Archbishop Desmond Tutu

The question of whether the University of California at Berkeley should divest funds from companies that do business in Israel has gone viral and international.

The latest celebrity to weigh in on the controversial issue is former Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa. He wrote a letter urging the ASUC Senate to overturn its president’s veto of a bill that called for the divestment of companies that allegedly help repress Palestinians. The Senate is scheduled to take a vote on that bill on Wednesday.

“It was with great joy that I learned of your recent 16-4 vote in support of divesting your university’s money from companies that enable and profit from the injustice of the Israeli occupation of Palestinian land and violation of Palestinian human rights” Tutu wrote in a letter that was published in the Oregon Salem News. “Principled stands like this, supported by a fast growing number of US civil society organizations and people of conscience, including prominent Jewish groups, are essential for a better world in the making, and it is always an inspiration when young people lead the way and speak truth to power.”

Naomi Klein, the author of the international bestseller, The Shock Doctrine, also wrote an open letter in The Nation magazine supporting the divestment.

There have also been numerous people speaking out against the bill, but none with the star power of Tutu, who won a Nobel Peace Prize for his fight to end  South Africa’s apartheid system.  Pro-Israel supporters have send thousands of e-mails to the office of Chancellor Robert Birgeneau as well as to various ASUC senators.

“Resolutions like this are not designed to promote peace between a Jewish state and its Arab neighbors,” Dr. Michael Harris, one of the founders of StandWithUs/S.F. Voice for Israel, told the J, the Jewish weekly newspaper of Northern California. “They are designed to promote the elimination of a Jewish state. That is the real heart of the issue.”

A representative of AIPAC, the American-Israel Public Affairs Committee, called for its supporters to speak out against the bill and then vowed to get pro-Israel students elected as ASUC senators. Some people have characterized that as a call by AIPAC to ‘take over” the student government, creating an even more heated environment for the discussion.

The Senate will meet at 7 pm Wednesday in its chambers in Eshelman Hall. Hundreds of people, both for and against the measure, are expected to attend.

Frances Dinkelspiel, Berkeleyside and CItyside co-founder, is a journalist and author. Her first book, Towers of Gold: How One Jewish Immigrant Named Isaias Hellman Created California, published in November...