Holding Israeli flags and standing with locked arms, a group of students gathered at noon Thursday at Sather Gate to protest the recently passed ASUC bill pushing for divestment from companies affiliated with the Israeli military.
The protest, organized by a mix of students in various Jewish student groups, started with around 20 people and grew to around 30 as passing students joined. The students linked arms across the central entrance of Sather Gate in protest of the ASUC Senate’s passing of SB 160, a bill that urges the divestment of ASUC and university funds from companies related to the Israeli armed forces.
The bill triggered immense controversy and was passed 11-9 after a 10-hour public comment session.
“We’re protesting against what the ASUC did,” said Baruch Nutovic, a protester and a former editor in chief of the Berkeley Jewish Journal. “We tried to put forward an alternative bill. It was completely rejected.”
On Wednesday, the ASUC tabled SB 160’s alternative bill, SB 158, which called for the ASUC to help end the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, acknowledging the harm inflicted on both sides and supporting Israel’s right to exist as a Jewish state. If passed, SB 158 would also indicate that the ASUC supports a two-state solution.
“We want (SB 160) repealed,” said Jacob Lewis, a protester and former president of Tikvah: Students for Israel. “(The) narrative put forth by this bill is completely ignoring the Israeli side.”
The protesters placed duct tape over their mouths, held Israeli flags and handed out fliers that read, “Do not silence our voices.”
“A lot of people on campus don’t really know what is going on,” said Grant Fineman, a recently elected ASUC senator who participated in the protest. “(There) is a silent majority who don’t know anything about it.”
Nick Slater, who works in the campus financial aid department, was walking by the rally when he stopped to discuss with protesters his opposition to the protest’s message. While he opposed their anti-divestment stance, he said there should be recognition of both sides.
“A lot of Jewish students feel that their stories aren’t being recognized,” Slater said. “I accept that. I want to see a solution which recognizes the interests of Israelis and Palestinians.”
ASUC Senator Sadia Saifuddin, who co-sponsored SB 160, expressed similar sentiments.
“I commend the college and the community for moralizing and being able to express that side (of the debate),” Saifuddin said. “It adds to the diversity at Cal.”
However, Arielle Gabai, a protester and a former president of the Jewish Student Union, said that the climate on campus remains tense and hostile toward Jewish students and those who oppose divestment.
“It’s unacceptable that Berkeley calls itself such a beautiful, diverse place (that is) accepting of all communities, except for one,” Gabai said.