Hundreds sign online U.C. anti-divestment petition

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When an Israeli divestment petition cropped up at MIT and Harvard, the subsequent anti-divestment petition garnered almost a dozen times as many signatures.

With a University of California-wide divestment petition launched in Berkeley last month, opponents here are hoping their counter-petition will also pick up a dozen times as many signatures.

Advocates of U.C. divestment "are trying to paint it as if they're mirroring a successful campaign at Harvard and MIT, despite the fact the other side had 11 times the signatures," said David Weinberg, a U.C. Berkeley sophomore and director of the newly formed U.C. Justice Campaign.

"What proponents of divestment are trying to do is take a very, very small fringe opinion and make it sound very educated and authoritative, give it the authenticity of a university community, despite the fact most people do not support it. Talking to people on different campuses, there's a substantial groundswell against divestment, but no infrastructure to react. There's a very strong anti-Israel infrastructure to work with."

Launched in early June, the divestment campaign Web site — www.ucdivest.org — had garnered more than 700 signatures by midweek. Launched on July 5, the U.C. Justice Campaign's anti-divestment Web site — www.ucjustice.org — had already picked up more than 450 signatures by midweek.

The anti-divestment petition also boasts 64 faculty signatures, while the divestment petition has been signed by 174 U.C. faculty members.

"The only reason Joe Shmo the faculty member hasn't gotten 10 signatures from people in his office opposing [divestment] is he didn't have something in his hands to walk up to friends and say 'please sign this,'" said Weinberg. "We realized we needed to put this piece of paper into people's hands."

While Weinberg and many of the U.C. Justice Campaign's leaders are Jewish pro-Israel activists, they claim the organization and petition is not just for Jews and pro-Israel activists.

Instead, they claim divestment is a disastrous idea peddled by disingenuous backers, and anyone opposing it can sign the anti-divestment petition and not feel he or she has leant support to anything more or less.

"We have diverse opinions on how peace in the Middle East can be achieved, and widely differing views of the policies of the current Israeli government," reads the petition.

"We are unanimous, however, in our condemnation of this petition as a one-sided and counter-productive attempt to delegitimize Israel. No less than the Palestinians, Israel has a right to exist free from violence. To place blame solely on Israel for the current situation, and to demand unilateral concessions without showing any concern for the safety and well-being of its citizens, is unjust. Reasonable people should work for a peacefully negotiated solution based upon respectful dialogue, rather than single out Israel for partisan attack."

Weinberg questioned the motives of divestment backers, noting the word "peace" does not appear on the Students for Justice in Palestine's petition.

"It's very cynical to consider yourself a peace activist and not even include it as an afterthought within the framework of what you're doing," he said. "That's very cold, short-sighted and calculating. That doesn't help anyone on either side."

Like its divestment counterpart, the anti-divestment petition is open to U.C. students, staff, faculty members, alumni and community residents. Weinberg encouraged sending the petition to friends, family and co-workers who "you think will agree," but discouraged mass e-mails.

In order to equal the proportional success of the MIT-Harvard anti-divestment petition, the U.C. Justice Campaign's will have to pick up at least 8,000 signatures — and Weinberg thinks he can do it.

"Really, there are way more than that who agree with us. The issue is just mobilizing them," he said. "There's no need for dirty tricks in this. We'll run a very honest, straightforward, clean campaign, and we'll win. The numbers really are on our side."

Joe Eskenazi

Joe Eskenazi is the managing editor at Mission Local. He is a former editor-at-large at San Francisco magazine, former columnist at SF Weekly and a former J. staff writer.