Palestine. We look to other campuses to join us in our common effort for justice and peace in the Middle East.

Passed unanimously!

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Jun 3rd, 2010 | Filed under News
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BDS at UC Berkeley: The Campaign, The Vote, and The Veto – Youmna Derby and Dina Omar

Published in muftah.org, May 27th, 2010

“Education either functions as an instrument which is used to facilitate integration of the younger generation into the logic of the present system and bring about conformity or it becomes the  practice of freedom, the means by which men and women deal critically and creatively with reality  and discover how to participate in the transformation of their world.”

Paulo Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed)

In the early morning of March 18th 2010, the University of California Berkeley Student Senate (ASUC) passed a bill to divest from companies providing military support for the Israeli Occupation of the Palestinian Territories. The “Divestment From War Crimes” bill, SB118A, specifically targets two companies that enable and profit from conflict in the Occupied Palestinian Territories (OPT), among other places. Debate on the bill began the night of March 17th at 9 pm. More than 150 students, educators and concerned community members attended the senate session, forcing the meeting’s relocation to a larger room. Never before had the ASUC’s chambers been so crowded, signifying the importance of and interest in Israel-Palestine on Berkeley’s campus. The late night session culminated in the overwhelming endorsement of the bill in a 16 to 4 vote, taken at 3am on March 18th.  While Berkeley’s Associated Student Body President vetoed the bill approximately one week later, the legislation’s initial success is a milestone for divestment activists at Berkeley and beyond.  The story of the bill’s passage, which was the result of nearly a decade of on-campus student activism, is the story of the divestment campaign at UC Berkeley.

The Birth of SJP and Divestment as a Tactic

It is no coincidence that Berkeley is one of the first large academic institutions to leverage its investments as a tool to end injustice in the OPT. The university has a long precedent of using such tactics to achieve social change. In the past, Berkeley has divested from apartheid South Africa, tobacco companies, and the Sudan, as a consequence of the conflict in Darfur.  Furthermore, Berkeley is an institution with a vanguard of professors that continually challenge students to tackle issues of justice and inequality in the world. Among these are eminent scholars, such as Judith Butler, Laura Nader, and Beshara Doumani, as well as academics with seasoned activist backgrounds, like Hatem Bazian. Together they have promoted the praxis of knowledge: the practical use of knowledge learned in the classrooms towards solving real-world problems.

The injustices committed by the Israeli government in the OPT have been well documented by United Nations committees and international non-governmental organizations, like Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch. Moved by these human rights violations, as well as the increase in violence and injustice in the Palestinian Territories that came with the start of the Second Intifada, Berkeley students began to consider the use of divestment as a means of intervention in late 2000. Only a few months later on February 6, 2001, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) officially launched its divestment campaign. Over the years, SJP Berkeley’s initiative would inspire a nationwide movement for justice on the Israel-Palestinian issue at over 40 university campuses across the nation.

Approximately one year later, on April 9, 2002, SJP’s demonstration commemorating the 1948 Deir Yassin Massacre grew into the second symbolic occupation of UC Berkeley’s Wheeler Hall–students had occupied the building for the first time in April 2001. The student protestors included divestment on their list of demands. Will Youmans, a leading Berkeley SJP organizer at the time, explained the objectives of divestment as a political tactic in an October 25, 2002 article for Counter Punch:

The goal for divestment is an objective, non-partisan American policy to replace its destructive, pro-Israeli bias that ultimately furthers the wasting of lives on both sides.  Divestment advocates seek to disconnect Israel from America’s womb. This does what the United States has failed to do: treat Israel as another country in the world’s community of nations. It is time Israel face the responsibilities and expectations codified in international law and necessary for a peaceful resolution to its conflict with the land’s natives.

Between the 2001 launch of the campaign and the divestment bill’s introduction in March 2010, there were definite dips in SJP’s divestment efforts. In part, this was due to the student turnover inherent to on-campus organizations and the consequent gap it engendered in the institutional memory of groups such as the SJP. When coupled with SJP’s subsequent involvement in other political and social causes, such as the defense of the 79 students and community members who faced prosecution after the 2002 takeover of Wheeler Hall, as well as the group’s active opposition to the 2003 Iraq War, SJP’s silence on divestment is more explicable.

