BDS Loses Big at Berkeley

Update: In the time it took to write this, it looks like the divestors, knowing the vote was going down for them, decided to table the motion until their next meeting, extending Berkeley’s pain for at least another week. (Was it just me, or did anyone else following the meeting via the UCBDIVEST Twitter feed recall BDSers screaming IN ALL CAPITAL LETTERS just an hour or two ago that a vote MUST BE TAKEN NOW!) Anyway, I’m letting my write up stand until I hear more from people on the ground about this latest delaying tactic.

Well, it looks like the Berkeley Student Senate (or ASUC) wasn’t “in the bag” for divestment after all.

After a debate that began at 7 PM last night and looks to be just wrapping up now (at 6:30 AM, West Coast Time), a vote was finally taken with regard to overturning the Student President’s veto of the UC Berkeley divestment bill. An override required 15 votes to pass (or two-thirds of the Senate) and the final count turned out to be 12 for, 7 against and 1 abstention (down from 16 for and 4 against the first time around).

And so BDS loses again. (I never tire of typing that sentence.) And this time, they not only lost on friendly ground (the most sympathetic-to-their-issue campus in America), but they managed to pull off a defeat with virtually the entire BDS pantheon (Chomsky, Tutu, Klein) behind their efforts. They lost despite support from virtually the entire global BDS network applying pressure to ASUC members. They lost with the support of vast stretches of Berkeley’s Balkanized student organizational leadership behind them. And they lost after arguing this issue in an all-night session that ended with what sounded like some serious bullying of Senators who chose to not join the boycott crew.

Now this is not to say that anti-divestment forces didn’t also have inside and outside support. In fact this article, while a bit sensational, does point out the individuals and organizations supporting each side in this debate. But given that the BDSniks would have hailed a victory as a clear-cut repudiation of the people and organizations who urged a no vote (like Hillel, AIPAC, AJC, etc.), doesn’t this mean divestment’s defeat represents a similar reputation of Chomsky, Students for Justice in Palestine, etc., and everything they stand for? (Just asking.)

Needless to say, the post-vote chatter falls along the familiar lines of “even though we lost the vote, we actually won.” And depending on how you define “victory,” this morning’s losers do have a point. Clearly if we mean by “win” that you actually are victorious in a political battle, then BDS clearly lost (again, I love typing that phrase). And if you define “win” as showing support for the Palestinians, remember that BDS is really a way to tell those Palestinians: “don’t compromise, don’t negotiate, help is on the way!” Given how well that’s worked out for the people in the region over the last six-and-a-half decades, I would think the boycotters (who claim to care about the Palestinian people) might at least give this matter a little bit of thought.

But that brings us to where the divestment victory really lay. For if you define “victory” as allowing a bunch of people who fantasize that they are part of a great revolutionary vanguard to spew anti-Israel venom for twelve hours straight and now huddle together to talk about how they were defeated by a vast conspiracy of powerful forces, their tiny voices stilled, then indeed last night was a victory for them. If Palestinian suffering has to be extended for another decade or three, or the UC Berkeley campus turned into a war zone of competing factions divided along ethnic and religious lines to allow SJP and its friend and allies to dwell in such a fantasy world, then so be it.

But in the end, I can point out two real (vs. imagined) winners in this struggle: the Berkeley students who valiantly fought against this resolution, holding their ground (and their principles) against what looked at times to be a snarling mob. And the second winner is UC Berkeley itself.

Despite hours of be-fogging rhetoric about human rights and fair play, what last night’s twelve-hour session really demonstrated is what the campus could expect for the coming months and years if this resolution passed. Just as in other communities where divestment has been attempted (Somerville, PCUSA, etc.), the Berkeley BDS resolution succeeded only in dividing another community into warring camps. One needed to only look at all the ASUC meetings, or read the comments that accompanied Daily Cal articles on the subject, or (one guesses) look at the 13,000 e-mails Student Senators each received to see that a “Yes” vote would have turned a campus founded on mutual respect to a place where students ran the gauntlet between partisans waving bloody photos at each other.

Just as there are winners, there are also heroes to this tale, the top of the list being the eight Senators who decided not to inflict the mayhem they were exposed to for hours and hours to the entire campus for months or years on end. While most of the 13,000 kibbitzers who communicated with them (including me) were telling them where their conscience should lead them, conscience is a personal thing. And as much as it would be nice to think that a Zionist heart secretly beats in the chest of each of these people, their vote against divestment demonstrates something more powerful and profound: their desire to put their campus and their constituents first despite unprecedented pressure to do otherwise.

I’ll have a few more things to say on this matter over the coming days (including thoughts on those representatives and their constituents). But for now, it’s safe to congratulate Berkeley for dodging the BDS bullet just in time.

Now take a nap everyone!

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4 Responses to BDS Loses Big at Berkeley

  1. DrMike April 15, 2010 at 7:22 pm #

    Actually, on further review, the veto was indeed upheld, and there was a procedural motion to reconsider which passed.
    However, according to one of the pro-Israel student leaders at Berkeley, this won't have any effect:

    “Don't worry about that motion. It is meaningless. They didn't have enough votes to override the veto and everyone who voted openly said that they wouldn't change their vote. The reason that they pulled that motion BS was simply to save face because they didn't want the meeting to end with a definitive loss for them. They know that they don't have the votes, and I heard that they won't even continue discussing the veto at the next meeting. I think it's safe to say that the divestment bill is dead! They're certainly not finished bashing Israel and plan to propose some bill about occupation in coming weeks, but we've won the important battle and prevented divestment at Berkeley.”

  2. Jan April 16, 2010 at 4:29 am #

    The vote isn't over yet. And remember, the majority of the Senate voted FOR divestment. I guess those who changed their vote just couldn't take the pressure.

  3. Jon April 16, 2010 at 12:40 pm #

    From what I heard, the pressure was being put on those Senators who decided to vote against the measure, to the point of driving some of them to tears. But let's take as given that both sides brought pressure to bear on the ASUC members to vote their way (shock horror! – people ask public leaders to vote one way or another). Your point that a majority of Senators (16/20 in the first vote 12/20 in the second) voted FOR divestment is a point well taken, one I'll be taking up later today.

  4. Anonymous April 25, 2010 at 12:11 pm #

    When in the UK, the AUT boycott was overturned by its grassroots membership, it was very quicky alleged that such overturning was the work of a “secret cabal” (Steven Rose) working in some sort of shady netherreaches of the Israeli embassy.
    The implication in both the post and a comment was similar “pressure” was said to be brought to bear. In other words, has the myth of an omniptent lobby surfeced following the defeat?

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