Bill Was Ill-Conceived and Rightfully Vetoed

Anna Vignet/Illustration

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ASUC Senate Bill 118 calling for UC divestment in American companies that supply arms to Israel is ill-conceived. It attacks democracy while protecting dictatorship, does not reflect UC interests, was passed unfairly and promotes divisiveness. It should be rejected by all people of good will.

The measure attacks Israel, an open democratic society that has long been a close American ally. Its government is elected and subject to the rule of law. Its judiciary is independent; its military is under civilian authority; and its press is free.

On the other hand, the measures favor Hamas, an extreme Islamic group that expelled the opposing Fatah party in Gaza by force after winning a 2006 Palestinian election. (Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.) The rulers of Gaza offer no protection under law, no independent judiciary and no free press.

They permit no opposition. Rather than building a civil society, they launched a rocket war against innocent Israeli civilians from behind schools, hospitals, mosques and government agencies, using their own residents as human shields. Yet, the bill holds them blameless for the Palestinian plight. That the supporters of this action singled out Israel for rebuke while ignoring the fanatical regime in Gaza suggests that their agenda is political not ethical.

Divestment will also harm UC interests during a time of recession. It will adversely affect America's ties to a close trading partner that is home to one of the most innovative and advanced high tech industries in the world. This punishes not only employees of the designated companies, but also other workers, the indigent and elderly who depend on a robust economy and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza whose economy is tied to Israel and the United States.

With the University of California reeling from its largest downsizing ever, the senators who supported this measure are out of touch, not only with the needs of the Palestinians they claim to champion, but with the interests of those they were elected to serve.

The discussion of the bill at the March 17-18 senate meeting was one-sided. Favorable arguments were posted on the ASUC Web site in advance with no opposition. The authors made lengthy statements in support. All other speakers both for and against were confined to two minutes, often interrupted by hecklers. The proponents made repeated reference to the UN Goldstone Report. No mention was made of the criticism to which that report has been subjected or to the inaccuracies in how it was represented. Since opponents were not granted equal time, these critiques were nowhere in evidence.

The measure is divisive. Support for Israel is basic to the identity of many American Jews. They experience the bill as de-legitimatizing. But when Jewish students expressed their fear by pointing to anti-Semitic rhetoric (Jews have excessive power, hate non Jews, and lust after their children's blood), others laughed. No one rose to say that it is wrong to ridicule another's pain or to call upon Palestinian and Jewish students to acknowledge one another's historic suffering.

The veto by the ASUC President Will Smelko should stand and the university should take concrete steps to create a more hospitable campus environment for supporters of Israel, making it clear that democracy trumps dictatorship, that divestment harms the weak more than the powerful, that public deliberations must be fair, that dialogue overcomes divisiveness, that we do not ridicule one another at UC Berkeley, that no hate will be tolerated here, none.

Dr. Alexander is a visiting professor of education. Reply to [email protected]

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