Shouts and Pouts

In one sense, it’s great to be the “new kid on the block” with regard to a political “movement,” something Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) are discovering now that they have become the go-to organization with regard to anti-Israel activity on US campuses. The press automatically turns to you when they need quotes from “the other hand” during a Middle East campus controversy, and the dozens of anti-Israel organizations outside of campus are ready to support your cause, man your events, and provide you advice and resources.

At the same time, the spotlight comes at a price. If SJP activists on a particular campus cannot expand their group beyond a tiny core, this lack of interest reflects not just on them but on the wider SJP network, exposing them as simply the latest reconfiguration of the same gaggle of Israel-dislikers that have been around forever, rather than the vanguard of a grassroots uprising.

But even if they can get their ranks to a decent number and are lucky enough to be led by people with strong organizational skills, they also run into a bigger challenge of actually having to produce results.

Given that this new iteration of “the movement” continues to embrace BDS, this means trying to get colleges and universities to divest is automatically on their agenda. But given that no school has given into BDS demands despite a decade of asking, everyone knows that bringing this issue back to school administrators for the umpteenth time is a dead end. And because the cornerstone SJP “victory,” the one that put the organization on the map (Hampshire College) is known beyond BDS circles to have been a hoax, these same administrators are well aware of the risk they run by simply giving BDS activists the time of day, limiting SJP options still further.

After the 2010 divestment controversy at UC Berkeley, student government seemed an easier target since it simply involved getting a small subset of the student body to strike a pose (vs. getting actual administrators to take an action). But the BDSers only succeed (temporarily) at Berkeley by getting their divestment resolution passed in the dead of night before anyone else on campus knew what was going on. And once word got out, that divestment vote was reversed within weeks.

In politics (as in physics) every action creates an opposite reaction. And in the case of student government, Berkeley created a spirit of vigilance among pro-Israel organizations to ensure that BDS activity within student government takes place in the light of day, efforts which led to the defeat of such divestment votes on other campuses since the Berkeley brouhaha.

If getting others (administrators, student government) to do what you want becomes too daunting, SJP can (and has) fallen back on activities that do not require anyone but themselves to do anything, such as writing letters to the editor and building their mock walls and holding their Israel Apartheid Week events. But as these annual rituals become increasingly shopworn, they are also being met by pro-Israel letters, speakers and programming to counter them.

This led to a new phenomenon over the last 1-2 years of anti-Israel activists disrupting pro-Israel events, most notably in California where organized interruption led to a shutdown of a talk by Israel ambassador Michael Oren (leading to similar shoutdowns on other campuses).

But here the boycotters pushed too far, causing administrations usually somnambulant to Jewish student claims of harassment to take action, which meant that (heaven forbid) students participating in disruptive anti-Israel activity might face personal consequences for their behavior.

The tactic of loud disruption was recently modified into a so-called “Silent Walkout” where SJP students and supporters arrived early at a pro-Israel speaking event, took all the seats and once the speaker began they put tape over the mouths and walked out the door, leaving the hall empty. While creative as a tactical variation, it faced the same problem all new tactics face in our wired age of being well known by the time it was to be used again. Which meant that pro-Israel students were also showing up early and administrators were able to set down ground rules for respectful behavior, leaving SJPers with little to do than tape their mouths shut in the back of the room and slink out with few people paying attention to them.

As these attack and defense routines play themselves out on campuses this year (which I still predict will end in stalemate), SJP must struggle with whether it exists to have actual political impact, or is content to be known as an organization most dedicated to create YouTube and Facebook entries demonstrating their ability to act naughty in front of grownups.

School’s In Session

It’s intriguing to listen to BDS organizers as they talk about their plans for the year, as they do here.Not because their words are amusing or threatening, although I did crack a grin when they talked about “all these BDS victories,” without mentioning any specifics (for the obvious reason that none exist), and a frown when I heard a “movement” that specializes in forcing people they don’t want heard off the stage accuse their opponents of “bullying.” Rather, such glimpses into the organizational world of anti-Israel activism are fascinating with regard to their focus on process, sometimes even bordering on professionalism.

I had this same reaction when watching a video of a recent BDS conference in which organizers spoke about recruiting, goal-seeking, even performing a SWOT Analysis on their own organizations; business-like procedures designed to focus a team to execute well-thought-out tactics around a common strategy with a full understanding of both their own strengths and weaknesses as well as those of their opponents.

Which forces the question as to why a “movement” that seems capable of at least talking the talk in terms of serious organization-building harnessed to effective execution seems so stuck on a strategy (BDS) that has brought them nothing but defeat after more than ten years of effort.

Why do they continue to pass around petitions on college campuses calling for divestment that administrations and fellow students have already rejected time and time again?Why do they trot out the same worn-out cardboard “Apartheid Walls” and hold ever-less-attended “Israel Apartheid Week” rallies and marches when it is clear they are only bothering uncommitted students and that their opponents are well aware (and well prepared) for their antics?And why do they continue to push BDS hoaxes, even though previous frauds (such as the one at Hampshire College) has helped ensure their project will never be taken seriously by anyone (least of all the college administrators they long to have on their side)?

