Commission rejects proposal to divest from Israeli businesses

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At a meeting Wednesday, the Human Welfare and Community Action Commission moved to reject a proposal that would have called Berkeley City Council to divest from Israeli businesses.

The resolution would have called on the city to consider divesting holdings in companies — such as Hewlett Packard and Cement Roadstone Holdings — that profit from the conflict and refrain from reinvestment until the council decides otherwise. More than 200 people attended the meeting, and the public comment lasted several hours.

According to commission chair Praveen Sood, however, some commissioners voted against the resolution because the issues were outside the purview of the commission, while others felt that the resolution’s language did not meet what the commission wanted. Sood said that he, for one, opposed the resolution because it only advocated divestment.

Sood said he had supported an alternate resolution, which would have reinvested funds into the city to promote the employment of low-income Berkeley residents and financing for businesses and homeowners. It would also have worked with local groups to host discussions and share information on the conflict.

Julie Hammerman, a former Berkeley resident and executive director of JLens, a local Jewish investment network, said she supported the commission’s decision, arguing that divestment is “divisive and discriminatory” and that another solution — positive impact investing — would better promote collaboration and community.

Many other community members at the meeting, however, said they were disappointed by the rejection of the proposal to divest.

“It’s very disheartening that the commission listened in this way to very bigoted remarks and opinions rather than being swayed by the hundreds of people who showed up,” said Lara Kiswani, executive director of the San Francisco-based Arab Resource and Organizing Center.

David McCleary, a UC Berkeley graduate student and northern vice president of UAW 2865 — a UC student workers union that endorsed the resolution — said that passing the resolution would have been in line with Berkeley’s tradition of standing in solidarity with oppressed nations.

He compared the Israeli-Palestinian conflict to South African apartheid, during which Berkeley had been one of the first municipalities to call for divestment.

The commission also voted Cheryl Davila back onto the commission, a decision that is now pending City Council’s approval. Davila, a Berkeley resident and former commissioner, had been removed from her position at a previous meeting after she authored the divestment resolution.

Davila said her termination from the commission amounted to a suppression of discussion on the subject of Israel-Palestine.

Sood said the commission wanted Davila to return, believing that members should not be removed for voicing their opinions.

Should she be reappointed, Davila said she would try to adjust the rules that led to her termination and get the resolution back in front of the commission. She added that the commission lacked information when it voted down the proposal.

Contact Michelle Leung at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @michellesleung.