Last week, our ASUC student government at U.C. Berkeley passed a resolution urging the university to divest from Israel, and explicitly voted not to add a clause to the senate bill that recognizes Israel’s right to self-determination. This is blatantly one-sided and insensitive to the current and historic plight of Jews.
It is preposterous that the ASUC senate, which prides itself in advocating for human rights, has purposefully denied the Jewish people’s right to a homeland. This right is the reason my grandfather was able to escape ethnic cleansing in Iraq, and why I am alive today.
As a concerned student at U.C. Berkeley, I can say that in addition to silencing the Jewish narrative, divestment is without question a terrible thing for both the pro-Israeli and pro-Palestinian communities on campus.
First of all, divestment is divisive. I’m not just referring to the hate that was spewed at the April 17 divestment meeting itself; the effects can be strongly felt outside of the senate chamber.
After a similar divestment resolution was proposed in 2010, one first-year Jewish student was so strongly affected that she applied to transfer to UCLA. This year on Cal Day, while I was tabling for JEWSE (Jews in Science and Engineering, the club I founded two years ago), the majority of prospective students who spoke with me shared their deep concern regarding the passing of SB 160. The responsibility fell onto me to convince these students that Berkeley is a safe and inclusive place for Jews. Student after student who previously had decided to attend Berkeley told me they were now considering other options. I can say with certainty that some of them will not be coming to Cal, solely due to this divestment bill. This is the definition of a “poor campus climate.”
Jewish students are not the only ones who suffered from this year’s divestment bill. Student senators lost friends, were brought to tears by the harassment on campus and even received death threats because of their decision to oppose the divestment bill. Students who previously got along became alienated from each other. Concerned members of our communities are now less likely to collaborate and cooperate to make positive steps toward peace, whether or not divestment is vetoed. For this reason alone, divestment resolutions are bad for Palestinian students, as well!
Divestment is a lose-lose situation; regardless of the outcome, a sizable part of our campus community will be devastated, and neither side will be more likely to engage the other in productive conversation. The purpose of our student government is to promote inclusion and improve the campus climate, not to hurt one group of students and destroy any hope for constructive and collaborative discourse between those who stand on opposite sides of the Israeli-Palestinian divide. This is also a definition of a “poor campus climate.”
In addition to dividing our campus, divestment bills bring absolutely no positive side effects. Divesting from Israel will certainly not affect Israeli policy (even if actual funds were to be divested, which according to Chancellor Robert Birgeneau and the U.C. regents will never happen). Because divestment will not be carried out and would be utterly ineffective even if it were, a divestment bill is a divisive symbolic statement at best, and a targeted attack on one campus community at worst.
It is the responsibility of the ASUC to promote the well-being of all communities on our campus, instead of allowing (even indirectly promoting) one-sided acts of hate, disrespect and discrimination against specific groups. The ASUC must ask itself what the purpose of divestment is, and if the effects of the bill are aligned with that purpose.
Does the bill promote peace by fostering constructive debate and exchange of opinions? Does it help students understand each other? The answers are no. Instead, divestment increases animosity that leads nowhere, adds no value to our campus or our world and pushes us all further from peace.
If our student government wishes to weigh in on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, its goal should be to improve campus climate, bridge gaps between student groups and promote a peaceful resolution to the conflict. The only possible way to achieve this is to earn the support of both sides by creating collaborative, inclusive legislation. Refusing to recognize Israel’s right to exist cannot start a meaningful conversation.
Once we embrace Israel’s basic legitimacy as a Jewish state, we can start identifying opportunities for both sides to settle their differences. Any bill that does not carry the support of both sides will only deepen existing divisions on campus, will not help the situation in the Middle East and does not belong in our student government.
David Eliahu is a fourth-year student at U.C. Berkeley, where he is the president of Jews in Science and Engineering.