Divestment Vote Attracts Hundreds of Spectators

Photo: Supporters of the controversial ASUC bill urging the UC to divest from companies that have supplied Israel with materials used in alleged war crimes gathered on Sproul Plaza Wednesday.
Ryan Ballard/Photo
Supporters of the controversial ASUC bill urging the UC to divest from companies that have supplied Israel with materials used in alleged war crimes gathered on Sproul Plaza Wednesday.


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The ASUC Senate was expected to vote on overriding President Will Smelko's March 24 veto of a controversial bill urging the student government and University of California to divest from United Technologies and General Electric.

The bill urges such a move because the companies have supplied the Israeli military with materials used in alleged war crimes.

A two-thirds majority vote of the senate is needed in order to override a veto. The original bill passed the senate by a 16 to 4 margin. A final vote on overriding the veto was not available as of 10 p.m.

International attention has focused on the 20 ASUC senators following the veto.

"People have definitely been trying to sway all the senators-we've received thousands and thousands of e-mails from all over the world," said Noah Stern, a Student Action senator and ASUC president-elect. "The senate is more than just about the votes. I think it's also an opportunity for students to express their own voices."

Prominent figures including South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, activist Naomi Klein and leftist MIT professor Noam Chomsky have spoken in support of overriding ASUC President Will Smelko's March 24 veto of the bill. Local and national pro-Israel groups such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC)-an influential Washington, D.C. lobby organization-Berkeley Hillel and the Anti-Defamation League have each stated the bill is divisive and unfairly targets Israel.

SQUELCH! party Senator Emily Carlton and Independent Senator Jonathan Gaurano, co-sponsors of the bill, said they and other senators were invited to a Berkeley Hillel-sponsored forum for elected officials at which professors, Hillel employees and rabbis gave a presentation on the history of Israel and what damage the passage of the bill could mean for that nation.

"UC should divest from war crimes," Gaurano said. "I would tell people to come tonight, listen, have clear dialog and make up your own opinions."

Due to the turnout of passionate supporters trying to have their voices heard before the decision could be made, the time and place of the discussion on divestment had to be changed several times throughout the night.

Originally scheduled to be held at 8:00 p.m. in the Eshleman Library after the senate had concluded all other business in the senate chambers, the event moved to the Multicultural Center in Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union. When that space proved insufficient to accommodate a crowd of more than 400 that poured into the lobby and out the door, the senate voted to move the discussion to Pauley Ballroom where it commenced at about 10:30 p.m.

In addition to the move, the senators decided to give preference to students who wanted to attend over alumni and community members.

CalSERVE Senator Lean Deleon-who said he would vote to override the veto-said he hoped that his fellow senators would take the time to consider all sides of the issue and decide whether to support the bill by the time a vote would be taken.

"I am going to keep my vote but I'm also very open to hearing presentations from both sides and being open to dialogue," he said before the meeting.

Carlton said that she has been pressured because of her support of the bill.

"Some of my closest friends have met with me and tried to convince me (to change my vote)," she said. "Some of them have stopped talking to me

altogether."

She added that she has been confronted several times while at parties and had a drink purposefully poured on her.

Other senators said they had already made up their mind.

"When I made my initial vote I was very steadfast in my beliefs," Stern said. "I still feel firm in my belief and how I voted in the initial vote."

Amendments to the bill included a provision that the student government take action against human rights abuses elsewhere such as Morocco.

Student Action Senator Sandra Cohen said she felt that the amendments made to the bill were not

sufficient to balance what she saw as an unfair targeting of Israel and that she would still vote against overriding the veto.

Nhu Nhu Nguyen, another Student Action senator, declined to comment on the bill. Nguyen previously voted for the bill.

"It will be a very long meeting," said Independent Senator Christopher Franco. "I hope that folks will be able to get their voices heard."

Tags: ISRAEL DIVESTMENT BILL, ASUC SENATE


Contact Allie Bidwell and Nick Myers at [email protected]



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