After a long, drawn-out session of the ASUC (Associated Students of the University of California) student senate earlier this week, the BDS-sponsored bill passed by a 1 vote margin. The bill asked the University to divest its investments in 3 specific companies that were charged with abetting Israeli human rights violations in the occupied territories. The bill had the usual one-sided characterizations of Israel, though the sponsors made sure that they could claim it was "even handed" by denouncing attacks on civilians on both sides. (The BDSers even indicated their willingness to have the UC system divest from companies that supported Palestinian terror, but they were apparently saddened that they just couldn't find any.) I won't go through an extensive analysis of all the flaws in the document, as there's an excellent review posted here. Rather, I'd like to focus on what occurred in the room, as well as around it in cyberspace. I was at one of the meetings held as part of the 2010 edition of the Berkeley BDS Circus, so was perhaps less shocked than others who had not experienced this performance previously.
I'm going to refer to the group in support of the resolution as the "BDS side". The resolution and the arguments mirrored those used at other campuses and the entire rationale for the effort came straight from one of the BDS playbooks: “Divestment campaigns and requests for institutional divestment provide debate material that places Palestine solidarity groups in the most favorable position to present their case." The original text of the resolution even referenced the BDS movement's own website as a source. The UC Regents already had a standing statement that they were not going to change their investment policy based on ASUC resolutions, so there was not even a thought that this could have any practical effect. So the only reason to bring up such a resolution is, exactly as stated, to provide a forum for Students for Justice in Palestine to lead a discussion to condemn Israel. I will note that the final amended version of the bill apparently has clauses explicitly rejecting the BDS goal of the elimination of Israel. However, these amendments were inserted after the public comment period.
The tone was set right at the beginning, when one of the Jewish students introducing their alternative resolution (calling for positive investment for peace) mentioned that the leadership of the organized Jewish community was present. A hiss went up from the BDS side that was quickly silenced, but the sentiment was clear. The BDS side then introduced their featured speaker, the author Alice Walker; Walker has a lengthy history of flirtation with the line between legitimate political criticism of Israel and overt anti-Semitic ideology. As the open comment period began, the BDS side couldn't quite decide whether their ASUC student fees were subsidizing Israel's occupation or whether they were profiting from it. Or both at the same time. Actually, it's more likely neither-- the student fees pay for student programs, and tuition and university investments pay for the operations of the university. But like much of the rest of the debate, facts weren't really important here; emotion was. The argument was that they simply couldn't continue to have their student fees pay for (or profit from? or both at once?) Israel's actions. And there was no charge that was too vile for them to use to this end-- one speaker went as far as to suggest that Israel was inserting rats into Palestinian girls' genital tracts. Another claimed that the IDF specifically shot Palestinians in the eye so as to blind them but not kill them (must be a newly invented Zionist magic bullet that could be fired that precisely and then stop before entering the brain, which happens to be located right behind the eyes). Other students invoked details of genocidal episodes that have occurred to other peoples, as if the treatment of Palestinians in the West Bank was comparable to mass slaughters of populations. It was reminiscent of the recent use (by a professor of Islamic studies at the University of North Carolina) of photos of Buchenwald to illustrate a story about Deir Yassin.
Just as in 2010, any BDS speaker was met with choreographed high volume cheers. At least this time the room was too small to allow them to gather en masse at the front to intimidate anyone who dared to oppose them, as they had done in 2010. And just as in 2010, the loudest cheers were for the speakers who promoted the most radical anti-Israel line. It was ironic that while the BDS side tried to claim that their resolution wasn't part of BDS, they were ecstatic when one of their speakers invoked the trinity of BDS demands: that Israel end its occupation of "all Arab lands", that Israel give equality to its Palestinian citizens, and that it recognize the fictional "right of return" that would eliminate Jewish national rights in the Jewish homeland. They loudly cheered a student who had brought the unrepentant racist Louis Farrakhan to campus to speak. They insisted that the goal of the resolution wasn't divestment from Israel at all, yet they whooped even more loudly when a speaker stated that South Africa's ANC had endorsed divestment from Israel. They claimed they were not anti-Israel, yet that very morning many of them had rallied in Sproul Plaza chanting the anti-Zionist anthem "From the river to the sea, Palestine will be free."
