Commission’s divest resolution, despite failing, breaks important ground

On Oct. 21, Berkeley’s Human Welfare and Community Action Commission held a hearing to consider a resolution recommending that City Council divest city funds from four multinational corporations that profit from Israel’s occupation and violations of the rights of the Palestinian people.

Speaking to the illegality of Israel’s occupation, now ongoing for almost half a century, the resolution cited international authority, including the International Court of Justice, the United Nations General Assembly and the United Nations Security Council’s 1967 resolution requiring Israel’s withdrawal from the territories. The resolution also detailed specifics of Israel’s human rights abuses against the occupied Palestinian people and their documentation by many major human rights organizations around the world, including Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and B’Tselem.

In response, the Jewish Community Relations Council, or JCRC, sent out an action alert calling on Berkeley Jews (of which I am one) to tell the commission that they opposed the resolution.  The alert pointed out a jurisdictional question as to whether the resolution was within the purview of the Human Welfare Commission. But beyond that, the JCRC alert did not dispute a single fact cited in the resolution, nor was it framed in any way to facilitate supporters of Israel to debate the issues. Rather, it was framed to crush any debate at all by stirring alarm that criticism of Israel is inherently anti-Semitic and that divestment constitutes an existential threat to Israel. JCRC characterized divestment supporters as “seeking the elimination of Israel” and characterized the resolution as biased, one-sided, divisive and deeply offensive.  In hammering in the “divisive” talking point, JCRC warned that a debate over Israel “will be divisive in the Berkeley community where there is a wide range of perspectives on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.”

Yes, the issue is divisive, just as women’s suffrage, civil rights and the war in Vietnam were divisive. Being divided is not a reason to end political speech; it is precisely a reason for more speech.  And when the debate is about public issues, it should be, as the Supreme Court observed in NYT v. Sullivan, “uninhibited, robust and wide-open.”  But for those who seek to maintain a stranglehold on the political narrative, the possibility of wide-open debate represents a threat to the status quo and so “divisiveness” is wielded as a weapon of repression.

A new report issued by Palestine Legal and the Center for Constitutional Rights documents how well-funded pro-Israel organizations routinely accuse pro-Palestinian activists, primarily university students and faculty, of being anti-Semitic and extremist.  Consequently, officials are often intimidated into unconstitutionally shutting down discourse that opens the door to advocacy for Palestinian rights.

Such tactics were in evidence at the start of the Berkeley Divestment Resolution process.  Commissioner Cheryl Davila, who was to introduce the resolution, was fired by Darryl Moore, her appointing council member, minutes before the first hearing on Sept. 16 after she refused as a matter of principle his demand the previous day to withdraw the resolution.

At the Oct. 21 hearing itself, there were more than 200 people in attendance and public comment — limited in most cases to one minute — went on for three hours, roughly evenly divided between opponents and supporters of the resolution. Consistent with the JCRC action alert, the themes of existential threat to Israel, anti-Semitism and divisiveness were repeatedly raised by those opposing the resolution.  

One of the final speakers of the night was Berkeley resident Rochelle Gause who was a close friend of Rachel Corrie when they were both doing community organizing in Olympia, Washington.  Corrie was crushed to death by an IDF Caterpillar bulldozer in 2003 as she stood in front of a Palestinian home in Gaza trying to protect it from demolition. In her comment, Gause spoke of how much it meant to the Olympia community when Berkeley passed a resolution calling on the U.S. government to investigate Corrie’s death. She urged the commission to stand strong in the face of bullying and repression like what Davila faced in being removed from the commission for simply bringing the issue forward.

In the end, the commission voted 5-2 against the divestment resolutions. The chair of the commission, Praveen Sood, said that some of the commissioners voted against the resolution because they questioned whether it fell within the commission’s purview. Sood himself voted against the resolution and favored an alternative divestment resolution he had helped draft, which included a provision for divested funds to be reinvested in companies that provide employment for Berkeley’s low-income residents. The majority had declined to consider the substitute resolution.

