Cecilie Surasky, Deputy Director of Jewish Voice for Peace, reports on the coalition effort to pass a divestment bill at Berkeley. If passed, the bill would call on the University of California to withdraw its investments in companies that support the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories.
After a ten-hour meeting, an earlier veto of the bill by the Senate president was not overturned but at this point this looks like a bump in the road rather than an effective roadblock. Support for divestment is overwhelming.
For anyone who was there last night and until 7:30 this morning when the forum ended, it was clear what the future looks like.
For one, the smart money is on the members of UC Berkeley’s Students for Justice with Palestine (SJP), the group leading this effort. They are a remarkable multi-ethnic group that seemingly includes every race, religion and ethnicity including Muslims and Jews, and Israelis and Palestinians. They are just brilliant thinkers and organizers and driven by a clear sense of justice and empathy. They spent a year researching and writing the divestment bill, and I can’t express how much I love and respect them and how much hope they make me feel. And there are students just like them on every other campus in the world.
Second, the feeling on campus and in the room was electric. We filled an enormous room that fits 900. Most stayed through the entire night. If you can imagine, the evening started with remarkable statements by divestment supporters Judith Butler, Holocaust survivor Hedy Epstein, Richard Falk, Hatem Bazian and George Bisharat. And then the extraordinary parade of students and community members who spoke on both sides of the issue until it was past sunrise.
And though the final vote still hangs in the balance, the fact remains that the vast majority of the Senate voted to divest. The bill garnered the support of some of the most famous moral voices in the world, a good chunk of the Israeli left (9 groups and counting), nearly 40 campus groups (almost all student of color groups and one queer organization) plus another 40 US off-campus groups.
In addition, the room was filled with Jewish divestment supporters of every age including grandmothers and aunts and uncles and students. Our staff, activist members, and Advisory Board members like Naomi Klein, Judith Butler, Daniel Boyarin, Rabbi Lynn Gottlieb and Noam Chomsky each played critical roles in the effort. And of course, all of you who generated over 5,000 letters of support.
So much has changed since Gaza. Just 2 years ago we secured only 4 pages of Jewish endorsement letters for a similar selective divestment effort. This time, we put together 29 pages of major Jewish endorsement statements (which you can download here), and the list continues to grow by the day. We also made 400 bright green stickers that said “Another (fill in the blank) for human rights. Divest from the Israeli occupation” and gave every single last one away.
As attorney Reem Salahi said to me, “When I was a student here in law school 2 years ago, no one spoke about divestment. Now everyone is talking about it.”
For those of us there, it was clear–the room was with divestment. The senators were with divestment. And given the endorsements that kept pouring in up to the last second, from Nobel prize winners, from Israeli peace groups, from leading academics and activists–it seemed like the whole world was with divestment.