Controversial Proposal to Divest From Israel Declined by City Council

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The City Council last night rejected a controversial "Crisis in the Middle East" proposal, even after stripping out its most contentious element-the city's divestment from and boycott of Israel.

Speaking over the din of a few hundred chanting protesters outside the Old City Hall, council members quickly removed the divestment and boycott language from the proposal brought before the council by the city's Peace and Justice Commission.

Even then, the council voted down what remained-a largely symbolic statement encouraging peace and opposing the sale of weapons by the United States to any nation that would use them against citizens.

"There's no sense dividing this city," said Mayor Shirley Dean. "There's no sense dividing up into warring camps."

The council rejected the proposal on a 4-3 vote, with two abstaining.

The council chambers were overflowing with residents eager to hear the council's decision and voice their opinions. Berkeley fire and police officials regulated entrance to the chambers, filled to capacity, requiring many to wait in the building's lobby for a chance to sit before the council.

Word of the vote on the resolution quickly spread from the packed council chambers to the crowded steps outside, where two flag-waving throngs of pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian demonstrators faced off across a line of Berkeley police officers carrying riot gear. The demonstrators were led by UC Berkeley students who are no strangers to stand-offs on the Middle East crisis.

The pro-Israeli demonstrators erupted into victorious chants and dances after the council cast their vote.

"I'm very happy," said UC Berkeley alumnus Elon Joelson. "I expected a lot of virulent anti-Israel rhetoric, and that's what I got."

The pro-Palestinian crowd initially turned somber, but it quickly began to send back defiant counter-chants.

"They all know that they are 100 percent wrong," said demonstrator Walid Ayesh. "We know the truth because we know what happened in Palestine."

Despite the tense atmosphere, the demonstration did not escalate beyond verbal confrontation.

The resolution was bogged down in fine points of procedure. While it was clear no council member was prepared to vote for divestment, the council was uncertain as to how to proceed with the symbolic portion of the proposal.

Because of the council's propensity to discuss every detail of even the smallest issue, council members used an egg timer provided by Councilmember Betty Olds to limit themselves to five minutes each.

Olds was the proposal's most ardent opponent, calling it "anti-Semitic."

"Let's call it what it is," Olds said. "I'm not going to dignify this resolution (by suggesting changes to it)."

Others argued for sending the proposal back to the Peace and Justice Commission, which drafted the proposal.

Councilmember Kriss Worthing-ton urged the council not to pass a watered-down version of the proposal but rather to send it back to the commission "so they can do their job."

Still others on the council rejected the proposal outright on the often-argued grounds that the council should not meddle in foreign policy.

"I just don't think the Berkeley City Council has a role in messing up what already is the most messed up situation of my lifetime," said Councilmember Polly Armstrong, who abstained from the vote.

But Councilmember Maudelle Shirek argued the resolution was the business of the council because "the resources going for the war are taken from our schools and health care."

The original proposal called for a boycott of all products made in Israel and all companies doing business with the country. The commission provided the council with a list of 383 companies falling under this category.


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