Israel-Palestinian question divides Berkeley students

Pro-divestment poster, courtesy of US Campaign for Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel

The controversy over relations between Israel and Palestine has been wreaking havoc in the halls of UC Berkeley in recent weeks.

On March 18, after an emotional four-hour session with 80 speakers, the Associated Students of the University of California, the ruling body of Cal, voted 16-4 to divest from stocks that do business in Israel.

The Senate’s resolution criticized Israel’s treatment of Palestinians and its continued building in the West Bank and East Jerusalem. It called for all student-controlled funds to be divested from General Electric and United Technologies, two US companies that supply military equipment and other products to Israel.

Just a few days later, the president of ASUC vetoed the resolution, calling it ill considered.


Now the student Senate is expected to consider overriding the veto on March 31, and there is a good chance the attempt will succeed. It only takes 14 votes to override a presidential veto and there were 16 votes in favor of divestment the first time around.

The bill and vote have drawn considerable attention, in blogs and in Jewish newspapers around the country and in Israel. An article in the Daily Californian drew 367 comments.

The original wording of the bill compared Israel to South Africa and described its policies as “apartheid.” That word was stripped from the final version. Supporters of the bill also tried to broaden it by promising to condemn other countries for war crimes after doing a little more research to discover which countries those may be. This expansion of the targets of the bill prompted two of the ASUC’s Jewish senators to vote in its favor.

The Senate is also calling on the university to divest, although it has no influence over the university’s investment policy. However, in 1986, ASUC divested from companies doing business in South Africa and the university eventually divested $3.1 billion, according to the Daily Californian.

UC Berkeley has been the site of numerous clashes between pro-Israelis and pro-Palestinians. In April 2002, members of Students for Justice in Palestine occupied a building on campus where 600 students were taking midterms. Almost 80 people were arrested. In November 2008, Tikvah: Jewish Students for Israel interrupted a panel at Boalt Hall that was discussing Israel’s policies in the West Bank and Gaza.

Frances Dinkelspiel is co-founder and executive editor of Cityside. Email: frances@citysidejournalism.org.