Supporters of the divestment resolution were disappointed, of course. They had hoped that Berkeley would be the first city in the country to call for divestment from companies complicit in Israel’s occupation, just as it was among the first cities to call for divestment from companies complicit in apartheid South Africa.  But the “first city” mantel will more likely fall to Portland, Oregon where, earlier in October, the city’s Human Rights Commission voted unanimously to call on the city to put corporations profiting from Israel’s occupation and human rights abuses on its “Do Not Buy” list.

Despite the Berkeley commission vote, for those supporting divestment, the hearing was remarkable if only for the fact that the issue of Palestinian rights was openly discussed at all, and at length, in a municipal space. It was clear that our perspective was no longer on the fringe and that in Berkeley, the center of gravity of discourse about Israel-Palestine has dramatically shifted.  A culture of silence, enforced by manipulating fears of “divisiveness,” is ending.

Carol Sanders is a retired attorney and a member of the Bay Area chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace.

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  • Dan Spitzer

    Finklestein has used the victimization of his parents to justify his statements that Jews have exaggerated (!) the enormity of the Holocaust. Mynick, it would serve you better if you read beyond the introduction of books you say you read…

  • Dan Spitzer

    A new store named “Hitler” just opened in Gaza City. It features mannequins brandishing knives. Is there any doubt but that members of Berkeley’s pro-Palestinian minion would say, “I’m sure they are only anti-Zionist, not anti-Semitic.”

  • onemore4acure

    Sadly, I believe that Israeli Prime Minister Golda Meir summed it up well:

    Peace will come when the Arabs will love their children more than they hate us.

  • SamXie

    Regarding BDS- if you believe the Jewish people have LESS rights than other people, how is that not anti-Semitic? Can someone explain that to me?

  • SamXie

    Its the inevitable “Even when we lose, we win” statement. The proposed boycott resolution was the result of nearly a year of behind closed door dealings with the Human Welfare Commission by a variety of anti-Israel groups. The organized Jewish community got wind of it- and they responded with an overwhelming “Not in our name”. Good for them. This resolution shows the willingness of groups like JVP to squander scarce municipal resources on their narrow and biased political machinations. Its a relief that people are fighting back.

  • Richard Mynick

    Dan claims that “anyone who spouts the total lie that Israel is an ‘apartheid racist state’ is ignorance personified.” The following is from an editorial published by Haaretz only 2 days ago:

    Netanyahu’s opposition to a binational state leads to a clear conclusion: As long as “Israel’s control of the area” continues, millions of Palestinians in the territories will remain in the inferior status of subjects devoid of civil rights. Their settler neighbors, meanwhile, enjoy such rights unhampered.

    The regime described in Netanyahu’s vision has a name – it’s called apartheid. There is no other term for two populations living in the same area, one with political rights and the other under perennial military occupation…

    • Dan Spitzer

      Myrick, since you are a proud member of the Communist Party 4th International, you may somehow have overlooked that some of your CP comrades, even though they were enslaved to a tyrannical ideology, fought bravely to overturn the true apartheid of S. Africa. By comparing Israel to S. Africa and attempting to absurdly use the term apartheid and apply it to Israel, you demean the brave genuine opponents of S. African apartheid and all they were struggling against.

      It doesn’t surprise me that you cite Haaretz, a journal on Israel’s far left, which uses the same absurd rhetoric to bash Netanyahu as Fox does to Obama and US liberals. Given how clueless you are when it comes to Israel, this doesn’t surprise me.

      BTW, there are plenty of Israeli publications which are critical of that country’s government, just as we have journals here in great number which castigate our own political leaders. That’s because democratic Israel has, like the US, true freedom of expression.

      On the other hand, can you cite any Palestinian publication which has the courage to criticize Palestinian political leaders? And if so, what do they say? And if they have been critical, when are they getting out of prison?

    • SamXie

      Thats an editorial- its an opinion piece. In Netanyahu’s own words

      “The peace agreements with Egypt and Jordan are vital. But they’re not enough. We must also find a way to forge a lasting peace with the Palestinians. Two years ago, I publicly committed to a solution of two states for two peoples: A Palestinian state alongside the Jewish state.

