U.C. Berkeley student senate votes to oppose U.C. investment in Israel

The Associated Students of U.C. Berkeley passed a divestment bill by a wide margin March 18, urging the university and U.C. Board of Regents to divest from companies that supply Israel with materials allegedly used to perpetuate war crimes.

More than 200 people attended a boisterous and contentious senate meeting that began on March 17, and about half remained when the final vote, 16-4, was announced around 4 a.m. March 18.

“There were loud cheers on one side and tears on the other,” said Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, executive director of Berkeley Hillel. “Most who spoke in opposition felt incredibly defeated.”

The bill targets the university’s investments of $135 million in companies, specifically General Electric and United Technologies, that supply Israel with electronics and weapons.

In practical terms, the bill has no implications, other than allowing ASUC to voice its opinion to the university and the U.C. Board of Regents, who hold the purse strings.

According to the bill, “the ASUC will further examine its assets and U.C. assets for funds being invested in companies that a) provide military support for or weaponry to support the occupation of the Palestinian territories; b) facilitate the building or maintenance of the illegal wall or the demolition of Palestinian homes; or c) facilitate the building, maintenance or economic development of illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territories.”

As with other divestment pushes, supporters of the measure contend that the investments enable Israel to commit atrocities and war crimes. Opponents claim that they single out Israel for unfair treatment.

Naftalin-Kelman acknowledged the divisiveness of the bill and called it a “sad statement about what the student government is doing.”

He added: “It’s not representing or supporting the interests of the students on campus. In no way are the interests of Israeli and Palestinian people served by a bill that single-handedly and inaccurately identifies Israel as a committer of war crimes.”

The passage of the bill caught the attention of famed attorney and author Alan Dershowitz, who, along with StandWithUs/Voice For Israel, issued a statement denouncing the actions of the student senate.

“Divesting from Israel is immoral, bigoted and if done by a state university, illegal,” the statement said. “It encourages terrorism and discouraged peace. …We will fight back against this selective bigotry that hurts the good name of the University of California.”

According to the U.C. Berkeley student newspaper the Daily Californian, graduate student Emiliano Huet-Vaughn, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine, was one of the bill’s co-authors.

JTA contributed to this report.