Informing Students about Palestine

Throughout the years, Berkeley SJP has continually participated in Israeli Apartheid Week. For three consecutive years, IAW has greatly influenced popular opinion on campus by educating students about the facts on the ground in Palestine, while at the same time encouraging them to connect the Palestinian issues with different struggles for justice around the globe.  Through SJP’s involvement in other student coalitions and initiatives, the group has become one of the largest student organizations on Berkeley’s campus.

According to Yaman Salahi, an SJP member for four years, one of the organization’s accomplishments has been its ability to foster individual relationships and create bonds between people from different parts of campus, which has created visibility for SJP and the Palestinian issue at large. According to Salahi, “the most important aspect involved the actual interactions students had with one another on campus, rather than the flawed media coverage which failed to convey information about Palestine or SJP’s message. Student activities also improved the knowledge of people within SJP and prepared us for this phase of divestment.”

Indeed, SJP’s focus on internal education, as well as its diverse membership, has given the group a solid and deep roster of activists who can speak about the Israel-Palestine issue from multiple perspectives.

SJP encourages and engages in reflection about race and power, and the means by which these phenomena unfold throughout the world, on campus, and in the group’s own internal dynamics.  The lessons learned on these issues are crucial to SJP’s ability to withstand the opposition it and its members regularly face on campus.  Throughout SJP’s tenure, the group and its members have been under constant scrutiny and have been the targets of personal harassment and intimidation. In the past, SJP has been suspended by the University administration and has faced frequent institutional obstacles. Its members have been subjected to personal attacks and defamation, and have been threatened with and have even faced lawsuits. Last year, three SJP members were victims of a hate crime according to the University of California Police Department.

Although the group and its members continued to face these obstacles during the 2009-2010 academic year, SJP had also become more adept at countering these setbacks and moving forward with its divestment agenda.  A visit from the spokesman for the Palestinian Campaign for the Cultural and Academic, Omar Barghouti, helped SJP navigate its divestment strategy and was the final push needed to bring the divestment bill, which had been in the works for months, to the floor of the ASUC.

The Divestment Bill and Beyond

SB118A calls for divestment of ASUC investments from General Electric and United Technologies, two companies that have directly aided the Israeli Occupation of the Palestinian Territories. The bill also recommends that the UC Regents, a body that controls investments for the entire University of California system, follow suit.

Amongst the 70 audience member-speakers at the ASUC meeting, there was deliberation and self-expression of every sort.  Those who spoke both for and against the bill came from a variety of different backgrounds. Speakers included freshmen students, faculty members and members of prominent community organizations such as Jewish Voices for Peace, Progressive Democrats of the East Bay, and the Berkeley Hillel. At one point or another, men and women from the Gaza Strip, the West Bank, Israel, Egypt, Mexico and Pakistan held the microphone to advocate for or against the bill’s passage.

Amongst the bill’s supporters were individuals from a diversity of religious and ethnic backgrounds, expressing a variety of reasons in favor of the bill’s adoption. Those supporters from amongst the Jewish community insisted that the Israeli occupation did not represent the position of the Jewish community in its totality.  By endorsing the bill, these members of the Jewish community, committed to the attainment of peace and justice in the OPT, hoped to convey to the Israeli government the message that its policies were “not in their name”.  Palestinian students, some of whom were visiting from the OPT and others whose parents had emigrated to the U.S. decades ago, shared their narratives of dispossession under Occupation, and spoke of the bill as one of the few effective, non-violent means of resisting the conditions that continued to exist in the OPT.  Other supporters connected the Palestinian issue to other struggles for civil and human rights around the globe. Students of Armenian, African-American and Hispanic origin spoke of how their respective histories of discrimination and suffering gave them a more intimate understanding and empathy for the Palestinian struggle.

