Apologies for anyone who finds the next few days looking like a clip-show of previous writings, but the Berkeley story is playing out with such freakish familiarity that I thought I’d repurpose some things I’ve written during previous divestment conflicts for this site.
It’s hard not to notice that despite ongoing troubles in the Middle East, leaders and members of 99.99% of 4200+ colleges and universities in the United States do not seem to be at each other’s throats about the Arab-Israeli conflict. Nor are their leaders, representatives and students being bombarded daily with letters, e-mails, tweets, links and heaven-knows-what-else, trying to help “educate” recipients so that they can fall officially on one side of that conflict or the other.
The difference between UC Berkeley and virtually every other educational institution in the country is that Berkeley has chosen to turn a conflict that has challenged and perplexed wise and committed men and women for generations into official student government business.
No doubt, students who have succeeded in getting into one of the world’s greatest universities possess remarkable intelligence and ability. But even with these gifts, how many Student Senators truly feel in their heart of hearts (and brain of brains) that they now possess the understanding and wisdom needed to speak with understanding on this issue, much less act on it in an official capacity?
Do Berkeley Student Senators know so much more than student government leaders at over four-thousand colleges and universities (from the Ivy League to the Community College) who have not touched this issue or who have rejected BDS when divestment was similarly asked of them? Are Berkeley’s student leaders wiser than the thousands of college presidents and representatives who have chosen to not make the Middle East the focal point of student government policy or campus debate? Or have leaders outside of Berkeley shown wisdom by avoiding matters they may be unprepared to handle, issues that are guaranteed to cause division and pain?
While those pushing hardest for Berkeley to join the divestment chorus take great pains to dress their anti-Israel petition in the acceptable clothes of human rights and social responsibility, one need only read their communication that have gone out over the last week to discover the courser language that will only accelerate if the ASUC decides to overturn last week’s veto. For make no mistake, the goal of divestment advocates (like the Students for Justice in Palestine, or SJP, organization that seem to think they already have the Student Senate “in the bag”) is to brand Israel a racist, apartheid state, alone in the world in deserving economic punishment. If divestiture passes, SJP and its allies will be gone, transmitting a message they have succeeded in stuffing into the mouth of every Berkeley student to the world, while everyone else is left behind to deal with the wreckage.
There are times when courage is defined as standing up against overwhelming pressure to do what’s right. But in this case, courage could more accurately be defined as not doing what you suspect is wrong, just because someone else is telling you that it is your only moral choice.