U.C. Berkeley student senate votes to uphold veto of divest-from-Israel resolution

The fate of a divest-from-Israel resolution brought before the U.C. Berkeley student senate has been decided — for now.

At approximately 4 a.m. April 15, the Associated Students of University of California voted to uphold the veto of a measure urging divestment from two U.S. companies supplying war materials to Israel.

Twelve student senators voted to overturn the veto, while seven voted to sustain it. One senator abstained. A two-thirds majority (14 votes) was needed to overturn the veto executed by ASUC president Will Smelko on March 24.

Yet, the final outcome is still somewhat undecided. About 90 minutes before the meeting eventually adjourned at 5:37 a.m., proponents of the resolution kept the debate alive by calling for a motion to reconsider the vote on the veto.

That motion didn’t go through — at least not yet — but it did raise havoc.

“It was sad and upsetting that after such a tolling night, people still dragged the meeting on, filibustered and repeated points that made the meeting go longer,” said student senator Sandra Cohen, who voted to uphold the veto. “Nothing was accomplished in those last hours.”

The motion was eventually tabled for a future meeting.

“It’s pretty clear that [the resolution] won’t be overridden,” Cohen added. “When I talked to people, it didn’t seem like anyone was willing to change their votes.”

U.C. Berkeley student Matthew Taylor, a proponent of the resolution and member of the campus’ Students for Justice in Palestine, said that while the veto was upheld, the hundreds who turned out in support of divestiture showed “a consensus building on this campus and around the world that Israel must end its occupation of Palestinian land.”

“If and when [the resolution] eventually passes, the divestment bill will benefit the Israeli people,” Taylor wrote in an e-mail, “as it would help build the necessary pressure to force Israel to end the occupation, just as divestment-related political pressure helped end South Africa apartheid.”

Nearly 500 students, faculty and community members converged for the much-anticipated meeting, which began around 8 p.m. April 14 and continued for more than nine hours.

Due to the unexpected turnout, the meeting had to be moved twice, from Eshleman Library to the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union Multicultural Center, and then to the Pauley Ballroom.

“If this bill was about any other country, we would not have a room packed this full tonight,” student senator Huda Adem was quoted as saying in the Daily Californian, U.C. Berkeley’s student-run campus newspaper.

Last month, ASUC senators voted 16-4 in favor of the resolution — deemed “anti-Israel” by many on campus, in the local Jewish community and beyond.

In essence, the resolution targets the university’s reported investments of $135 million in two U.S. companies, General Electric and United Technologies, that supply Israel with electronics and weapons.

At the April 14-turned-15 meeting, four senators among the original 16 in favor of the resolution changed their tune: Three voted to uphold the veto and one abstained.

Prior to the vote, more than 50 speakers on both sides of the issue addressed the student senate, including Holocaust survivors, writers of the bill, Israel’s Consul General to the Pacific Northwest, Akiva Tor, U.C. Berkeley rhetoric professor Judith Butler and Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, executive director of Berkeley Hillel.

“It’s very clear where we stand,” Naftalin-Kelman said before the meeting. “Hillel is an organization that has a deep connection with Israel and wants to foster that not just with Jewish students, but with all those on campus.”

The meeting’s respectful nature gradually deteriorated, said Julie Bernstein, director of campus and community programs for the S.F.-based Jewish Community Relations Council, giving way to moments of hissing and booing. Some students, she added, waved Palestinian flags.

“People got nasty,” said Bernstein, who spoke and stayed until the meeting’s end. “It became so obvious to me that this was impacting the students. This is their pain. They have to go sit with each other in class, be taught by the same professors and sit in the café next to each other.”

Hillel president Wayne Firestone and Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman issued this statement following the vote.

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