UC Divestment from Israel misguided

By Ryan Ariel Simon

When the University of California, Berkeley’s Student Senate (ASUC) approved a bill to “Divest from War Crimes” by a 16-4 vote last week, it marked a monumental occasion in college politics.

But the vote was not really about war crimes.

It was the opening round of this years fight over the best path to peace.

It was part of an attack on the country of Israel, and the closest any school has come to implementing Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS).

This strategy aims to force Israel to end its occupation of the Palestinian territories through a campaign like the one against apartheid-era South Africa.

Thankfully, Will Smelko, president of the ASUC, courageously vetoed the bill, and made a thoughtful statement clearly explaining why. He did this without dismissing the facts contained in the bill or demonizing anyone.

ASUC President Will Smelko

Comparing Israel to apartheid-era South Africa suggests a single state would be a solution.

In reality, it would be a disaster, and a recipe for further violence, strife, and insecurity.

As Smelko noted, significant differences exist between this bill, and a similar 1980’s resolution calling for UC Berkeley to divest from South Africa.

Firstly, divestment was agreed upon after lengthy deliberation and analysis, not mere hours of discussion, said Smelko.

Secondly, he also said it was a selective, one-sided focus on a specific country lacking historical context and “the perception of the bill [is] as a symbolic attack on a specific community of our fellow students.”

Not only does the BDS movement’s lack of support for a two-state solution run counter to the entire political leadership of Israel, the Palestinian Authority, and the United States, it wrongly places blame exclusively on Israel.

Responsibility is neither exclusively theirs, nor the Palestinians. This conflict will never be truly resolved if one side only wins at the other’s loss

Let me be clear. I am a pro-Peace, pro-Israel activist who cares about the rights and future of Palestinians. That’s why I support a two-state solution.

I agree that the Israeli Defense Forces (IDF) were far from blameless when they entered Gaza last winter to disarm Hamas. That’s why I support Israeli human rights organizations working to hold the IDF accountable.

Many Israelis do not trust the international community to prioritize their security needs. Thus the capacity of Israel to make concessions in any peace deal depends on U.S. support.

To that end U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed her, and the Obama administration’s “rock-solid” commitment to Israel’s security, correctly noting our responsibility to tell hard truths as their friend.

There are more productive, and effective paths to peace than BDS.

I have friends at Cal that supported the bill, and I expressed my disagreement with them personally and respectfully, I pray others do the same.

Support Will Smelko, don’t let the ASUC override his veto without a fight. ש

The writer is an activist with J Street U, The Campus Address for Middle East Peace, and J Street’s SF Bay Area grassroots organization

[J Street U will be holding an event co-sponsored with the Muslim Student Association, and Women’s Empowerment Alliance. Three Israel activists will discuss their work on GBLTQ, labor, the Israel-Palestinian conflict, and women’s issues in Israel and the Middle East. (Monday, April 12 at 12:15p.m. 5th floor student lounge at Berkeley City College. There is no charge)


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