Amongst those who opposed the bill, most came from within the Berkeley student community, with a large majority identifying as either Jewish or Israeli. Their concerns with the bill fit into several themes. Paramount amongst these was a concern that the bill singled out Israel, “the only democracy in the Middle East”, for reprimand and criticism, while other “non-democratic” countries escaped rebuke. They painted the bill as “taking sides” in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.  Divestment, they argued, was not the best way to address the conflict, could further aggravate the situation by alienating or marginalizing moderate voices within Israeli society, and would lend support to those Israeli politicians espousing right wing policies. Some opponents spoke about Israel’s right to self-defense against Palestinian aggression, cautioned the student senators against treading into overly complex political territory about which they were ill-informed, and advised against meddling in Israeli affairs. Others suggested that the bill would alienate a sector of the Berkeley student population who disagreed with its claims and who might feel targeted as a result of its endorsement by the ASUC.

These arguments spurred strong responses from the bill’s supporters. They referred to past ASUC divestment bills, in 1986 against companies investing in apartheid South Africa and in 2005 against companies involved in the Sudan, to counter claims that Israel was being singled out for rebuke and to demonstrate the ASUC’s historical commitment to divesting from countries with a demonstrated record of violating human rights and international law. Supporters reminded the audience that consciously choosing to address political issues had always, and proudly, been a prerogative of UC Berkeley students.

Bearing witness to the ASUC senate meeting that night was bearing witness to democratic practice at work: its arduousness and cumbersome reliance on persuasion, deliberation and compromise.

The Veto

After a week of criticism and praise of the bill by the media, other campuses and local and international organizations, the President of the Associated Student Body at Berkeley, Will Smelko, exercised his right to veto the legislation. Smelko’s reasons for issuing the veto were similar to the arguments raised by the bill’s opponents on March 17-18th. In essence, Smelko suggested that the bill made a decision about a historically complicated issue in haste, ran the risk of alienating part of the student body, and unfairly singled out Israel for reprimand and punishment. In response, SJP published a rebuttal to Smelko’s veto, pointing out perceptible holes in his argument, recounting the positive ways in which the bill addressed a troubling situation, emphasizing the broad and diverse campus support the bill enjoyed and highlighting its connection with Berkeley’s long tradition of taking explicit stands against injustice.

On April 14th, the ASUC met to decide whether the presidential veto should be upheld. With 700 attendants, the turnout overwhelmingly superseded the intial March 18th vote. The attendance level was undoubtedly the result of the marked publicity that the bill’s passage and subsequent veto had received, including public statements made by notable figures like Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Judith Butler, and Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel.

At the meeting, both proponents and opponents of the bill presented a series of well-known speakers in an attempt to sway the vote to their respective sides. Holocaust survivor Hedi Esptein and Prof. Judith Butler spoke on the bill’s behalf, while Akiva Tor, Israeli Consul General for the Pacific Northwest, spoke against it. After 7.5 hours of deliberation, the ASUC voted on a motion to table the bill and to reconvene for additional deliberation on April 28th.  After an intense week of lobbying, which included a unique alliance between AIPAC, Hillel, and J Street amongst others to uphold the veto, the April 28th vote fell one vote short of the 14 votes necessary for override, with 5 votes in favor of the veto and 13 against. Divestment opponents had managed to convince three senators, who had originally supported SB118A, to switch sides.

Despite this setback, the divestment bill had already achieved much of its purpose. It had spurred dialogue and debate about Israeli Occupation of the Palestinian Territories on campuses and in communities nation-wide.  It had educated Berkeley students who knew little about the issue, by bringing it to the forefront of campus news. It had broadened and consolidated SJP’s connections to the ever-widening network of organizations and individuals working for justice in Palestine. As in the case of most campaigns for justice, equality and freedom, movements don’t die, they multiply. In the academic semesters and years to come, we remain confident that there will be a watershed of new university-based divestment campaigns aimed at bringing justice to the Palestinian Territories.

*Youmna Derby is a graduate student at UC Berkeley.

