Divestment resolution a tragedy for Cal students

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In a show of unmitigated hostility toward Israel and the local Jewish community, the student senate at U.C. Berkeley last week passed a resolution calling upon the U.C. system to divest from companies that provide support to Israel’s military in the Palestinian territories or aid Israeli settlements.

This week the school’s student body president declined to veto that resolution, unlike his predecessor who vetoed a similar resolution in 2010.

This in itself is enough to cause alarm.

True, the student resolution will have no practical effect — as Chancellor Robert J. Birgeneau wrote in a statement, this decision of the student senate will not change the university’s investment policy, which is set by the regents.

But the symbolic impact of this resolution, indeed of the entire acrimonious debate surrounding recurring divestment efforts at U.C. Berkeley and other universities, goes beyond this one vote to infect the entire campus atmosphere, particularly for Jewish students who are public about their concern for Israel.

In their op-eds on page 23, three Jewish student activists at Cal describe their dismay. One, who founded a pro-Israel campus organization, spoke of the “hate spewed” not only during the meeting itself, but also afterward. Student senators who opposed the bill were “brought to tears by the harassment,” he writes. Some, he claims, even received death threats.

In a separate op-ed, two students affiliated with J Street U, a leftist organization that supports Israel but opposes Israeli control of the West Bank, write about the vitriol hurled at them and their fellow Jewish students during the 10-hour senate meeting.

They describe a night of dispiriting and hateful antagonism, with divestment advocates calling for “a Palestinian state ‘from the river to the sea,’ ” and “snickering” when Jewish students expressed their legitimate fears about terrorism.

The hostility expressed toward anyone who opposed the bill, even those Jewish students who had come up with an alternate bill that called for “responsible investment” and recognized both Israeli and Palestinian aspirations, served only to “alienat[e] those people, like us, most interested in finding common ground.”

That, really, is the tragic outcome of this misguided resolution. It accomplishes nothing, alienates many and drives a wedge between two parts of the campus community by codifying a political stance that brooks no compromise.

A student government should not work to marginalize any part of its student body. This ugly divestment resolution does just that, and should be repudiated.