With the breaking news that ASUC President Will Smelko vetoed Senate Bill 118A on March 24, it appears the ASUC may do right by its storied history, the student body it represents and the alumni that follow its proceedings.
The veto called on the ASUC to not unfairly single out Israel and also into question the invalid allegation that Israel is similar to Apartheid South Africa.
The veto further cast doubt on the secretive process by which Senate Bill 118A was resurrected, discussed and approved all within the matter of one evening.
I hope that the ASUC will follow President Smelko’s well-articulated veto, but I still question the judgment of the 16 ASUC Senators who originally voted in the affirmative.
I call on the ASUC to live up to its constitution by upholding this veto, whereby preserving a campus community ripe for free speech and dialogue, based upon facts, not propaganda.
U.C. Berkeley vote on divestment reveals a misguided student senate
by Daniel Frankenstein
U.C. Berkeley is one of the world’s premier research institutions, with a storied history of promoting public discourse. With one piece of misguided legislation, the Associated Students of the University of California has hijacked these Berkeley principles and disgraced the university, current students and alumni.
At 3:30 a.m. on March 18 the ASUC passed Senate Bill 118A calling on the U.C. Berkeley administration and regents of the University of California to divest holdings in companies doing business with the Israeli government.
As a former ASUC senator, I am particularly disturbed by SB118A because it is poorly constructed, one-sided and not indicative of the values Berkeley represents.
Berkeley is a place that is supposed to be a protector of free speech. Free speech guarantees not just your right to express your beliefs, but also the rights of those diametrically opposed to you to do the same. When the ASUC decides to take a position on an issue — and uses as a basis manipulated data and questionable facts opposed by the most well-respected global news sources and a bipartisan supermajority in Congress — it is fair to question if the ASUC is living up to university standards.
Riddled with contradictions, SB118A cites Human Rights Watch, which was repudiated by its founder Robert Bernstein in the New York Times last year for operating counter to its intended mission “to pry open closed societies, advocate basic freedoms and support dissenters.”
Instead, the organization has been obsessively critical of Israel, thereby legitimizing “those who wish to turn Israel into a pariah state,” as Bernstein wrote in his New York Times piece.
SB118A further supports its premise with the Richard Goldstone report of the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on the Gaza Conflict. The report was condemned by Congress, by a 344-36 vote, for being inherently biased both in inception and in practice, and also discredited by an article last September in the Economist, which contradicted its core allegations.
By deciding to ignore the other side of this important issue, or even make mention of the rocket barrage Israeli civilians were forced to live with for the better part of a decade, the ASUC is creating a toxic climate for a campus community anxious for dialogue. What role model do students have for a factual debate, guaranteeing the free speech of both sides, when their student government does not live up to these ideals?
It is made worse that this one-sided, flawed position omits key facts. Such a narrow and extreme agenda manipulates free speech for political purposes. It is wrong and counter to the mission of both U.C. Berkeley and the ASUC.
Finally, the ending language of SB118A makes a feeble attempt to extricate the ASUC from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict while lumping this legislation with other conflict zones around the world.
This section of the bill further undermines the intellectual integrity of the authors, as well as ASUC senators voting in the affirmative. Such a pathetic attempt to distance the ASUC from the bill’s conclusions illustrates clearly the elaborate smoke screen SB118A attempts to create.
Singling out Israel among the nations has become a pastime for the most ruthless dictators who routinely turn the power of their military states against their own people: Mahmoud Ahmadinejad of Iran, Omar al-Bashir of Sudan and Bashar al-Assad of Syria, just to name a few. As President Barack Obama correctly stated in his address in Cairo last June, countries of the world must not use the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “to distract the people of Arab nations from other problems” because it represents “a self-defeating focus on the past.”
SB118A places the Associated Students of the University of California in the company of the world’s worst abusers of human rights, squarely in a spot that Obama believes stifles progress.
Students and alumni alike should be embarrassed; I know I am.
Daniel Frankenstein, a 2004 U.C. Berkeley graduate and a San Francisco native, was an ASUC senator in 2001-2002. He now lives in Tel Aviv and works for the Corporate Executive Board, a global best practice research firm.