Here (Doc) is the press release that U.C. Berkeley Students for Justice in Palestine put out about the historic, late-night vote in which the student senate last night voted to
- ensure that its assets, and will advocate that the UC assets, do not include holdings in General Electric and United Technologies because of their military support of the occupation of the Palestinian territories…
And here (Doc) is the whole, very carefully drafted text of the bill adopted by the senate.
The press release notes that,
- In 2009, Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, became the first US educational institution to divest from companies directly involved in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Hampshire College action was advocated by the group Students for Justice in Palestine, and ultimately adopted by the Board of Trustees. Today, through its Student Senate bill, UC Berkeley becomes the first large, public US institution to endorse a similar measure.
Bill supporter Liz Jackson reported that,
- The Senate meeting started at 9 pm, and it was packed with hundreds of students and community members. I think it went on all night but I left at midnight. Confrontations between Students for Justice in Palestine and the pro-Israeli students are always wired with intense vitriol. Last night was the same. The emotions of war, and history, of personal stakes, displacement and persecution are all right there in the room. The pro-Israeli students shock me with their hatefulness and violent energy. The Palestinian students impress me with equanimity and ability to turn the other cheek. Their life experience is their training. I know that characterization is probably unfair but it felt true last night. The room cheered and jeered at every speaker.
I spoke as an American Jew and as the co-chair of the Berkeley National Lawyer’s Guild chapter. I based our chapter’s endorsement of the bill on the NLG fact-finding mission in Gaza, the first legal group on the ground to document human rights violations just two weeks after the attack on Gaza ended last January. I closed with something like, “When the next Israeli bomb lands on a house full of screaming children may it not be funded by one cent of UC dollars.”
Jackson described her elation at being at an important gathering where each person delivers the very best argument he or she can, in the two minutes each speaker is allowed. “Some of the older people there from Jewish Voices for Peace were really amazing,” she said.
She said that one of the most inspiring speeches came from Tom Pessah, one of the two co-authors of the bill (and an Israeli citizen.) She noted that Pessah recalled the important legacy established at Berkeley in the 1960s by the Free Speech Movement, and quoted from the historic “bodies upon the gears” speech made by FSM leader Mario Savio on the steps of Sproul Hall in December 1964:
- “There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious—makes you so sick at heart—that you can’t take part. You can’t even passively take part.
“And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus, and you’ve got to make it stop…”
Jackson also said that many of the speeches made by the anti-divestment speakers seemed like hostile, demeaning invective aimed at the 20 voting members of the senate, along the lines of “You stupid idiots! You don’t know anything about this matter! It’s so much more complicated than you think and you don’t have anything like the knowledge that’s needed to even talk about it!”
I guess those arguments proved less than persuasive…
It was a long night. It started at 9 p.m., and I think the vote was finally recorded at 4 a.m. or so.
Jackson noted that Students for Justice in Palestine has worked and organized on the campus for many years to reach the present point– and that a lot more, much broader statewide organizing still needs to be done to persuade the U.C. Regents to divest the whole of the university’s large assets from companies involved in providing military support to Israel’s occupation of the West Bank and Gaza.
By the way, also note this in the third ‘Whereas’ in the text of the bill there:
- WHEREAS, within the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem), the Israeli government continues a policy of settlement expansion…
These Berkeley students really have a very clear-eyed idea of what’s going on in the occupied territories!
By the way, Jackson was one of many members of Berkeley SJP who took part in the campus’s recent “Israeli Apartheid Week”. Here is a photo of her taking part in a quiet standing action with her friend Sarah Abdullah: