Carol Sanders’ Oct. 29 op-ed, “Commission’s divest resolution, despite failing, breaks important ground” celebrates the fact that anti-Israel activists hijacked a Berkeley Human Welfare and Community Action Commission into holding a hearing on an anti-Israel resolution that the Berkeley city attorney deemed it had no business even considering. Such “victories” are standard fare for the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions Movement.
Sanders claims it was somehow remarkable that the issue of “Palestinian rights” was discussed. American policy for many years has been to support a just peace on the basis of two states for two peoples — the Jewish state of Israel and a future Arab state of Palestine. The real problem here is that BDS insists that human rights and justice for the Palestinians require limiting the right of the Jewish people to self-determination in their homeland. The central demand of the BDS movement — the “right of return” for millions of descendants of Palestinian refugees who fled from 1947-49 during the war launched by the Arabs to destroy Israel at its birth — would turn the Jewish people into a minority in their own homeland. And as Omar Barghouti, co-founder of the BDS movement states, “I am not for a two-state solution.”
Former commissioner Cheryl Davila, who was removed from her position after refusing to remove the divestment resolution, is not a heroic victim in this entire matter. Over the course of a year, she knowingly diverted the work of the commission, trying to fit the square peg of anti-Israel activism into the round hole of addressing poverty in Berkeley. As one example, she attended the recent Atlanta conference of the U.S. Campaign to End the Occupation, where an award was given to Rasmea Odeh, a convicted terrorist involved in the death of two young Israelis.
The hearing at the Human Welfare Commission itself was far from an enlightening debate. Some anti-Israel speakers presented the usual canards and lies, such as the charge that the fate of the Palestinian population under Israel’s control is similar to the genocide of European Jewry in the Holocaust — factually wrong, as the Palestinian population has grown four times larger since 1967.
Letters sent to the commission in favor of the resolution bemoaned that Berkeley was “deeply influenced by the monied Jewish lobby” and tried to defend the diversion of the commission’s work as an issue of “free speech.” Jewish Voice for Peace claimed at the commission’s September meeting that it represented the Jewish community, but grassroots Jewish community members turned out to oppose the resolution. A letter to the commission opposing the resolution was signed by many Jewish community leaders and rabbis. By my count, in the end nearly two-thirds of the speakers, Jews and non-Jews, urged the commission to reject this deeply flawed and biased measure.
Furthermore, just as BDS activism on campuses and in communities often leaves a trail of anti-Semitic incidents, several Jewish Berkeley residents described how they were targeted with hate speech in the few weeks leading up to this hearing. This should not surprise anyone. While not every BDS advocate is an anti-Semite, many can be.
In the end, despite the efforts of commission chair Praveen Sood to persuade other commissioners to vote for his alternative divestment resolution, a majority voted down the entire topic. Some recognized that their commission should not have even considered this measure, as the Berkeley city attorney had confirmed. They openly questioned why their commission spent so many hours on this measure, which took time and resources away from its mission of helping the poor in Berkeley. And one commissioner addressed the key question that BDS tries desperately to avoid: whether measures such as this one will truly bring peace to the region. The answer to that question, of course, is no — because BDS actually might undermine efforts for a true peace in the region.
Michael Harris is with SF Voice for Israel, the San Francisco chapter of StandWithUs, an international Israel education organization. He is the author of “Winning a Debate With an Israel-Hater,” published by Shorehouse Books.