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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