      I am willing to make painful compromises to achieve this historic peace. As the leader of Israel, it is my responsibility to lead my people to peace.

      This is not easy for me. I recognize that in a genuine peace, we will be required to give up parts of the Jewish homeland. In Judea and Samaria, the Jewish people are not foreign occupiers. We are not the British in India. We are not the Belgians in the Congo.

      This is the land of our forefathers, the Land of Israel, to which Abraham brought the idea of one God, where David set out to confront Goliath, and where Isaiah saw a vision of eternal peace. No distortion of history can deny the four thousand year old bond, between the Jewish people and the Jewish land.”

  • garyfouse


    You have hit on something. The standards have indeed fallen at Cal-for both students and faculty. That has been going on for decades.

    • Dan Spitzer

      Yes Gary, there’s no doubt but that when students, faculty, or anyone tries to apply terms like “apartheid” or “racist” to Israel, they either are poorly educated, not particularly bright, stuck in the myopia of Marxist ideology/rhetoric, or out-and-out bigoted. In many cases, all of the above.

      It boggles the mind when there is a denial of how poorly women are treated in Palestinian society, those who fail to acknowledge that homosexuals are brutalized in the Palestinian Territories, or even the pathetic reality that dissidents and journalists are throttled by the Palestinian hierarchy.

      To remotely try to say that Israel is not one of the planet’s most progressive societies when it comes to rights for women, gays, and those who wish to state or write dissident opinions is the height of ignorance and shows a deficit of education.

      There are even members of the pro-Palestinian minion at Cal who deny the tragic reality of honor murders of teenage daughters by Palestinian fathers or brothers.

      When students get by with majors in Peace and Conflict Studies, Ethnic Studies, or enroll in departments such as Near East Studies which have been funded by the likes of Saudi Arabia and the Emirates, you know that there has been a “dumbing down” of the quality of a UC Berkeley education…

  • garyfouse

    Hey Carol! The next time the MSA or SJP bring Amir Abdel Malik Ali to campus to rail against those “Zionist Jews”, tell me that the pro-Palestinian movement on campus is not anti-Semitic. Your organization (JVP) is a despicable group that engages in anarchist tactics (e.g. disrupting Netanyahu’s speech at New Orleans) and would deny the right of pro-Israel voices to be heard on campus. I know, I heard it right out of the mouth of JVP member Matan Cohen when he came to speak at UC Irvine.

    You align yourselves with forces that would kill every last Jew in Israel-if they could.

    So celebrate your “victory”.

    • Dan Spitzer

      In fact, most of the pro-Palestinian crowd such as JVP, SJP/MSA have frequently attempted to shout down speakers who have a positive perspective toward Israel. Indeed, the former Israeli ambassador to the US was kept from speaking by those who believe only supporters of the Palestinians deserve to be heard on campus. Ditto Bill Maher.

      These attempts by the pro-Palestinian minion should hardly surprise anyone as this is simply a reflection of how dissidents are treated in both the West Bank, Gaza, as well as throughout most of the Islamic world…

  • Larry Hendel

    I agree with Carol Sanders’ op ed and Nikki Sach’s comment below summarizing the situation. Israel’s continued and intensified aggression in the West Bank, Gaza and Jerusalem must be curtailed if there is to be a chance for peace in the region. Divestment is a non violent tool that those of us outside Israel/Palestine should support. Berkeley’s HWAC Commission should be applauded for taking up the resolution, and all supporters of democracy should be outraged and ashamed that the commissioner who proposed the resolution was fired for doing so.

    • Dan Spitzer

      Maybe you would be happy if San Francisco’s city funded zoo held pro-Palestinian forums. Maybe Berkeley’s janitorial union should do the same.

