Divestment debate: Faculty letter in support of Middle East peace

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We, faculty at UC Berkeley, write to urge that you reject yet another call for a selective boycott against Israel and urge you to instead support ASUC Senate bill 158, “In Support of Positive Steps toward a Negotiated Israeli-Palestinian Peace.”  We believe that the passage of the divestment bill would violate the Berkeley values of justice, fairness and open dialogue.

The history of Israelis and Palestinians is long and painful. Violence between these communities goes back more than a century, long before Israel was founded. Today, Palestine and Israel are in a state of war, characterized by repeated cycles of mutual attacks, temporary cease-fires and piecemeal efforts at negotiated agreement.

Concrete initiatives for a just resolution to this historical problem are happening in Palestine/Israel, in capitals around the world and even in Berkeley as students on both sides reach out for dialogue. A call for divestment would not change Berkeley policy, let alone move the region forward. But it would close down such conversation, declare one side right and the other side wrong. It would strengthen those on both sides who seek not compromise but total victory. And — importantly for an open community such as Berkeley — it would silence and intimidate our students.  In the past, similarly targeted bills have led to physical altercations between students and an increase in racist incidents around campus.

Whereas the peace bill offers positive steps toward a fair solution, the divestment bill seeks to vilify one party to the dispute.  Rather than inform students about this conflict, the latter distorts the truth by omitting some facts and misrepresenting others. Rather than envisioning a productive path ahead in the Middle East, it incites anger and mistrust on our campus.

For the sake of co-existence on this campus and in the Middle East, we urge you to support the peace bill instead of the attack bill.

— Professor Robert Alter (comparative literature); Professor Kenneth Bamberger (law); Associate Dean Joan Bieder (journalism); Associate Professor Mark Brilliant (history); Professor Benjamin Brinner (music); Professor Jack Citrin (political science); Professor Mark Csikszentmihalyi (East Asian languages and cultures); Dean Christopher Edley (law); Professor John Efron (history); Professor Malcolm Feeley (law); Assistant Professor Pnina Feldman (business); Professor Claude Fischer (sociology); Professor Thomas Gold (sociology); Associate Professor Ron Hassner (political science); Professor Ronald Hendel (Near East studies); Professor Shachar Kariv (economics); Professor Jonathan Leonard (business); Professor David Lieberman (law); Professor Calvin Morrill (law); Assistant Professor Jo-Ellen Pozner (business); Professor Sheldon Rothblatt (history); Professor Ann Swidler (sociology); Associate Professor Steven Tadelis (business); Professor David Vogel (business); Associate Professor Jason Wittenberg (political science)

Contact the opinion desk at [email protected].

Due to an editing error, a previous version of this letter misidentified ASUC Senate bill 158.