At Berkeley, Students Fail to Overturn Veto of Bill Calling for Divestment From Israel

By Josh Nathan-Kazis

Published April 15, 2010.

An effort by members of U.C. Berkeley’s student senate to overturn the veto of a resolution calling for university divestment from some companies doing business with Israel failed earlier today, but the debate is far from over.

In mid-March, the student senate passed a resolution that called for the University of California at Berkeley to divest from two companies with Israeli military contracts and create a committee to suggest additional companies for divestment. A week later, the president of the student government vetoed the bill, saying the decision was made too hastily.

In a marathon meeting that began last night and ended at 7:30 a.m. today, the resolution’s supporters failed to get the 14 votes needed to overturn a presidential veto. After the defeat, a motion to reconsider the bill was offered and then tabled, and may be revisited as early as April 21.

“It was an emotional time for the community, and it has certainly left the community in a difficult time right now, both from just exhaustion and trying to figure out what will be next,” Adam Naftalin-Kelman, executive director of the Berkeley Hillel, told the Forward, after spending the entire night at the meeting.

In vote at 5:30 a.m. today, 12 senators voted to overturn the veto, seven voted to let it stand, and one senator abstained. After the vote, one of the senators who had voted to uphold the veto made a motion to reopen discussion on the bill. That senator supported the bill and had voted for procedural reasons to oppose the veto. Debate continued until 7:30 a.m. when the measure was tabled.

More than 400 people attended the meeting, according to a report in The Daily Californian, a student newspaper. The venue was switched twice to accommodate the overflow crowds.

Attendees included Akiva Tor, an Israeli Consul General based in San Francisco. In the days leading up to the vote, several public figures weighed in on both sides of the student government’s divestment effort. Archbishop Desmond Tutu, a leading activist in South Africa’s anti-apartheid movement, wrote a letter in support of the bill. The letter, addressed to the student senators, appeared at Salem-News.com, a local Web site.

“I am writing to tell you that, despite what detractors may allege, you are doing the right thing,” Tutu wrote. Other figures to publicly support the bill in recent weeks included left wing journalist Naomi Klein and U.C. Berkeley professors Judith Butler and Daniel Boyarin.

Letters in opposition to the bill were sent by writer and Holocaust survivor Elie Wiesel and by J Street, the left-wing pro-Israel lobby, among others.

Naftalin-Kelman said that the Berkeley Hillel and other local Jewish groups had spent the past few weeks lobbying student senators who had supported the bill to change their votes. Student senators were invited to teach-ins led by Tor, an Israeli doctoral student, and a visiting Israeli professor, among others. He said that the Hillel also arranged private meetings between senators and experts on the issue.

Contact Josh Nathan-Kazis at nathankazis@forward.com.



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