Both sides of the anti-Israel divestiture movement were focused on UC Berkeley on April 29. Proponents of divestiture were making their third attempt to get a resolution passed, this time by trying to override Student Senate President Will Smelko’s veto of an earlier successful effort. Sometime near five in the morning — after a heated, all-night discussion — the veto was sustained. For now, the divestiture movement had lost.
Even so, the divestiture movement showed both tactical and strategic ingenuity, and increasingly, its narrative of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is taking hold on campuses and in liberal churches:
Israel’s settlements are the obstacles to peace. Palestinian violence is a reaction, if not a justified reaction, to Israeli settlements. If the settlements were removed, peace would break out tomorrow and two states would live in peace and harmony.
Of course this is unhistorical nonsense, promulgated by people who have interest not in a two-state solution but in finding an excuse to gain access to the public agenda and to oversimplify one of the most difficult conflicts on the planet.
In reality, divestiture is meaningless, and everyone knows it. Divestiture, boycotts, and sanctions against Israel are illegal. Even the Arab League, which makes a lot of noise about its boycott, neither enforces nor practices it: the PA openly trades with Israel.
The Associated Students of the University of California at Berkeley hold no stock in General Electric, for example, or any of the other American companies that do business in Israel. More than 80 million shares of GE trade daily. If all the proponents of divestiture coordinated their sale of GE stock, they probably could affect the price of the stock for a few hours to a few days, suffer losses, and yield the upside to those on the other side of the trade. More than likely, Saudi Prince Alwaleed bin Talal, known for his acumen in spotting bargains, would be there on the buying side — GE and Saudi Arabia just announced a major partnership for sustainable economic growth.
Three of the most commanding spokespersons for divestiture were students from the Jewish group Kesher Enoshi, which repeatedly partners with the virulently anti-Zionist group Students for Justice in Palestine to produce events designed to delegitimize Israel.
Breaking the Silence is a group of Israeli soldiers that travels the world to speak about alleged Israeli war crimes. Although the accuracy and veracity of the group’s narrative has been challenged, it has been warmly welcomed at Berkeley’s Hillel. Sponsored by the New Israel Fund, Breaking the Silence’s presentations are jointly publicized by Kesher Enoshi and Students for Justice in Palestine.
A Jewish student who comes to Berkeley finds an environment inside and outside of the classroom where Israel is blamed for the continuing impasse in the Middle East. Fully one-third of the Jewish studies program faculty signed a petition on behalf of the divestiture resolution. The anti-Zionist Kesher Enoshi is welcome at Berkeley’s Hillel, while the pro-Zionist Tikvah students find Hillel to be a less than embracing environment. They have since moved their meetings to the more orthodox Chabad house.