      The HWAC is supposed to assist the economically indigent of our city. Not serve as an ideological circle jerk for those currently sponsoring and engaging in terrorism…

  • Nikki Sachs

    Thanks for printing this op ed which reflects how I feel about the P/I conflict. Israel needs to end its occupation of the West Bank and East Jerusalem and then there might be a chance for peace.

    • Dan Spitzer

      A chance for peace? Like when Israel pulled fully out of Gaza and the Palestinians there commenced firing missiles at Israeli towns…

      • Nikki Sachs

        No, like when an occupying army leaves a country entirely. Gaza is still a prison, albeit an outdoor one. If Israel truly left all its occupying spaces, there would be a chance for peace.

        • Dan Spitzer

          That you cite Norman Finklestein, a Holocaust denier, reflects your level of bias when it comes to Israel. And ignorance as you seem not to realize that Israel has not had a single soldier nor a settler in Gaza for years.
          When Israel pulled completely out of Gaza, Hamas-dedicated openly to Jewish genocide worldwide-started bombarding Israeli towns and schools with missiles. So like any country which protects its citizens as it should, Israel limits what Gaza can import.
          Nonetheless, Hamas still garners munitions (from Qatar and the other Emirates) as well as materials to build tunnels meant to murder the residents of Israeli towns. If Gaza is, as you say, “a prison,” it’s jailers are it’s own chosen rulers. Remember, Gazans overwhelmingly voted to be run by Hamas.

          BTW, Nikki, as a woman don’t you care at all about how Hamas treats its females in Gaza? Apparently not, nor do you seem to give a fig about how gays and dissidents are brutalized there. On the other hand, Israel is one of the world’s most progressive nations when it comes to womens’ and gay rights along with freedom of expression. But again, these are issues of which you seem to be utterly unconcerned…

          • Nikki Sachs

            The people in Gaza have no way to have an election, which if they did, Hamas might be gone. Interesting you focus on Gaza and don’t want to deal with the West Bank, the major area Israel is occupying and killing innocents. No one has been charged in the burning alive of a Palestinian family there and many extrajudicial killings have taken place by Israel in the West Bank in the past 3 weeks. The tally is something like 10 Israeli’s and 100 Palestinians.

            As far as how well Israel treats women, they can’t even get a divorce without the consent of their spouse. That is not liberation. So what if Israel is better on gay issues than other countries, they should be and get no points from me about that. In fact wasn’t there a stabbing at the gay pride event. Not everyone in Israel like gays. I won’t respond to any further comments from you.

          • SamXie

            Sadly, in Gaza political opponents of Hamas are jailed or worse, so an election is not in the works for the foreseeable future. Its not much better in the PA, where Abbas is on the 11th year of his 4 year term, and is currently building himself a presidential palace, fit for a king.
            Nikki, why do you sound disappointed that there aren’t any more dead Jews? Its not for lack of trying- there have been over 800 attacks on Jews in the last 6 weeks.

  • Dan Spitzer

    Mr. Mynick, the Internet has just revealed that you support the “4th International,” the remnants of the Communist Party. CPUSA has forever said that the Jewish State of Israel should not exist–hence your ideological screed on this site and elsewhere…

  • BigSticksWalkSoftly

    Palestinians and their supports are fighting for their lives and dignity in the face of insurmountable obstacles….

    Israelis and their supporters are fighting to not get their feelings hurt while crossing their college quad sipping lattes while their conscripted bedmates apply their learned racism to build apartheid walls, deny Palestinians the right to movement, to marry, to citizenship, to land rights, civil rights, human rights,,

    • Dan Spitzer

      PunyStick, why should anyone who reads the out and out falsehoods of your second sentence take you seriously? Anyone with any knowledge of the reality knows this, but then again I’ve never read anything from the SJP/MSA, JVP minion willing or aware of a scintilla of truth when it comes to Israel. Your level of knowledge must come from the Bazian/Said bargain basement…

    • garyfouse

      News flash for you, Mr Taquiyya. Outside of academia and the Muslim community, nobody in America cares about the Palestinians.