Dina Omar is a graduate of UC Berkeley, with a degree in Middle Eastern Studies and Anthropology, and is currently the membership coordinator at the Arab Resource and Organizing Center.

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May 29th, 2010 | Filed under Op-Eds

Regents Position on Divestment Off The Mark – Rick Streling

Published in The Daily Californian, May 17, 2010

Editor’s Note: The following is a response to a letter sent out by UC President Mark Yudof, and the Chair and Vice Chair of the UC Regents stating University policy on divestment.

Thank you for your letter regarding the debate about divestment from two corporations which supplied weaponry used in the Israeli assault on Gaza. Yes, it is correct that the resolutions considered by the student governments at Berkeley and UC San Diego generated enormous discussion. It is not every semester that you have many hundreds of people attending ASUC meetings through the entire night with a hundred speakers and voting in the early hours of the morning. It is not every week that a student body president vetoes a resolution passed by a huge majority of the student senate. According to your email, you received close to 10,000 emails on this issue.

So it is very appropriate that you have commented and thank you for that.

However, I wish to express disappointment with your response. Since this is the first known time where a relatively new UC Board of Regents policy has been applied, I believe it is important to immediately go on public record to question this policy.

In your e-mail you state, “We fully support the … Regents in its policy to divest from a foreign government or companies doing business with a foreign government only when the United States government declares that a foreign regime is committing acts of genocide.”

A policy whereby the Regents must follow the State Department to divest is a huge step backward. If we had this policy in past decades, it would have eliminated the most successful campaign of UC divestment for social justice. During the 1980s official US policy toward apartheid South Africa was against divestment and in favor of “constructive engagement.” In 1986, after years of campaigning by students, UC Regents divested from corporations involved with apartheid South Africa. Many point to this event as helping end white-minority rule in South Africa. Do the Regents now wish to reject that history and the hugely positive role we played?

Nelson Mandela has said, “Apartheid is a crime against humanity. Israel has deprived millions of Palestinians of their liberty and property. It has perpetuated a system of gross racial discrimination and inequality. It has systematically incarcerated and tortured thousands of Palestinians, contrary to the rules of international law.”

There is unanimity by all credible human rights organizations about war crimes having been committed by Israel. Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch, B’Tselem of Israel and the United Nations Special Investigation all found compelling evidence of war crimes in Gaza.

Dear President Yudof and Regents, you make another point in your letter. You state, “The isolation of Israel among all countries of the world greatly disturbs us and is of grave concern to members of the Jewish community.” I understand that if you identify with Israel it might be uncomfortable to have it criticised or condemned. The same occurs regarding our own government.

However I hope you will agree that the real issue is whether in fact war crimes are being committed. If so, do we support, ignore or oppose those crimes? Even if you identify with Israel, surely you are not endorsing the philosophy “My country, right or wrong.” Are you? Surely you are not suggesting that others should be silent or ignore war crimes because it makes you uncomfortable.

Because the Middle East has vital resources and strategic location, because the US government is heavily involved and because Israel continues to violate international law by practicing ethnic cleansing and discrimination, this issue will probably be coming up again in the future.

Progressive Jewish academics and community members have spoken out strongly in favor of divestment. Muslim and other student organizations have welcomed that support, encouraged unity and denounced disruptive or anti-Semitic comments. The issue is not religious or ethnic; it is about peace, justice and progress. It is not about singling out one country; it is about holding all countries to the same standard.

As in the past, UC and other progressive forces should lead, not follow.

I hope you will eventually agree and join us

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May 20th, 2010 | Filed under Op-Eds

Open Letter to Akiva Tor from an Educated Palestinian American – Dina Omar

Published as a response to Akiva Tor’s article in ZEEK, May 20, 2010

“It is certain, in any case, that ignorance, allied with power, is the most ferocious enemy justice can have.”

