When the student Senate at Berkeley, California voted for a Boycott of Israeli companies, the Zionist movement in the USA mobilised nationally to overturn it, which they narrowly did. Or rather the President of the Senate vetoed the bill, which was passed by a large majority and in the event, the Senate failed by a whisker to overturn that veto, even though a healthy majority still supported it.
As Omar Barghouti, a founder member of PACBI Campaign for the Academic and Cultural Boycott of Israel and an Israeli Palestinian activist, says the one thing above all that frightens the Zionist movement is BDS. It is the 'deligitimisation' they fear. It says one anyone with a couple of brain cells knows. Israel is not a normal state, because it is not a state of its own citizens but only the Jewish section thereof. It is part and parcel of the whole 'right to exist' argument that Israeli leaders use. We demand, they say of Palestinian, that you recognise our 'right to exist'.
Of course this right in fact applies not to the Zionists but the Palestinians. It is their right to exist that is continually threatened, not that of the oppressor. But that is not unusual. This is the normal argument of the powerful. Not only should we be able to kick you in the groin and hit you in the face, but we demand that you recognise our right to do so! And if you fail to recognise our 'right' to be violent to you then you are nothing but an anti-Semite!
After all what normal state demands a 'right to exist'? Does Britain or the USA demand that Afghanis recognise such a right? Did the British in Northern Ireland, also a settler colonial situation, recognise such a right?
That is why those who talk about talk about peace, who believe in multi-cultural interchanges, changing people's minds and all the rest of the liberal hogwash, miss one vital point. Israel isn't like it is because it has a particularly nasty set of people in its leadership or living there. On the contrary, the Jewish settlers are generally nasty and racist because they are living in a state that accords them and their families privileges over and above Arabs - both within and without.
The one and ONLY thing that they fear is that one day people may not recognise their right to kill and steal from Palestinians. That shouting 'anti-Semitism' and 'Jewish state' may not be enough. That is why BDS is so important and why in Europe and now even in America the public toleration of Israel's behaviour has crossed the border of decency.
Those who oppose Boycott support the repression of Zionism. That is the reality, even though subjectively the same people may protest their innocence. Because they put their own tender consciences before that of the murdered children and civilians of the West Bank, Gaza and even Israel
Forward: How Israel and AIPAC mobilized to defeat the Berkeley divestment vote
I apologize if you've seen this before. In case you haven't, this article (below) must be one of the most definitive pieces of evidence to date of the effectiveness and potential of divestment campaigns against Israel.
For all those who question BDS on pragmatic grounds, doubting its effectiveness, I highly recommend reading this with an open mind and thinking again. For those who do support BDS out of principle but may not necessarily believe that it can decisively change -- indeed is changing -- "facts on the ground" at the grassroots level, this article will be an eye-opener.
Although this is a rabid ultra-right Zionist publication, the factual information contained in the article on how the lobby and Israeli officials conspired to beat the democratically won vote at Berkeley is quite telling.
The entire Israel lobby machine in the US, with its massive resources, bullying skills and age-honored intimidation tactics, mobilized to stop the few committed and widely supported pro-BDS students at the University of California at Berkeley and their community supporters. THAT in itself attests to the hysteria that is prevailing in Israel and among Israel lobby groups in the West regarding the potential of BDS.
Note that despite all this frontal attack by the lobby, the divestment supporters, who are struggling to override the undemocratic veto cast by the student senate president, won almost TWICE as many votes as those against it the second time around and 80% of the votes the first time. Says something about a no-longer-silent majority that is emerging in the US, fed up with Israel's impunity and its lobby's intellectual terror. Regardless who wins the re-vote tomorrow to overturn the veto, the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at Berkeley and all their supporters have already won, big time!
The fact that Berkeley has animated the debate about BDS in the US and re-focused attention on the complicity and social/ethical responsibility of corporations profiting from Israel's violations of international law and Palestinian rights is in and of itself a concrete success!
