Cal on Palestine

UC Berkeley Student Senate passes divestment measure, but pro-Israel opponents pushing hard for veto

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Cal student President Connor Landgraf, shown here on a free trip to Israel last year, will decide the bill's fate.

The UC Berkeley Student Senate has passed a bill that calls upon the university to withdraw nearly $12 million in investments from corporations that do business in the Palestinian West Bank, including Caterpillar, Cement Roadstone Holdings, and Hewlett Packard Company. The bill, SB 160, passed at 5am April 18 by a slim 11-9 margin after 10 hours of emotional debate.

When the final vote count was announced, some students cheered and others broke down in tears. While the measure is largely symbolic and unlikely to change university policy, Israel's biggest supporters take such divestment votes very seriously and they were actively trying to influence the outcome of this measure.

The fate of the bill is now in the hands of student President Connor Landgraf, a senior bioengineering major who promised student leaders during his campaign that he would not veto any divestment measure. But now, with the bill sitting on his desk, Landgraf is waffling and supporters of the measure say that may be partially because a pro-Israel group appears to have sponsored his trip to Israel last year.

"During my campaign I did say I wouldn't veto, but now I have different responsibilities," Landgraf told the Bay Guardian. Since Thursday's vote, Landgraf said his phone has been ringing off the hook. "I've received literally hundreds of emails, and I'm under a lot of pressure." [UPDATE 4/24: Landgraf has issued a statement criticizing the bill, but saying that he won't veto it.]

Although ASUC does not exercise any formal control over the school finances, UC student politics have increasingly become a symbolic battleground for a larger debate over the Israel's human rights record.

Student Senator George Kadifa, who authored the bill, is hopeful that other campuses will follow Berkeley's lead: "I'd like to appeal directly to other students governments that have Palestinian communities on campus," he told the Guardian. "If any other students were found to have their houses demolished, or were forced to go through checkpoints to visit their families, would we be silent about that?"

The three companies targeted by Kadifa's bill are involved in providing materials used to construct Israeli settlements, equipping West Bank checkpoints, and manufacturing bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes. Daniel Aranki, a Palestinian computer science graduate student, explained that Palestinian students on campus view the university's investments in these companies as a personal affront: "It's my money I pay to the university, and it's invested in human rights violations, against my own family and people that I grew up with," he told the Guardian. The divestment vote at Berkeley is part of a larger push on UC campuses to highlight Israel's human rights record. Over the last year alone, UC Irvine, San Diego, Santa Barbara, and Riverside have all considered various divestment proposals. In response, national pro-Israel organizations are pushing back and directly urging campus leaders to counter the divestment movement.

In 2010, when the ASUC passed a similar divestment measure, the San Francisco-based Israeli console Akiva Tor reached out to then-President Will Smelko and convinced him to exercise his veto. "He said this is not right, this is morally wrong, and he explained to me why it was wrong," Smelko told J Weekly.

Opponents consider divestment a divisive and counterproductive strategy that unfairly singles out Israel for criticism, and divestment on campus has emerged as a major front in the national debate over Israel.

Comments

Mr. Landgraf,

I don't admire your position, and I can only begin to imagine the amount of stress and pressure you are under. However, I hope that, in the midst of all these phone calls you are receiving, you take time to turn off the phone, shut the door, and reflect on what you know and don't know. I'm sure you would acknowledge that a one-sided lobby group paid for your trip to Israel in the hopes that you would veto a divestment bill. And here you are, in the very situation that this lobby group anticipated.

I assume that you spent little or no time in the West Bank on your trip to Israel? I assume that you didn't witness settler attacks on Palestinians? I assume that you didn't see the route of the "security wall" around illegal Israeli settlements and through Palestinian towns? I assume that you didn't meet with non-violent protest organizers (who represent an inspiring alliance of Palestinians and Israelis)? I assume that you didn't meet with the innumerable Palestinian families who have unjustly lost their loved ones or had their homes bulldozed? I assume that you didn't witness middle-of-the-night raids aimed solely at intimidating Palestinian families who the IDF knew had done nothing wrong? (If you don't believe me, see the recent NPR piece on these raids: http://www.thisamericanlife.org/radio-archives/episode/493/picture-show) I assume you did not meet with Jewish Israelis who believe that divestment is the only way to save Israel from itself (and who, under an anti-democratic new Israeli law, could be sued for voicing this viewpoint)?

Regardless of what you think you believe at this point in time, I hope you reflect on whether your experiences on this lobby-group-funded trip to Israel have colored your perception of "reality." And, if you think this might be the case, I hope this realization will give you enough pause to follow your initial instinct to honor the democratic decision of the student senate.