      • Dan Spitzer

        Indeed, the most respected polls show support for Israel at an all time high in the US, while attitudes toward any measure or concern for the Palestinians is next to nil…

      • BigSticksWalkSoftly

        News update homeboy
        If Americans knew how much israelis dislike them, steal from them, and lie to them
        I’m sure it would be another story
        Just because Americans don’t care for palestine
        Doesn’t mean they would unconditionally approve of and finance israeli atrocities.

        • garyfouse

          First of all I am not your homeboy. Second of all, the Palestinians are not our friends and have never been our friends. They have no clue how to build a society or anything else. All they know how to do is kill and destroy. Some culture. Furthermore, the only people who support them in this country whether students or faculty are misfits. To support the Palestinians is to support Jew hatred and murder.

        • Dan Spitzer

          Well, it must bother PunyStick to know that polls in the US show support for the Jewish state has never been higher. And the only people BDS really scares are Palestinians in the W. Bank who have lost jobs because of it. As for the Israeli economy, it is strong and vibrant.

          So much for the time SJP/MSA and JVP have wasted on BDS. But then again, what else do they have to do?

  • Richard Mynick

    Dan Spitzer’s concern for “the poor people of our city” is very touching — so much so, that I’d like to make a proposal that I’m sure Dan would wholeheartedly support: instead of sending Israel $3.2 billion yearly in military aid, which it uses to massacre defenseless people whose land it’s already occupying & colonizing, let’s petition the US government to halt that colossal waste of money, and use the funds instead for the benefit of the less fortunate here at home.

    I’m similarly impressed by Dan’s referring to Israel as “democratic.” Bear in mind that even during the worst of Jim Crow, the US never ceased referring to itself as “the world’s leading democracy;” and that even during apartheid, South Africa was also nominally a “democracy.” In both cases, this word meant only that (at least some) citizens were allowed to vote — even if all the parties running were committed to perpetuating a profoundly unjust social order. That’s exactly the sense in which Israel is a “democracy” — just like the US under Jim Crow, or S Africa.

    Note too how Dan hopelessly muddies the facts of the ongoing “weekly slaughter of thousands of Arabs” in the Middle East, blaming it all on “their co-religionists.” (This is the standard “Everything is the fault of ‘the Arabs’ ” line of pro-Israel propaganda.) Actually, of course, …

    • Richard Mynick

      … the USA and its allies like Saudi Arabia are largely responsible for the violence & destabilizing of the Middle East. And both those countries are close allies of Israel. The mess these aggressor nations have made has had nothing whatever to do with ending Israel’s Occupation of Palestinian land. It’s absurd to blame on “Arabs” what is largely the fault of the US. And it’s utterly dishonest to conflate the actions of a US-backed tyranny like Saudi Arabia with the legitimate grievances of Palestinians — who’ve had their land unjustly taken from them & have been subjected to a brutal, unlawful occupation — simply because both groups are “Arabs.”

      • Dan Spitzer

        Oh, a couple of other matters Mr. Mynick. Are you happy with the relegation to second class citizenry to which the Palestinians place their women? Are you comfortable with the Palestinian jailing, beating or murdering of gays? And surely you are not distraught with the lack of freedom of expression permitted dissidents in the Palestinian territories, are you?

        And of course one more little matter. As hopefully you know, according to their own polls the Palestinians’ most popular political party is Hamas. And Hamas has openly advocated worldwide Jewish genocide. I presume this doesn’t trouble you, does it Mr. Mynick? We won’t wish to believe that your are an advocate of Jewish genocide, are you Mr. Mynick?

