University of California, Berkeley, students campaign for divestment from Israel, 2010

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Timing
Time Period:  
1 March
2010
to
28 April
2010
Location and Goals
Country: 
United States
Location City/State/Province: 
Berkeley, California
Location Description: 
University of California campus
Goals: 
Divestment of Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC) from two companies, General Electric and United Technologies, which supported the Israeli Armed Forces.
 

In 2000, students at the University of California-Berkeley began to consider the use of divestment as a means of showing their dismay with the Israeli occupation of Palestine. On February 6, 2001, Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) formed and officially launched their campaign for divestment from corporations that supported the Israeli occupation. The group’s decision to launch a divestment campaign inspired colleges and universities nation wide to launch their own campaigns.

On April 9, 2002, SJP Berkeley held a demonstration commemorating the 1948 Deir Yassin Massacre. Members of SJP and other Berkeley students occupied Wheeler Hall, demanding divestment. Seventy-nine students faced prosecution after this event and SJP spent time in defense of these students. Additionally SJP took an active role in opposing the 2003 Iraq War. It was not until 2010 that the group wrote a bill to be presented to the student Senate about ASUC divestment.

In March 2010, SJP introduced the divestment bill to the university senate. The bill SB118A called for the divestment of Associated Students of the University of California (ASUC), from investments in General Electric and United Technologies, both corporations that supported the Israeli Armed Forces through manufacturing helicopters and engines. While the bill focused on Berkeley investments, it also called on the entire University of California system to divest as well.

For Israeli Apartheid Week, SJP organized a series of events to promote their divestment bill and teach students about the occupation. On March 1, SJP led an “Introduction to Apartheid” course for students and members of the community, educating them on the similarities between South Africa and Israel. On March 8, SJP students held a teach-in for students to learn more about the Israeli occupation and the Senate bill.

On March 17, the Senate began its deliberation of the bill. 150 students from SJP and other members of the Berkeley student body attended the session. The designated room could not hold the number of individuals in attendance and the meeting was relocated to a larger space. Students, professors, and other members of Berkeley community, both for and against the divestment, addressed the Senate.

At 3am on March 18, the Senate passed the bill in a 16 to 4 vote. However, one week later, the Senate President Will Smelko vetoed the vote.

In the weeks following the veto, SJP members organized call-ins to Senate members and urged the campus community to send letters to the senators, asking that they uphold the bill by overruling the President.

On April 14, hundreds of students gathered in Sproul Plaza in silent vigil, demanding that the Senate overrule the veto. That night, the ASUC met to decide whether or not to uphold the President’s veto. Over 700 individuals were in attendance. Again, students, professors, and community members spoke for and against the bill. After 7.5 hours of deliberation, the Senate voted to table the bill and reconvene on April 28.

In the week following the meeting, intense lobbying occurred on both sides of the issue. The Jewish groups AIPAC, Hillel, and J Street, all strong divestment opponents, campaigned to uphold the veto, explaining to the Senate and members of the community that if the veto were overruled, the university would see a decline in Jewish student populations. On April 28, the vote fell short of enough votes to override the veto.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Bidwell, Allie, and Nick Myers. "ASUC Fails to Override Divestment Bill Veto." The Daily Californian. 16 Apr. 2010. <http://www.dailycal.org/article/109108/asuc_fails_to_override_divestment_bill_veto>.

Derby, Youmna, and Dina Omar. "BDS at UC Berkeley: The Campaign, The Vote, and The Veto." Muftah. 27 May 2010. <http://muftah.org/?p=141>.

Meyer, Nick. "Cal-Berkeley Rallies around Divestment Vote; Other Colleges Continue BDS Movement against Israeli Ccompanies." The Arab American News. 25 Apr. 2010. Web. <http://www.arabamericannews.com/news/index.php?mod=article&cat=USA&article=3049>.

Additional Notes: 
Though SJP officially launched its goal of divestment on February 6, 2001, efforts to divest did not form into a bill until 2010. Previously the group was also involved in various other political and social causes that took up much of its time. In 2002 SJP students led a takeover of Wheeler Hall, a building on the UC-Berkeley campus. 79 students faced prosecution after this event and SJP spent time in defense of these students. Additionally SJP took an active role in opposing the 2003 Iraq War. It was not until 2010 that the group wrote a bill to be presented to the student Senate about ASUC divestment.
Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Kylin Navarro, 02/12/2010