Sincerely,

Ashley

Posted by Ashley on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 11:28 am

Couldn't have said it better myself!!! Hopefully Mr. Landgraf gets your message.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 4:27 pm

Ashly, Please forward your comment along to This American Life as well -- they will no doubt be feeling a lot of heat in the coming days for having the courage to air the important piece you mention.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 1:43 pm

Connor,

I want to offer you some very practical advice. Your decision has no tangible consequences on this conflict because there are more powerful forces at work, forces that actually control the flow of money.

Keep your promises. Powerful friends value loyalty. They're the only ones who really remember Will Smelko's decision.

If you plan to remain involved with politics, go with your gut and be consistent. If not, find a way to hold on to your (powerful) friends. They will be the ones who will enable you to accomplish your goals. That's the world we live in.

-your peer

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 12:45 pm

Their resolutions are meaningless statements, devoid of any sort of moral or legal power. The university investment system will do what it wants. So all of this is, literally, hot air. However Connor isn't going to make many friends if he signs the measure and his actions will probably come back to haunt him in the long term. There's not much support or sympathy amongst most Americans for the Palestinian cause - rightly or wrongly. We're not talking about black South Africans here although this is the analogy every supporter of the divestment movement would like to encourage.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 1:24 pm

You weren't there during the campaign for divestment from South Africa. I was an undergrad at CAL at the time, and I'm proud of the fact that it was among the most effective campaigns ever waged by students and supporters of the cause. It worked before, and it can work again. Looks like you're the one farting in the wind, Lucretia. As usual.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 1:47 pm

Snapples: movements matter, discourse matters, and yes, student politics can matter. You spend your days arguing with shadows on a blog, at least these students are doing something to build public support for their cause. And while you may reject the apartheid analogy, Desmund Tutu does not.

Don't you have something better to do with your time?

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 1:47 pm

You're responding to me by telling me to stop commenting. Clearly I'm important and powerful enough to get a busy person like to you leave a comment to a "shadow."

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 2:16 pm

I couldn't help but notice your asinine and and rather unlettered remarks, which lassoed my attention away from my daily dealings in international finance. I am grateful that your quotidian, ill informed, and stilted musings on topics far beyond the meager scope of your stunted cerebral cortex, have little more impact than the passing of stomach gases upon the ass-side of my well creased slacks. I'm rubber you're glue.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 2:41 pm

I couldn't help but notice your asinine and and rather unlettered remarks, which lassoed my attention away from my daily dealings in international finance. I am grateful that your quotidian, ill informed, and stilted musings on topics far beyond the meager scope of your stunted cerebral cortex, have little more impact than the passing of stomach gases upon the ass-side of my well creased slacks. I'm rubber you're glue.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 2:35 pm

Or.. something like that.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 3:12 pm

I couldn't help but notice your asinine and and rather unlettered remarks, which lassoed my attention away from my daily dealings in international finance. I am grateful that your quotidian, ill informed, and stilted musings on topics far beyond the meager scope of your stunted cerebral cortex, have little more impact than the passing of stomach gases upon the ass-side of my well creased slacks. I'm rubber you're glue.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 3:16 pm

We will know if Landgraf can be bought and sold by his actions. Will he stand by his word or will his free funtime trip be all that it takes to corrupt him?

It's sad that such an obvious ploy could be so successful.

Quick, someone offer him an all-expenses paid trip to Gaza! I'm sure it won't be as full of sexy babes, beaches, sushi, and cocktails...ah well.

Posted by Matthew on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 3:41 pm

His "word" was to veto the bill, according to this article.

Trips to Israel are almost always for visitng holy sites instead of partying.

Posted by Guest on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 3:55 pm

definitely no sexy babes in Gaza. Hamas has a "modesty police" to forbid anything non-compliant with extreme Sharia, including long hair (on men). No sexy men, either. And no gays, of course. But plenty of luxury hotels on the sea, and plenty of rocket launchers placed on the grounds of hospitals, schools and homes.

Posted by Guest Jon Webber on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 5:55 pm

And after graduation, all of the super-intelligent, educated and bigoted jackasses applied for jobs and found that no Jewish business would hire them. So sad, and the pay was fabulous too.

Posted by GuestMerrybee on Apr. 23, 2013 @ 4:04 pm
BDS

There is nothing sinister about learning about Israel first-hand. And a trip to Gaza would be a great idea, too. See how Hamas terrorizes its own people, destroyed the greenhouses Israel left behind, and places rocket launchers on the grounds of hospitals, schools and homes. He can stay in one of the many seaside luxury hotels that NGO and others enjoy. No sexy babes on the beach, though. The "modesty police" won't allow it.