SJP has received spectacular support for its divestment campaign from Nobel Peace Laureates, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Mairead Maguire, from Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky and Judith Buttler (among several other prominent academics and intellectuals), from Jewish Voice for Peace and the US Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation, from several Jewish, Christian and Muslim faith groups, not to mention tens of other student organizations across the US who are in various stages of implementing their own divestment drives. This massive endorsement for divestment reflects what some perceive as an emerging majority in the US that is fed up with business as usual with Israel, with its war crimes and human rights violations. It is indicates that BDS is crossing a threshold in the US, particularly among the crucial sector of students, many of whom re involved in campaigns advocating accountability and social responsibility at a time when this entire generation was written off as "self-consumed" and obsessed only with self advancement and careerism at the expense of social activism, the environment and human rights. Berkeley proves those voices of neocons and their supporters wrong.
Plus, and this is not minor, Berkeley has given the Palestinians reason for hope when their daily experiences under Israel's brutal occupation and apartheid can easily suck any hope out of their lives. Solidarity with the oppressed is not just about winning immediate victories against the oppressor -- that will come sooner or later, given the willpower and sharp organizational skills involved; it is also about standing with the oppressed to assure them they are not alone, to confirm to them that humanity is alive and well, and that people of conscience are working hard to help end their oppression, as they had always done, against South Africa's apartheid, Latin American juntas, US wars across the globe, etc. Raising the morale of Palestinian civil society that is leading this non-violent struggle for freedom, justice, equality and self determination is another contribution that Berkeley students and community activists should be proud of. They've spoken truth to repressive and ugly power; they've persevered with their campaigns against all odds and against a vicious, well-oiled lobby that is never hampered by any moral considerations in its bullying against Palestine solidarity activists and groups.
At a personal level, as a Palestinian activist, I am deeply inspired by and proud of SJP and its partners; their efforts will most certainly not end with the last vote tomorrow, no matter where it goes. They've planted healthy seeds in an increasingly fertile ground; we shall all harvest its fruits sooner rather than later.
Published April 21, 2010, issue of April 30, 2010.
How To Beat Back Israel Divestment Bill: Get Organized
By Josh Nathan-Kazis
When a bill calling for divestment from some companies doing business with Israel surfaced at a mid-March student government committee hearing at the University of California, Berkeley, local Jewish communal watchdogs were taken by surprise. When the divestment measure was overwhelmingly approved at a student senate debate days later, some students affiliated with Hillel left the meeting in tears.
Even when the student senate president vetoed the measure, those against divestment hardly saw it as a victory; they knew that the veto could be easily undone, since the bill was passed with more votes than would be needed to overturn the veto.
And so a campaign was launched. The debate on the veto was scheduled for the night of April 14. In the two weeks prior, Berkeley Hillel coordinated a comprehensive national lobbying campaign consisting of a teach-in, face-to-face meetings with student senators and an intervention by a Nobel laureate, all aimed at robbing the divestment supporters of three senate votes.
Adam Naftalin-Kelman, the Hillel’s newly installed executive director, said that the strategy for countering divestment efforts was devised at a roundtable meeting convened by Hillel and attended by representatives of local branches of the Anti-Defamation League, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, the Jewish Community Relations Council, J Street, Israel’s consul general in San Francisco and local rabbis.
Outmaneuvering the pro-divestment supporters, this organizing coup appears to have worked: After a marathon debate that lasted well into the next morning, two senators changed their minds and one abstained, and the veto was upheld.
“Three votes changed,” Akiva Tor, the consul general, told the Forward. “So something happened.”
The controversial resolution called on the university to divest from General Electric Co. and United Technologies “because of their military support of the occupation of the Palestinian territories.” It also created a committee to suggest additional companies for future divestment.
The Hillel-organized teach-in, open exclusively to members of the student senate, featured talks by the consul general, an Israeli visiting professor, a professor of international law and others. Seven senators attended. One, a co-sponsor of the bill who did not change her vote, said that the presenters were respectful but she felt uncomfortable.
