Divestment debate: Echoes of Apartheid

Perspectives on Israel-related divestment as the ASUC Senate considers bills connected to the topic

Jacob Wilson/File

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Last Monday, after much dialogue and debate, the Organization of African Students unanimously decided to support the ASUC bill that calls for divestment from companies profiting from, or investing in, the occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip.

The decision to support divestment is a result of our concerns about the continued marginalization of Palestinians. As a people with a history of colonization, occupation and human rights violations, we can directly sympathize with the Palestinian people. Some of us have directly experienced such marginalization, and others learned of them from parents or secondary sources. Knowledge of this history makes us opposed to the mistreatment of any group based on physical characteristics, ethnicity or creed.

The house demolitions, the daily intimidation of Palestinians by the Israeli Defense Forces, the dehumanizing restrictions on movement of Palestinians, the mass imprisonment of Palestinians (including children) and the ongoing confiscation of Palestinian land and water remind us of the repressive European colonial tactics in many of our homelands as well as apartheid South Africa.
We understand that South Africa is not exactly the same as Israel but we believe that they are comparable enough to make this claim. Seeing as the African National Congress, the group that led the Anti-Apartheid Movement, has decided to support divestment from Israel assures us that we are not wrong in making such a comparison.

Nobel Peace Prize winner and South African anti-Apartheid leader Desmond Tutu’s experience during his visit to Palestine summarizes the reason for our unwavering support for divestment. Writing to UC Berkeley in 2010, Archbishop Tutu stated:
I have been to the Occupied Palestinian Territory, and I have witnessed the racially segregated roads and housing that reminded me so much of the conditions we experienced in South Africa under the racist system of Apartheid. I have witnessed the humiliation of Palestinian men, women, and children made to wait hours at Israeli military checkpoints routinely when trying to make the most basic of trips to visit relatives or attend school or college, and this humiliation is familiar to me and the many black South Africans who were corralled and regularly insulted by the security forces of the Apartheid government.”

We are not against Israel’s right to exist; we simply believe that the University of California should not invest in companies that profit from illegal settlements in the occupied Palestinian territories. Given UC Berkeley’s support of divestment from South Africa, during the Apartheid era, and Sudan, during the Darfur Crisis, divesting from companies profiting from the occupied territories is what our school’s rich history calls for. We are well aware of the role divestment played in the spread of freedom and justice in Apartheid South Africa and Sudan. We believe that Palestinians should be accorded the same support that our South African and Sudanese brothers were given.

While the ASUC bill directly targets companies that benefit from the occupation, we believe that divestment also sends an important message to Israel regarding the way it treats non-Jews more broadly. The mistreatment of Palestinians is often what comes to mind when people think of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict; however, an issue often neglected is the mistreatment of African immigrants living in Israel. Allegations that the Israeli government imposed long-term contraceptives on Ethiopian women against their will and the discrimination of Sudanese refugees are of equal concern to the members of OAS. While this bill is not about those issues, we believe that by taking a stance on divestment we are working toward raising awareness and fighting injustices. As the bill mentions, by divesting we are upholding UC Berkeley’s Principles of Community, which states “that active participation and leadership in addressing the most pressing issues facing our local and global communities are central to our educational mission.”

As a pan-African Organization, we believe we have an appointment now, to divest and state our disapproval of the racist policies of the Israeli government. The intellectual and moral character of this university is being called into question. Let us not be late in deciding what this campus stands for. Let us not be timid in asserting our beliefs and vision for a more equal world. Let us not shy away from the opportunity to help others achieve the freedom we all enjoy.

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