Posted by Guest Jon Webber on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 5:51 pm
BDS

There is nothing sinister about learning about Israel first-hand. And a trip to Gaza would be a great idea, too. See how Hamas terrorizes its own people, destroyed the greenhouses Israel left behind, and places rocket launchers on the grounds of hospitals, schools and homes. He can stay in one of the many seaside luxury hotels that NGO and others enjoy. No sexy babes on the beach, though. The "modesty police" won't allow it.

Posted by Guest Jon Webber on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 5:52 pm

So why is Israel, the supposedly exemplary liberal democracy in the region so afraid of Americans who have or might criticize Israel that it has AIPAC swarming over Capitol Hill demanding a special exemption from a visa treaty that would allow Israel and Israel alone to deny entry to a passport holder of a treaty signatory nation based on whether the passport holder adheres to Israel's self serving version of political correctness?

Looks like all of the democracy you want so long as you don't challenge anything.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 7:18 pm

Have you considered that no one really cares?

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Apr. 24, 2013 @ 8:16 pm

There is plenty of democracy, and dissent, in Israel. Arab citizens are in the parliament and serve as judges. Israel wants to protect itself from "visitors" who want to harm it. As for AIPAC, the Arab oil lobby far outspends and out-influences the pro-Israel lobby.

Posted by Guest Jon Webber on Apr. 25, 2013 @ 9:39 am

So why is Israel so afraid of Americans who disagree with Israel that it would ban us from visiting through special discriminatory visa treatment?

If it bans an American Jew like me from visiting based on my opposition to Zionism, then it is not much of a democracy, not much of a Jewish state either.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 25, 2013 @ 10:04 am

American passport. Your American exceptionalism is showing again Marcos. Sovereign states have the right to make decisions on who they allow to enter their territory for any reason. The sub-set you're screeching about - Palestinians who claim residency in East Jerusalem but travel on American passports and anti-Zionist American Jews coming to Israel to cause trouble, are a tiny, tiny fraction of the millions of people who visit Israel each year. It's a political issue analogous to residents of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus attempting to enter Nicosia with a French passport passport - which is usually denied. Britain routinely denies entrance to American anti-abortion activists and Germany to European and American right-wing extremists. The visa waiver program does not mandate that every person carrying a passport of a member state be allowed to enter any signatory state at any time for any reason. So STFU about this - you're wrong.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Apr. 25, 2013 @ 10:24 am

A legislative effort led by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee to enable Israelis to enter the United States without visas may be stymied by the government – Israel’s government.

The hitch is Israel’s inability or unwillingness to fully reciprocate, something required for visa-free travel to the United States. Israel, citing security concerns, insists on the right to refuse entry to some U.S. citizens.

AIPAC is pushing for an exemption for Israel from this rule. But congressional staffers say Israel is unlikely to get such an exemption, which U.S. lawmakers view as an attempt to bar Arab Americans from freely entering Israel.

“It’s stunning that you would give a green light to another country to violate the civil liberties of Americans traveling abroad,” said a staffer for one leading pro-Israel lawmaker in the U.S. House of Representatives.

The exemption AIPAC is pushing for appears in the Senate version of the U.S.-Israel Strategic Partnership Act, one of the key issues for which AIPAC urged supporters to lobby after its policy conference last month.

The language in that bill, proposed by Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), requires that the Homeland Security secretary grant Israel visa waiver status after certifying with the secretary of state that Israel “has made every reasonable effort, without jeopardizing the security of the State of Israel, to ensure that reciprocal travel privileges are extended to all United States citizens.”

House staffers say that lawmakers, pro-Israel leaders among them, have raised objections to the clause, “without jeopardizing the security of the State of Israel,” because it appears to validate what they see as Israel’s tendency to turn away Arab Americans without giving a reason.

None of the other 37 countries currently in the visa-free program has such a caveat written into law.

Israel’s government has made clear that it likely would not join the visa waiver program without such language in the law, JTA has learned. Israeli officials told JTA that U.S. citizens already are free to travel to Israel and that there is no need for holders of American passports to obtain a tourist visa before traveling.

But there have been numerous reports in recent years that Israel routinely turns away or makes difficult the entry of Americans with Muslim and Arab names, often without explaining why. The State Department, in its Israel travel advisory, warns that “U.S. citizens whom Israeli authorities suspect of being of Arab, Middle Eastern, or Muslim origin” may be denied “entry or exit without explanation.”

James Zogby, the president of the Arab American Institute, which has lobbied against the Senate language, said passage of such a law would codify discriminatory treatment.

“It is ratifying Israel's position of creating two classes of citizen,” said Zogby, who said he has been subject to long waits when entering Israel.

One recent case that made headlines was that of Nour Joudah, a Palestinian American who was teaching at the Friends School in Ramallah. Joudah, who had traveled to Jordan for Christmas, was denied reentry to Israel although she had a one-year multiple entry visa, and despite the fact that the Israeli Embassy in Washington had advocated for her reentry.

