UC Berkeley Divestment Debate Shows Importance of Campus Divestment Movement

The UC Berkeley divestment debate was a 12-hour nail biter. At one point, the Associated Students of the University of California Berkeley (ASUC) cast their vote: 12 votes to overturn veto of divestment at UC Berkeley. 7 votes in favor of veto. 1 abstention.

1 vote short of the number need to overturn President Smelko’s veto and divest from two companies–General Electric and United Technologies–that directly profit of off and sustain Israel’s military occupation and violations of Palestinian human rights.

But the debate raged on, and after 12 hours of testimony, debate, lobbying, and cheers, the ASUC tabled the motion to vote on at another time.

What happened last night and into this morning at UC Berkeley was amazing. A diverse coalition organized around human rights, made up of Israelis and Palestinians; Jews, Christians, and Muslims; students and members of the community; people of color and representatives of the LGBT-Q community; organized to challenge a status quo of silence and support for Israel’s violations of international law.

When divestment was first introduced at UC Berkeley 8 years ago, student activists couldn’t even get ASUC to consider a bill. Now, a majority of ASUC Senators support the bill, and only 1 abstention blocked divestment.

Even that 1 vote wasn’t enough to kill divestment–the motion has now been tabled, and will be taken up again by ASUC next week.

Regardless of the final vote, this night will go down in history. How often do we have 12 hour teach-ins, with Holocaust survivors and Nakba survivors speaking out about war crimes in the presence of representatives from the Israeli consulate? How often do student governments hear testimonies from refugees, from people who lost relatives in the assault on Gaza, from Israeli and Palestinian activists committed to human rights?

Cecilie Surasky, of US Campaign member group Jewish Voice for Peace, Tweeted live from the debate. At one point she wrote: “This experience will change the lives of every student here. This discussion has to happen on every campus.”

We couldn’t agree more. This is exactly the conversation and the coalition building that needs to happen on every campus–the conversation about U.S. government and institutional complicity in Israeli war crimes, the conversation about what can be done to end that complicity, and the building of a coalition to do just that. The status quo–in Congress, on U.S. campuses, and in our communities–is silence and implicit (if not explicit) support for human rights violations against Palestinians. The UC Berkeley divestment debate has shattered that silence. We urge all of you to find your voice.

The decision to table the vote on divestment means that you can still send a message supporting divestment to ASUC student senators. Seize this opportunity to join one of the most interesting debates of our time, send an email to UC Berkeley Student Senators.

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