Soaked Palestinian and Israeli flags contrasted with the gray, cloudy sky as campus group members filled Sproul Plaza voicing their opposing viewpoints on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict on the third annual International Day of Action on Thursday.
The International Day of Action on University Campuses for Palestine — which was held by Students for Justice in Palestine, or SJP, and Bears for Palestine — is an event that advocates for Palestinian self-determination and promotes overall awareness of the conflict.
“We want to keep this in the forefront of people’s consciousness,” said UC Berkeley graduate student and SJP member Kumars Salehi.
Salehi said the protest aims to pressure the UC Board of Regents to divest from companies that support Israeli occupation of Palestine. He added that various student groups have already shown support for divestment, referencing resolutions passed throughout the UC system, such as one in 2013 in which the ASUC Senate voted in favor of divestment — a decision that the Judicial Council later determined violated ASUC bylaws.
The event is part of a larger movement supporting boycott, divestment and sanctions, or BDS, activities. Part of this strategy entails boycotting involvement with Israeli universities or academics, such as not offering study abroad programs in Israel or joint research and conference opportunities with Israeli institutions, among other efforts.
A series of speakers spoke at the event in support of Palestine, such as campus lecturer Hatem Bazian, District 2 City Council candidate Cheryl Davila and San Francisco State University professor Rabab Abdulhadi.
“We’re not talking about only the abstract notion of just sitting and debating,” Abdulhadi said during the protest. “We are here in order for us to mentor and provide the critical knowledge in order for us to produce a different world.”
Though students holding either Palestinian flags or Israeli flags were sprinkled across the plaza throughout the event, the two sides were largely segregated. SJP and Bears for Palestine mainly set up camp near Sproul Hall, while dozens of members of Bears for Israel and Tikvah: Students for Israel silently stood across the way near the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union holding posters.
The timing of the pro-Israel rally was not coincidental, according to Bears for Israel President Josh Woznica. Bears for Israel and Tikvah collaborated on the rally in order to show a united front in support of their academic freedom and their opposition toward BDS.
Woznica said by calling for a boycott against Israeli universities and professors, their academic freedom was disregarded. Regardless, Woznica emphasized that the intention of the rally was not to be inflammatory or argue against Palestinian protesters but to show passersby an alternative viewpoint.
“Our goal isn’t to be accusatory or combative or aggressive or anything,” Woznica said. “We’re just here to stand silently to show that there is another perspective … that there is a different truth.”