The Ramallah school receives U.S. funding, promotes non-violence and teaches about the Holocaust, noted a congressional staffer. “This is the model of coexistence,” the staffer said.

Shin Bet, Israel’s internal security service, told Haaretz earlier this year that Joudah had not cooperated during security questioning. Joudah told Haaretz that the encounter with Israeli security at times had been argumentative but said she answered all questions.

Critics of Israel’s entry practices say authorities appear to turn away Americans for political, not security reasons. Joudah told Haaretz that Israeli security officials had asked her about her published writings. While in Ramallah, she had blogged for Electronic Intifada, an anti-Zionist website. In one post, she sharply criticized Palestinian Authority President Mahmoud Abbas for intimating that it was time to relinquish a Palestinian “right of return” to Israel.

Pro-Israel insiders said it’s still too early to tell how this bill will fare in Congress.

The House version of the same bill, initiated by Reps. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Ted Deutch (D-Fla.), stops short of an exemption, asking only for reports from the secretary of state on what steps Israel has taken to comply with inclusion in the visa waiver program.

The exemption language in the Senate version is borrowed from a separate stand-alone House bill initiated by Rep. Brad Sherman (D-Calif.), called the Visa Waiver for Israel Act.

It’s not clear whether the Senate language or the House language will prevail as the bills progress through committees and then into conference. Spokespeople for Boxer and AIPAC declined to comment.

For years, top pro-Israel lawmakers in Congress have been stymied in efforts to add Israel to the visa waiver program, and not just by the reciprocity issue. Other reasons have been Israel’s failure to stay under the maximum 3 percent threshold of denied visas, and concerns in Congress’ Homeland Security and Intelligence Committees that granting visa-free access to Israel’s Arab minority could pose a security risk to the United States.

Sherman and other advocates of granting Israel visa waiver status dismiss those concerns.

“There are far more Arab Frenchmen than there are Arab Israelis and there are far more Muslims in Brunei than there are in Israel,” Sherman told JTA. Both countries are on the visa waiver list. “It is not our intention in the visa waiver program to discriminate on the basis of religion.”

Sherman and other backers of the bill also noted that at least five nations that exceeded the 3 percent visa refusal threshold were allowed into the program in recent years, and those nations’ refusal rates were higher than Israel’s 5.4 percent refusal rate.

Julie Fishman, an assistant legislative director at the American Jewish Committee, which backs both versions of the bill, said that Israel’s relatively low visa refusal rate under current visa procedures – which include heavy screening -- suggest that concerns about Israel’s Arab minority were overblown.

Sherman said that adding Israel to the visa waiver program would end discrimination, not advance it. He described the opposition as part of the attempt to delegitimize Israel.

"There are thousands of people with Arab American backgrounds who visit Israel each year and they face far less hassle than Israeli Christians, Jews or Muslims trying to visit the United States," he said.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 25, 2013 @ 10:28 am

Neither you nor anyone else, has an automatic "right" to enter another sovereign state simply because you are an American. Nor do you have the "right" to "hassle-free" travel because you have an American passport. Period.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Apr. 25, 2013 @ 10:56 am

Treaty law says otherwise. You are wrong. Even Israel's supporters in the Congress find this demand outrageous.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 25, 2013 @ 11:13 am

or another "law of treaties?" You do understand that if Israel negotiates an opt-out to any portion of a treaty it signs then that opt-out negates the treaty portion it references, don't you? That's kind of a basic point of treaty negotiation or really - ANY civil law negotiation.

You're not making much sense here. Posting gerrymands from Electronic Intifada and referencing points of international law of which you have very little understanding isn't doing much for your case.

Posted by Lucretia Snapples on Apr. 25, 2013 @ 11:48 am

The reciprocal no-visa treaty is already in place for many other nations. Israel wants to become party to that treaty but wants a special carve out for itself.

Even Israel's friends in congress are balking. One sign that a country is not a democracy is that it tries to stifle debate by restricting access to those who don't toe the line.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 25, 2013 @ 12:05 pm

who lived there before the colonizers (British, then Zionist).

Posted by Guest on Apr. 25, 2013 @ 10:13 am

Correct. Not to distract from how bad Israel is for the Palestinians, but this is all bad for the Jews, very bad for the Jews.

Posted by marcos on Apr. 25, 2013 @ 2:04 pm

We always knew that the US has the best Congre$$ money can buy, But I didn't imagine that buying of government extended to the UC Berkeley student senate.

Interesting that on the one hand they seem to claim that none of these divestment resolutions actually matter, on the other hand they spend so much time and money to oppose them.

So which one is it???

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