On Wednesday, the ASUC Senate will likely consider either to divest from companies that do business with Israel or to instead invest peacemaking initiatives that bring Israelis and Palestinians together. As a freshman, I experienced the divestment effort of spring 2010. From dusk to dawn on three Wednesday nights through Thursday mornings, divestment was debated before its defeat. Some of the hateful things that were said have been etched into my memory. The Jews killed Christ. Jews control politics, Jews control the media, etc. I learned that old anti-Semitic conspiracy theories are alive and well at Cal. Divestment 2010 forever traumatized those who faced it. We have never seen our university in the same light again.
That divestment bill falsely accused Israel, in its response to incessant rocket fire directed at its southern cities, of deliberately targeting civilians in Gaza (ruled by the Islamist organization Hamas). The bill was an amalgam of outright lies, misleading half-truths and facts shorn of context. Yet one false imputation was not enough for the anti-Israel extremists in 2010, and all the standard defamatory anti-Israel rhetoric was trotted out in vituperative speeches. Much of it is on display in 2013’s divestment bill.
It is regrettably beyond the scope of this op-ed to address all the divestment bill’s falsehoods; they are far too numerous. But a few can be addressed. The idea that Israel’s checkpoints, barrier and other security measures in the West Bank are criminal certainly should be. That Israel’s security infrastructure was put in place after more than a thousand Israelis had been murdered in suicide bombings originating from Palestinian territories during the early 2000s is conveniently ignored. Another of the bill’s false premises is that the United Nations can speak with credibility to the Israeli-Arab conflict. The U.N is good for many things but not for impartially judging the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. There is only one Jewish nation in the U.N. There are 57 Muslim nations in the U.N., many nations with sizable Muslim minorities, and Muslim nations wield great influence with their immense oil wealth. So it is hardly surprising that the U.N. takes an anti-Israel stance that does not reflect the conflict’s verities.
Perhaps the bill’s most appalling claim is that Israel is akin to apartheid South Africa. Kenneth Meshoe, a South African parliamentarian who lived under Apartheid, has passionately denounced this particular anti-Israel canard. In a letter to faculty and students at American universities, he wrote of the Israeli Arabs who serve in Israel’s parliament and in positions of authority, the fact that an Ethiopian Jew had been crowned Miss Israel and that an Arab-Israeli judge had presided over the trial and conviction of former Israeli President Moshe Katzav. Of the Apartheid calumny, he declared, “This ridiculous accusation minimizes and belittles the magnitude of the racism and suffering endured by South Africans of color … In my view, Israel is a model of democracy, inclusion and pluralism that can be emulated by many nations, particularly in the Middle East.”
President Obama and the vast majority of politicians in both parties agree, which is one reason that support for Israel is so strong. In this age of partisanship, support for Israel is one of the few remaining areas of consensus, notwithstanding efforts on the extreme left and right to create cleavages.
Many of us would love to see the ASUC pass a bill supportive of Israel. We see Israel as being fundamentally in the right, both historically and contemporaneously. But we recognize that such a bill would be highly invidious for those with whom we disagree. Senator Rafi Lurie and others have therefore put forward a pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian and pro-Peace alternative bill. It recognizes the legitimate narratives of both sides, rejects divestment and suggests that the ASUC invest in business initiatives that foster peace.
This bill is an olive branch to the anti-Israel crowd on this campus. It represents an attempt to see the student government become a force for constructive dialogue and peacemaking, recognizing Israel’s right to security and the Palestinian right to a state.
Unsurprisingly, the anti-Israel divestment advocates have rejected it out of hand. The bills represent what is perhaps the most striking difference between the two sides of this debate. The fanatical anti-Israel crowd is intent on having its way and would bring dormant campus tensions to eruption. The pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian and pro-peace crowd wants Cal to be a place where Jewish and Muslim students are brought together, united by a shared desire to see the conflict end. We feel that would be true to what Cal stands for.
“Peace is possible,” said President Obama in Jerusalem. We agree.
Baruch Nutovic is co-editor in chief of the Berkeley Jewish Journal.
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