“There were undertones of intimidation to me,” Emily Carlton said. “For one thing, they were all a lot older, they were all a lot more distinguished.”
One anti-divestment student group handed out suggested talking points for those speaking against the bill at the student government meeting. The existence of the talking points, which were posted on the blog Mondoweiss, was confirmed by Naftalin-Kelman, who said that they were not distributed by the Hillel.
“DON’T try to deconstruct the bill,” the talking points read. “Instead, focus on how it is an attack on the Jewish community.”
In addition, the Jewish groups solicited open letters to the student senators. Letters were sent by Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, J Street, and Amos Oz, among others.
Supporters of the divestment bill also lobbied key senators, but their effort was less directed than that of the pro-Israel groups, according to one of the bill’s drafters, Emiliano Huet-Vaughn, who is not a member of the student senate.
“It was pretty ad hoc,” he said of efforts to wrangle enough votes to overturn the presidential veto. “I suggested to the some senators people I knew that knew a lot about the topic…. They chose if they wanted to meet with them or not.”
Still, supporters of the bill were able to muster a Nobel laureate of their own. Emily Carlton said divestment proponents solicited a letter in support of their position from Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who was awarded a Nobel peace prize for his work in South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement. Carlton also said that a letter sent in support of the pro-divestment position by left-wing journalist Naomi Klein surprised her and others.
A group of prominent Jewish members of the U.C. Berkeley community, including professors Daniel Boyarin and Judith Butler, took out a two-page advertisement in The Daily Californian, a student-run newspaper, in support of the bill. Boyarin said that the advertisement was organized through an e-mail listserv that had been convened for an earlier campaign, and that it was not coordinated by the student groups promoting the bill.
According to Carlton, tremendous pressure was brought to bear on Minji Kim, the senator seen as the key swing vote.
“Both sides had people talk to her before,” Carlton said. “Both sides campaigned very hard, and she was under an incredible amount of pressure.”
Kim could not be reached for comment. NhuNhu Nguyen, a senator who switched to opposing the divestment proposal from supporting it, also did not respond to a request for comment.
Naftalin-Kelman, Tor and Butler were among the hundreds to attend the marathon debate that ran through the night April 14. The venue was changed multiple times to accommodate overflow crowds.
Finally, at 5:30 a.m. on April 15, 12 senators voted to overturn the veto, seven voted to let it stand and one senator abstained. One of the senators who voted to let the veto stand was actually a supporter of the bill, and after the vote, she made a motion to reopen discussion. Debate continued until 7:30 a.m., when the measure was tabled.
A student senator said that the measure may be taken up again before the end of the semester, but if so it would probably happen in a closed session.
Whether or not the resolution eventually passes, the intense lobbying campaign may have already had a lasting effect on the Berkeley student government.
In the weeks between the first vote and the attempt to overturn the veto, discussions about how to challenge Berkeley student senate support for the bill were held as faraway as Washington, D.C. At an AIPAC conference in Washington in late March, AIPAC leadership development director Jonathan Kessler said that his organization would “make sure that pro-Israel students take over the student government and reverse the vote,” as recorded in a video taken at the conference by the JTA. “This is how AIPAC operates in our nation’s Capitol. This is how AIPAC must operate on our nation’s campuses,” he said.
In Berkeley student government election results announced April 13, one of the senators who had vocally opposed the divestment resolution was elected president of the student government. His party, considered the more moderate of the two Berkeley student parties, won a majority in the senate.
Naftalin-Kelman said that the divestment vote might have played a role in the results but if so, it was one of many factors. “I think it did pull out more Jewish votes than in the past,” he said. “There’s other things on campus, as well…I think it may have had a contributing factor. I don’t think it was as big as some people think.”
In response to an inquiry from the Forward, an AIPAC spokesman wrote in an e-mail: “We took no position on the Berkeley student election, since like in any other election, we don’t rate or endorse candidates. Of course we would always, publicly and consistently, encourage pro-Israel students to be active in civic and political life.” The spokesman declined to make Kessler available for an interview.