        • BigSticksWalkSoftly

          Little of what you say is true
          There are no Palestinian laws that discriminate against women.
          You must be confused with Saudi Arabia.
          I guess that makes sense to you since all Arabs are the same right?
          On the other hand, as highlighted by Israel Shahak’s book Jewish History, Jewish Religion
          There is an over-riding sense in Israeli society of entitlement
          Entitlement to Palestinian land (God’s chosen people, God is a real estate agent), entitlement to abuse their own women (rare but spousal abuse is rampant in many Israeli orthodox Jewish communities),
          And then there is the price tag attacks. And commandments to curse at Christian cemeteries.
          Not that the Palestinians and Hamas are perfect angels, but at least they don’t mooch off of American taxpayers and spit in our faces and stab us in our backs all at the same time.
          Israel is a racist terror apartheid state and Palestinians have a right to full civil and human rights free from outsider intimidation and misinformation.
          If illegal armed immigrants killed your family and took your land and told everyone God gave them the land, I’m sure you’d be more than a little upset

      • garyfouse

        Stop it. the vioolence and destabilizing in the ME is due to the violent and intolerant culture of the Middle East-with the notable exception of Israel.

    • lspanker

      which it uses to massacre defenseless people whose land it’s already occupying & colonizing

      You make this nonsense up as you go along or what?

    • garyfouse

      Well who is doing the slaughter, Richard? Shia and Sunni are killing each other and they are all killing the Christians. We have ISIS and one big figure 8 car race of a war in Syria. Palestinians are murdering israelis and (thankfully) being killed by the cops who arrive on the scene.

  • Dan Spitzer

    Seeing no other response to Ms. Sanders op-ed other than my own, it strikes me that although the Daily Cal incessantly prints more about the Palestinians in reportage, editorials, op-eds and letters than it does about any other matter (I believe the statistics will either bear me out on this or come close to doing so), precious few readers seem all that interested in this topic.

    The overwhelming emphasis in this paper on Palestinian matters reminds me of how the gun lobby impacts our Congress. It screams and yells until Congress makes the nation aware of it and then gives the lobby its way.

    Ditto the rants of SJP/MSA/JVP lobby on the Daily Cal. Day after day the paper makes Palestine/Israel a major focal point of emphasis, even though most students appear not remotely interested in the issue. Correspondingly, the pro-Palestinian minion makes the paper its principle tool for propaganda and the newspaper pathetically buys into it.

    However, given the lack of response by most of the student body to this topic, it is clear that students aren’t particularly interested in it. There are speakers coming in from all over the world to this renowned campus and research of vital interest conducted here. Yet this takes a backseat in reportage, if it is covered at all, to those who wish to promulgate Palestinian propaganda. How sad for the student body that its paper of record ignores matters of genuine interest to most Cal students…

  • Dan Spitzer

    Berkeley’s Human Welfare and Community Action Commission is supposed to serve the poor people of our city. Instead, it succumbed to pro-Palestinian propagandists who try to denigrate the Middle East’s sole democracy. No matter that Berkeley supposedly stands for womens’ rights, gay rights, and freedom of expression, which progressive Israel honors in spades while the Palestinians relegate their women to second class citizenry, jail or murder gays and suppress dissent, the lefty and Islamic minion tries to use local government to formulate foreign policy.

    No wonder Berkeley is the laughingstock of the nation. Don’t believe me? Go outside of our fair city and you will find people nationwide roaring with laughter at the lunatic left which for which Berkeley has served as a catch-basin. And when the country is not laughing at Berkeley, it understandably sees it with disgust.

    Right now, teenage Palestinian thugs are exhibiting the worst facets of anti-Semitism by stabbing every day people, largely elderly Israelis, females and children. It is on behalf of this cultural sickness which some members of the commission slave…

    • Dan Spitzer

      One shouldn’t hesitate to add that if you really care about women, gays and freedom of expression, then you celebrate and support Israel. If you are a misogynist, anti-gay, or oppose free speech, then it would be understandable that you would be an advocate of the “Palestinian cause” and of this resolution.
      With thousands of Arabs being slaughtered weekly by their co-religionists throughout the Middle East and civil wars waging to keep in power African despots, it’s amazing to see democratic Israel singled out for sanctions. Or maybe not, as singling out nearly half of the Jews left on the planet has long been the practice of anti-Semites…

    • garyfouse

      Why should taxpayers pay one cent for the Berkeley HWC to spend five minutes even listening to the Israeli-Palestinian issues?

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