~James A. Baldwin

Dear Consul General Tor:

Your response to Moshe Yaroni’s essay about the Berkeley divestment discussion is manipulative and threatening. It repeats many distortions that have been thoroughly refuted by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at UC Berkeley. Worst of all, however, it relies on a paradigm of separation and division in which Jews and Arabs are eternally afraid and suspicious of one another. You say that anti-Semitic statements were made at two of the three senate meetings, which called into question weather or not UC Berkeley should divest from United Technologies and General Electric. Such companies manufacture F-16 jets and Apache helicopters—weapons sold to the Israeli military and used against civilians in the Occupied Palestinian Territories.

You ignore the fact that those alleged remarks, were vigorously denounced by those of us who spoke in favor of the bill. You wrongfully assume that “these were the opinions and feelings of American Palestinians educated at a great Western university,” and that those who gathered outside the senate meeting were “Muslim.” Yet there were a half- dozen clergy members present and over a hundred people who were neither Muslim nor Arab. Such assumptions, which form the basis of your perceptions, are extremely ignorant. When coupled with your power as the Israeli Consul General, those assumptions are preventing you from seeing me, an educated Palestinian American woman, as an equal human being who deserves justice and peace.

Your insistence that divestment is “against the peace process” would be laughable if it wasn’t reckless. When one says that Palestinians are against the “peace process” what they do not understand is that the “peace process” is against the Palestinians. The Israeli peace process relegates Palestinians to the sidelines of history and tells us to shut up and lie down for bulldozers to run over us—say nothing except cry like civilized people for journalists to take pictures and tell a story. Palestinians don’t just want peace; they want a just peace, a peace that recognizes that they are equal to Israelis and Jews. This is what divestment strives to achieve, this is why I supported UC Berkeley’s divestment from Israeli war crimes and the companies that benefit from them.

Moreover, your statements egregiously misplace responsibility, as Israel’s occupation and violence against the Palestinians has left little of the peace process to salvage. It is not divestment that is against peace; it is the 500 mile wall caging civilians in occupied Palestine, it is limited mobility with hundreds of checkpoints and the seizing of Palestinian farmland and water resources. The siege of Gaza is against peace. The indiscriminate killing of civilians in Operation “Cast Lead”—over 400 of them children—along with the targeting of civilian infrastructure like UN schools, universities and hospitals is against peace. Collective punishment, home demolitions, torture in Israeli prisons, illegal settlements in the West Bank, settlers throwing buckets of urine at Palestinians in Hebron’s old city— these are all against peace.

Your version of the “peace process” is against me and my humanity. While you and other representatives of your government talk about “peace” and “negotiations,” your actions and policies require Palestinians to surrender any semblance of human dignity. They must accept being imprisoned, threatened, treated like cattle, humiliated and ignored. When we participate in that kind of “peace process” we are participating in our own suicide.

You stated that you cannot be blind to the “blatant hatred expressed against your own people, right before your eyes” that you say renders our “devotion to victims ten thousand miles away… suspect.” The abstract and over sensationalized fear of Jewish students on campus becomes suspect when I have endured racism, hatred and erasure every single day of my life, born and raised in a society that does not recognize Palestinian personhood. It is hard to ignore your silence about very clear acts of violence committed against Palestinian students on campus; about a society that vilifies brilliant thinkers such as the late Palestinian scholar Edward W. Said, when Zionist American high school students claim that Palestinian names should not appear on Advanced Placement exams because it offends them. What in a name could be so offensive? Or so frightening? Being Palestinian in America is watching white phosphorous eat away at the skin of Palestinian girls on TV and still only hearing about the need for Israeli security.

Please tell me, Mr. Tor, what does white phosphorous eating away at a baby do for Israeli security?

Being Palestinian is seeing graffiti that says “we rape all Arab women” on an alley wall in Hebron. Being Palestinian is feeling physically afraid when you see Israeli Occupation Forces wear t-shirts with an image of a pregnant Palestinian woman on the front with a rifle target surrounding the image, the caption saying, “one bullet, two kills.”

The blatant hatred expressed toward “my people” is my every day experience.

