Divestment debate draws big names

Two renowned, internationally known figures recently joined the debate over the U.C. Berkeley student senate’s divest-from-Israel resolution.

South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu endorsed the resolution urging the university to divest from U.S. companies supplying war materials to Israel, while Holocaust survivor and Nobel Prize winner Elie Wiesel spoke out against it.

The measure was vetoed March 24 by Will Smelko, president of the Associated Students of the University of California, who was not present for the original vote a week earlier. 

The student senate was scheduled to vote April 14 on whether to sustain or overturn the veto. 

In Tutu’s April 13 letter to Berkeley student leaders, which appeared on the Huffington Post Web site, Tutu lauded the senate’s 16-4 decision in support of divestment, urging proponents of the resolution not to believe the “detractors” who tell them they are doing the wrong thing.  

“These students are helping to pave that path to a just peace and I heartily endorse their divestment vote, encourage them to stand firm on the side of what is right, and urge others to follow the lead of the youth,” Tutu wrote.

The same day, Wiesel issued a statement countering Tutu’s statement, specifically his comparison of the occupied Palestinian territories to apartheid South Africa.

“I ask you to believe me,” Wiesel wrote. “Any such comparison is malicious and untrue. In the days of apartheid in South Africa, divestment was appropriate and totally just. In the case of Israel, divestment would be inappropriate and totally unjust.” 

Other notable endorsers of the resolution are MIT professor-activist Noam Chomsky, writer-activist Naomi Klein and U.C. Berkeley professor Judith Butler.

Famed attorney and author Alan Dershowitz, in conjunction with StandWithUs/Voice For Israel, denounced the resolution, saying, “Divestment from Israel is immoral, bigoted and if done by a state university, illegal.”