Campus climate remains tense in wake of ASUC senate divestment vote

Henry Ascencio/Staff
Audience members react during last week’s ASUC Senate meeting, at which the senate voted to divest from firms affiliated with Israel’s military.

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In the days following the ASUC’s controversial divestment vote last Wednesday, UC Berkeley remains in a state of unease, as many campus groups and student leaders say they feel attacked and marginalized for their views on the issue.

The passage of SB 160 — which divested ASUC funds from companies affiliated with the Israeli military and urged the University of California to do the same — elicited enormous outcry from all parts of the campus community.

The bill has been so divisive that some senators say they have been targeted for their vote, whether it was for or against SB 160.

“I’ve been seeing a lot of emails with a lot of slurs in them … I’m not really comfortable saying them on the phone,” said Student Action Senator Mihir Deo, who voted against the bill at last week’s meeting. “Just by virtue of me being on campus, individuals have been walking up to me. It’s very aggressive and very hostile.”

Independent Senator Sadia Saifuddin, a co-sponsor of SB 160, said she has also received hateful messages criticizing her role in the bill.

“Thankfully I haven’t experienced any type of physical violence, although I have been receiving threatening emails,” Saifuddin said in an email. “Most senators have been receiving some very unfriendly emails, and it is so unfortunate that a respectful dialogue is not being maintained.”

But some pro-Israel student groups said they felt this angry discourse begin at Wednesday’s ASUC  meeting when community members passionately debated the bill. Many anti-divestment speakers at the meeting said the bill ignored why Israel was established and why the nation had taken certain actions — like setting up a barrier on the West Bank and establishing checkpoints in the disputed territory. The speakers said that actions such as these greatly reduced the occurrence of terrorism against Israel and made the nation safer for its residents.

“Many pro-Israel and Jewish students feel that it is kind of a silencing of our narrative and our history that is very insulting,” said Avi Levine, president of Tikvah: Students for Israel. “The fact that the bill actually passed made it official. The ASUC actually believes the history of the Jewish people is illegitimate.”

However, many on the opposing side said they also felt targeted — in some cases by the campus administration. In a statement released Friday, Chancellor Robert Birgeneau affirmed his opposition to divestment, saying that “targeting a single nation or state in this highly complex world is not appropriate and does little to advance the cause of peace and coexistence.”

“That response from the chancellor did not contribute to a good campus climate,” said Andrea Urqueta, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine. “It’s a mix of feelings at this point for people who supported the bill. It’s a good feeling, but it’s discouraging to see the chancellor was not supportive.”

SJP, along with other groups, supported divestment on humanitarian grounds. These groups allege that Israel has committed serious human rights violations against the Palestinian people, including the demolition of Palestinian homes and the dropping of bombs on civilians.

When asked for comment, campus officials noted they had not received any complaints regarding the campus climate since Wednesday’s vote but reaffirmed that students should come forward with their concerns.

“We can’t deal with it if we don’t know about it, and that’s why students need to step forward,” said campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof. “We are going to do whatever it takes to have a campus climate that is civil and respectful of people’s differences.”

Jacob Brown is the lead higher education reporter. Contact him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter @jacobebrown.