But I refuse to engage in the victimhood game. It is not a competition to be the most hated or most victimized. That game is manipulative and implies one person can claim a monopoly over victimhood, as if Indigenous Native Americans, Jews, Armenians, Blacks, and other peoples have never endured what the Palestinians and those in solidarity endure today. I will not engage in that game because it is both dehumanizing and humiliating to publicly display my stories and scars and the stories of Palestinians undergoing unspeakable acts of violence.

I will especially not display these stories and scars to people like yourself who justify our wounds and manipulate the truth, who exploit your power to threaten us into silence. I will not play that game because it does not matter how egregious, violent, horrific or brutal the experiences of the Palestinians and those in solidarity endure at the hands of Zionists and the Israeli Occupation Forces—people like yourself will still call anyone who speaks the truth, criticizing Israeli aggression, a “Jew hater” or an anti-Semite to bully them into silence.

I wonder if you think about what it feels like to be called an anti-Semite when some of my closest friends, people I consider family, people who are part of the SJP divestment campaign and the BDS movement as a whole, are Jews and Israelis themselves. These Jews and Israelis, whose lives I care for as dearly as my own—they are “my people.” Therefore Mr. Tor, with all due respect, when you say “your own people,” we in Students for Justice in Palestine, and me in particular as an educated Palestinian American, refuse to subscribe to such binaries. In my world there is no “your people” and “my people”—we are the same people disposed and exiled, and as so long as you and everyone else who thinks their “own people” are exceptional or more deserving of human dignity and respect than “other people”—you will always be met with opposition, not just by educated Palestinian Americans, but by compassionate people everywhere who refuse to see the world through an “us” vs. “them” binary.

Sincerely,

Dina Omar

Dina Omar recently graduated from UC Berkeley; she is a member of Students for Justice in Palestine. Dina also organizes in the Palestine Youth Network and will be starting her graduate studies in Anthropology at Columbia University in September.

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May 20th, 2010 | Filed under Op-Eds

The University of California’s Policy Makes No Sense – Jewish Voice for Peace

Published by Jewish Voice for Peace, May 11, 2010

Jewish Voice for Peace is puzzled by University of California President Mark Yudof’s statement on the recent divestment efforts at UC Berkeley and UC San Diego.

President Yudof has either not read the text of the bills or is choosing to misinterpret them, as neither bill called on “divestment from companies that are doing business with Israel.” Rather, the bills called for divestment from companies that,

“a) provide military support for or weaponry to support the occupation of the Palestinian territories or b) facilitate the building or maintenance of the illegal wall or the demolition of Palestinian homes, or c) facilitate the building, maintenance, or economic development of illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territories.”

President Yudof further states that the UC Regents will only “divest from a foreign government or companies doing business with a foreign government only when the United States government declares that a foreign regime is committing acts of genocide.”

This policy is doubly wrong.

First, because we believe divestment should not wait until a situation has reached the point of genocide.

Second, because the very reason that divesting from the Israeli occupation is so urgent is because the United States government has failed so far to pressure Israel to end its occupation and bring its action in accordance to international human rights standards.

If one were to follow Mr. Yudof’s standard, the University of California would not have been able to divest from Nazi Germany before the outbreak of Second World War. This makes no sense.

For further reading:

The Yudof Doctrine: No divestment from Israel until genocide

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May 12th, 2010 | Filed under Op-Eds

The Yudof Doctrine: No Divestment from Israel until Genocide – Yaman Salahi

Published in Amateur Ramblings, May 11, 2010

“The U.S. has not made any declaration regarding the State of Israel and, therefore, we will not bring a recommendation before the Board to divest from companies doing business with the State of Israel.”

– UC President Mark Yudof, UC Regents Chairman Russell Gould, and UC Regents Vice Chair Sherry Lansing

UC President Mark Yudof — who the Jewish Telegraphic Agency has called “an unabashed Israel supporter” and who has previously compared the UC to a cemetery — has weighed in against UC Berkeley’s divestment initiative, laying out a bizarre formula for UC investments that sets the bar so low it would have prevented UC divestment from South Africa during the apartheid era.