One tactic that the BDS side used (which they also used at UC Riverside in their ultimately failed attempt there to pass a BDS resolution) was to claim that this resolution was the "neutral" position because it would also divest from companies involved in human rights abuses of Israelis--though they searched far and wide and couldn't find any. They clearly weren't neutral enough to look into any companies doing business with Iran-- the patron of Hamas and Hezbollah, and the source of the Fajr-5 missiles that rained down on Israel last year. Given that all of those missiles were deliberately aimed at Israeli cities, each constituted human rights abuses of Israelis on a massive scale. They clearly weren't neutral enough to look into companies involved in other human rights abuses such as those doing business with Mauritania-- a country in which Arabs continue to hold black Africans as slaves. They certainly weren't neutral enough to find any other country in the world upon which to focus their attention, except for the one Jewish state, which the BDS movement targets for elimination.
What was quite telling was that many of the pro-Israel speakers indicated empathy with Palestinian suffering and stating that they too would like to see the occupation come to an end. Yet none of the student speakers on the BDS side (at least during the first 4 hours of the process when I was in the room) indicated any recognition that people on both sides of the conflict had experienced pain and loss and suffering. None of them indicated any recognition of the two offers by Israel within the past 13 years of a Palestinian state-- which would have ended the occupation against which they railed. None of them indicated that they were doing this to promote peace between a Jewish state of Israel and a future Arab state of Palestine; when one Jewish student turned and directly asked the crowd "How many of you who are in favor of this resolution support peace between a Jewish state of Israel and an Arab state of Palestine?" only a few hands went up. I'm not sure that those few fully understood the question.
But what went on inside the room was polite and restrained compared to what was happening in cyberspace. The two Twitter accounts being used by the BDS side (@Berkeley SJP --Students for Justice in Palestine; and @ucbdivest) are worth noting. Now many of the comments under their hashtag #UCBDivest came from elsewhere, and so these tweeters can legitimately claim that they're not responsible for them. But they certainly give a sense of the sentiment of BDS supporters. And @UCBdivest at least, while making clear his/her biases, at least did report some of what the pro-Israel side had to say. Though by the end, while not too tired to continue reporting all of the speaking points of the BDS side, did let his/her guard slip a bit:
But that's really nothing compared to Cal's Students for Justice in Palestine, the sponsors of the shameful "Israel Apartheid Week" every year.
There's plenty more-- but you get the point. For those who aren't familiar with the term (and I wasn't until this) "zizi" might have several meanings. Wiktionary lists it as "penis". But there's possibly a far more ominous meaning; according to the staff of the Anti-Defamation League, "zizi" is also used in extremist circles as shorthand for "Zio-Nazi".
If you're responsible for maintaining a campus climate of respect for others, perhaps you'd want to consider the role that SJP and their resolution has played on campus this week. Does their behavior uphold UC Berkeley's Principles of Community, which state that the university should "strive to uphold a just community in which discrimination and hate are not tolerated" , a phrase specifically included in this resolution?
And this contribution from an SJP member at UC Riverside might be a sign for what's in store at other campuses that dance with BDS:
Here's the tumblr post referenced in her tweet, just chock-full of trivialization of the deliberate, targeted murder of Jews:
Ways to Get Rich During Divestment Livestreams
Are Jewish students who have positive identification with Israel (the great majority) going to be automatically declared as "racist" by SJP and its supporters, especially if this biased and flawed resolution is upheld? For that matter, will committed Jewish and Zionist students even choose to attend Cal if the campus climate is marked by this type of organized hatred? Whether this resolution is signed or vetoed by the ASUC president, the damage has been done. The university administration immediately noted, in a statement by Chancellor Birgenau, "I sincerely hope we can avoid a recurrence of the rancor and divisiveness that arose in the wake of a previous ASUC vote in 2010." The DailyCal student newspaper recognized this when it wisely editorialized "Ultimately, the passage of the divestment bill leaves lingering tensions that the ASUC must work to resolve in some way. The impact of SB 160’s passage will be felt most immediately on campus, where many students already feel isolated and unwanted. Moving forward, the ASUC needs to make a proactive attempt to alleviate the ongoing friction among students that this divestment solicits. Until campus communities can find a way to come together, divestment will continue to drive us further and further apart."
In the end, Jewish students have choices. There will be very few students for whom Cal is the only option. And while the BDS circus will move on to another town, not caring about the campus community it leaves in its wake, the university will be the one to suffer the consequences.
Divestment isn't happening at UC Berkeley (as the Regents already made clear), but division is-- and so are delegimitization, demonization and double standards regarding Israel. And Natan Sharansky knows what those add up to.