Well Berkeley’s divestment “policy” barely lasted a week before it was undone via veto by student government President Will Smelko last night. No doubt a number of Berkeleyans are shaking their heads as these events unfold on their campus. But as someone who has followed divestment activities for years, I can attest that the Berkeley story is playing out along lines so familiar I can practically set my watch to them. To whit:
1. A divestment resolution is brought before a representative body of a large respected institution (such as the Berkeley Student Senate, the Aldermen of the City of Somerville, or the professional leadership of the Presbyterian Church) by a group of Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) activists.
2. Because most members (and leaders) of the BDS group come from outside the community being asked to divest, local activists are given a high profile to make the divestment action seem as though it is welling up from the community itself.
3. Discussions of divestment are carried out behind closed doors or are rushed in hope that a divestment vote can be taken before the wider community becomes aware of what is being voted on in their name.
4. At some point, word gets out regarding what is happening and a controversy, often leading to a last-minute public hearing, ensues.
5. At the hearing, BDS activists do what they do best: zeroing in on a few, emotionally charged issues (the suffering of Palestinian Arabs, complete with bloody photographs), the flushing of alternative facts and history down the memory hole, and demands that support for BDS is the only democratic and moral choice for the institution considering divestment.
6. Hastily organized opponents of the measure do their best to publically respond, although their messages tend to be all over the map (refutation of the other side’s facts, history lessons, passionate condemnations of the divestment resolution as unfair, etc.)
7. The body considering divestment either votes it down immediately (in which case, skip to step 12) or passes it.
8. If passed, word immediately goes out on a hundred Web sites, 200 blogs and 500 Facebook pages that the institution is now in full agreement with the real message of divestment advocates: that Israel is an Apartheid state alone in the world deserving economic punishment.
9. People in the community wake up one morning to discover that a tiny minority has handed the reputation of the institution over to a single-issue, partisan group that is now leveraging their name for their own narrow political ends.
10. Outrage ensues, both from inside the community (which was never consulted before their representatives signed the institution up to join the BDS bandwagon) and externally.
11. Responding to the outrage, and appalled at how the decision is being portrayed publically (despite assurances by BDS advocates that a divestment vote was a simple, uncontroversial human rights matter), the institution finds a way to vote down or otherwide undo the hasty, controversial decision.
12. The BDSers howl at their reversal of fortune, throwing a public tantrum if divestment is voted down at a public hearing, and impotently threatening electoral revenge against those who decided the reputation of the organization should not be handed over to divestment crew, just because they demand it.
13. Because of divestment’s short-lived success, the institution is falsely listed as a divestment supporter for months or years to come in hope that other organizations will follow this now-pretend example.
14. Despite their threats, the BDSers move on, leaving the local leaders alone to deal with the bitterness and wreckage this entire incident has caused.
15. Wash, rinse, repeat at the next institution.
I’ll have a bit more to say about matters specific to the Berkeley story in the next day or so. But suffice to say, Berkeley has joined a long line of organizations which has flirted BDS only to discover it is not so much a political movement as an opportunistic virus, delivered by an organization that may still be hoping that Berkeley does not have antibodies strong enough to resist it.