Under the Yudof doctrine, the UC Regents would only divest from a foreign country if the United States government had decided that the country had engaged in acts of genocide. Apparently that is the only standard under which Israel can continue to escape scrutiny by the UC Regents. But the policy has implications beyond the Israeli occupation of Palestine, for under this rule the UC Regents would not be able to modify its investment policy in order to alleviate a host of other social harms, such as the occupation of Tibet, slave labor, human trafficking, any government practices that are racist, sexist, homophobic and otherwise dehumanizing. It clearly leaves much to be desired in the human rights arena.

Worst of all, it seems that the Yudof doctrine has no potential to prevent harms before they occur, as it would not allow divestment from genocide until it had actually happened. Indeed, the Yudof doctrine would have even barred divestment from Nazi Germany until it was too late — unforgivably ignoring any warning signs before the fact, and limiting the preventative positive impact divestment measures with proper vigilance can have.

On top of arbitrarily limiting investor activism to genocide, the Yudof doctrine leaves the decision to the unreliable political whims of Washington DC — which, nearly a century later, has yet to even recognize the Armenian genocide.

The Yudof doctrine — which contradicts UC history, since UC divested from South Africa for apartheid over two decades ago — also neglects the fact that the US government’s position on foreign relations often lags behind the consensus of the human rights community on what is socially just and ethically imperative.

The US Congress did not pass the Comprehensive Anti-Apartheid Act until 1986, even though the bill was first introduced by Ron Dellums in 1972. Though apartheid had been in place since 1948 and Nelson Mandela had been in prison since 1962, President Ronald Reagan vetoed the law for political reasons, since the United States was a close economic partner of the apartheid regime in South Africa, trading upwards of $1.6 billion per year. Yet despite the clear moral imperative for divestment from South Africa at the time, under the Yudof doctrine divestment would have been forbidden not only because apartheid was not genocide, but also because the US government had yet to express its disapproval. Leaving moral judgments to politicians is an idea so bad its dangers can only be understated.

Under the Yudof doctrine, even if the international community had come to a consensus that Israel was engaging in genocide against the Palestinian people, the UC Regents would dodge the question so long as the US government lacked the political will to confront it. That scenario is not inconceivable given the lengths to which the US has gone to whitewash its relations with repressive governments like the Shah’s Iran, Pinochet’s Chile, and, of course, Israel’s apartheid.

Oddly, the Yudof doctrine does not even respond to UC Berkeley’s divestment resolution, which did not suggest divestment from the Israeli government or from all companies in Israel — even though such expansive measures were justified given the nature of Israel’s egregious wrongs. Instead it narrowly applied widely held norms on socially responsible investing to divest from 2 specific American corporations that had been shown to profit from Israeli war crimes and occupation. Under the Yudof policy it seems that the UC  would not divest from a company for any activity in Israel whatsoever, short of a genocide recognized by the US government. The Yudof policy in effect creates a safe haven in Israel for corporations to profit from human rights abuses or any other undesirable corporate behavior — even if the same egregious activity would be cognizable under any other sound investment policy.

UC investments are overseen by a Board of Regents, who are unelected and unaccountable to the people of California. Instead, they are political appointees of the governor and heavyweight businessmen. Its members include Russell Gould, the President of Wachovia Bank, who joined Yudof in issuing the statement, and investment banker Richald Blum (husband of California Senator Diane Feinstein). Suffice it to say that these are not people known for their moral authority or their willingness to act against injustice in spite of powerful interests when the public good demands it. Many of the problems with the Yudof investment doctrine stem from a corrupt University governance system that students, faculty, and workers have been protesting against for the past year, amidst layoffs, budget cuts, tuition hikes, and furloughs.

Nevertheless the Yudof policy sets a new low for UC investment policies in general, but in particular, continues to deliberately turn a blind eye to the violence of Israel’s apartheid system against Palestinians struggling for their freedom and equality.

Nothing short of genocide, apparently, can move the UC Regents to act against Israel. Under that formula, let us hope that the UC will never have to divest from Israel — current warning signs of precisely such a disaster notwithstanding.

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May 12th, 2010 | Filed under Op-Eds