ASUC Fails to Override Divestment Bill Veto

Photo: Hundreds of people turned out to watch the vote to overturn the divestment bill veto. The veto was upheld, but a motion to reconsider passed, effectively canceling out the initial vote.
Nick Myers/Photo
Hundreds of people turned out to watch the vote to overturn the divestment bill veto. The veto was upheld, but a motion to reconsider passed, effectively canceling out the initial vote.

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Senate meeting to override veto ends without decision

The ASUC Senate met Wednesday night through Thursday morning to try and decide whether or not to override president Will Smelko's veto on the divestment bill. The meeting ended without the senators reaching a decision.

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After upward of nine hours, more than four dozen speakers, and countless moments of excited applause and tense anticipation, the ASUC Senate ultimately did not overturn the veto of a bill early Thursday morning urging divestment from two corporations that supply the Israeli military with materials and equipment used in alleged war crimes, instead electing to postpone a final decision on the bill's fate.

The 12-7-1 vote to override President Will Smelko's March 24 veto failed to muster the necessary two-thirds majority vote of the 20-member senate. But following a successful motion to reconsider the vote-effectively nullifying the initial tally-the meeting devolved into a stalemate lasting nearly two hours that ended in the senate voting to table the motion to overturn the veto before adjourning.

"By the end of the night, it was either one community wins or the other community wins," said Student Action Senator Sandra Cohen, who voted to uphold the veto.

CalSERVE Senator and Academic Affairs Vice President-Elect Viola Tang-one of the bill's supporters-voted to sustain the veto as a procedural tactic, which, under the parliamentary rules the senate follows, allowed her to initiate a motion to reconsider.

The much-anticipated meeting, which began Wednesday evening, attracted more than 400 students, faculty and community members, at least 200 of whom stayed until it was adjourned.

Due to the unexpected turnout of supporters from all sides, the meeting had to be moved several times from Eshleman Library to the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union Multicultural Center and finally to the Pauley Ballroom.

Passions remained high throughout the meeting, which included more than 50 speakers advocating everything from divesting in the corporations mentioned in the bill-General Electric and United Technologies-to ending the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Among those scheduled were UC Berkeley rhetoric professor Judith Butler, Consul General of Israel for the Pacific Northwest Akiva Tor and a phoned-in statement from Richard Falk, United Nations Special Rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territories. A lengthy public comment session followed, consisting of a back-and-forth between supporters and detractors of the bill.

Hedy Epstein, an 85-year-old Holocaust survivor from St. Louis, Mo. who is a vocal advocate against the occupation of Palestinian territories, spoke in support of the bill during the scheduled speakers portion.

"After Senate Bill 118A was approved, I sent an e-mail to President Will Smelko asking him not to veto the resolution," Epstein said. "And after he did veto it, citing concern that it discriminates against certain communities, meaning Jews, I had to come here to say that President Smelko does not speak for me."

Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, the executive director of Berkeley Hillel, said overriding the veto would make UC Berkeley a more hostile environment for Jewish and Israeli students.

"It will definitely cause a decrease in the number of Jewish students willing to attend Cal," he said.

Student Action Senator Minji Kim cast the sole abstaining vote, citing her belief that she lacked sufficient qualifications to vote on the issue.

During the several recess sessions following the motion to reconsider the vote to override the veto, divestment supporters and opponents approached Kim in unsuccessful attempts to win her vote.

As the meeting stretched past 6:00 a.m. Thursday morning, senators from both sides increasingly spoke of drafting a compromise bill that would prevent further contention.

"Can we just come to that conclusion that we table this bill-we get another bill-but we get, like, confirmation that it can pass," said independent senator and divestment bill supporter Huda Adem.

Nhu Nhu Nguyen, one of the Student Action senators who initially voted for the bill but supported the veto at the meeting, invited the bill's authors-Emiliano Huet-Vaughn and Tom Pessah-and Tor to come and draft a bill that would not alienate either side of the debate.

Despite the failure to override the veto, the bill's supporters valued the open discussion that had occurred during the meeting.

"Justice doesn't sleep," said independent Senator Jonathan Gaurano, a co-sponsor of the bill. "What happened tonight was dialogue, awareness, conversation, enlightenment, turmoil and hope."


Contact Allie Bidwell and Nick Myers at [email protected]

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