An answer to this conundrum can be found in the nature of radical vs. more traditional civic political organizations.Civic groups, ranging from the Boy Scouts to church choirs, tend to be true volunteer organizations where – despite the grousing that often takes place within such groups – individual members are listened to, contribute and are inevitably called to lead.In contrast, radical groups, despite the hospitality they often show to perspective recruits, are generally top down organizations with real decision-making power residing in a senior echelon (or Politburo) who make decisions based on the needs of a broader (and never-quite-defined) “movement.”

I remember this type of drama playing out in Somerville when a local BDS leader (of a group named SDP at the time) could not get what he wanted out of the current membership of the organization he founded.And so he decided to import new members more ready to follow his lead (even if that meant driving older members out in the process).So while organizational savvy is valued in such organizations, such skills are frequently trumped by those who are willing to act the most ruthlessly to get their way.

Infiltration is another dynamic that has prevented anti-Israel groups from ever achieving the type of stability and permanence they envy in the Jewish political world (a world that I would say contains too much stability, where 50-100 year old organizations with overlapping missions vie for the spotlight and the same funding sources – but I digress).

Just as BDSers often join a political group or organization (like a food co-op) for the sole purpose of bending it to their will, so to do the factions upon factions within the anti-Israel community (separated by Left/Right, religious/secular and national-particularist divisions) try to take over any Palestinian advocacy organization once it shows signs of success.This is what happened to the Palestinian Solidarity Movement (PSM), the force behind much of the divestment activity early in the last decade which collapsed under the effort of trying to perpetually fight off hostile takeovers.And this is likely what will happen to Students for Justice in Palestine (the flavor of the month of Israel hating campus groups) if they ever get above a certain threshold of size and success.

In the meantime, SJP will be holding its first national organizing conference in just a week’s time (be still my heart).And on the agenda are such lovely (and original) subjects as “Situating Palestine as a settler-Colonial Project” and “The Economics of Israeli Colonialism,” more mundane matters such as “Coalition Building on Campus” and “Media Training,” but interestingly enough just one talk on divestment.BDS watchers take note.

BDS and Human Sacrifice

I promised myself to give the whole Berkeley thing a rest, which I plan to do although not before using the last few week’s experience to illustrate a theme I’ve written about in the past (although not much on this blog): the sacrifice BDS demands of those institutions it tries to bring into the fold.

When the leadership of Mainline Protestant churches like the Presbyterians and Methodists were embracing divestment between 2004 and 2006, they did not do so simply as organizations with multi-billion dollar pension and retirement funds looking to modify their ethical investment policy to include the Middle East. Rather, their pronouncements on the matter were written in the most religious of rhetoric, again and again noting that their political divestment program was coming from a sacred place, was (using a phrase that’s appeared again and again in their communication) an example of “bearing witness” to human suffering.

It is no accident that the Palestinian organizations (notably the Sabeel Eccumenical Liberation Theology Center) which lobbied these churches for years provided a religious (rather than a political framework) to undergird the Presbyterian and Methodist divestment projects. For someone making a political choice can always change his or her mind. But if you’re asked to place everything you hold sacred onto the alter, to claim that a political choice is actually a religious requirement, it then becomes harder (if not impossible) to reverse course, even when doubt over the effectiveness or morality of your choices comes to the fore.

To take another example, when leaders of the UCU (the British educator’s union) chose to join the BDS bandwagon, they did not go the divestment route but rather spent year after year trying to begin academic boycotts of their Israeli colleagues. Echoing the churches, what is more sacred to educators than academic freedom? And so, naturally, it was the commitment to academic freedom that the UCU was asked to sacrifice in order to join “the movement.”

In both these cases, the cost for these sacrifices has been high. In the UK, teachers have faced one economic blow after another during the last few years. Yet the one thing that would give this union a moral platform when asking for public support (their devotion to academic freedom) was jettisoned years ago to make room for their impotent attacks on the Jewish state. And when was the last time political leaders or the media turned towards the Presbyterians or Methodists for answers to moral or religious questions of the day?

At Berekely, it seems that battle lines of the recent divestment debate were drawn between the two major political parties in student government. Now I won’t pretend to understand that political landscape in any great detail (having been surprised that any university can sustain organized political parties for decades, as has Berkeley). But while the party that’s been driving divestment votes (called CALSERV) would never consider itself a wholly own subsidiary of Student for Justice in Palestine (SJP), I suspect that SJP does not return the favor.

And so, even with the vote all-but lost the BDS partisans have used parliamentary maneuvers to ensure the issue gets dragged out for weeks on end, hoping that they can sway (i.e., bully) a crucial Senator needed to override the veto that doomed divestment weeks ago. And, possibly in violation of the Senate’s rules, these meetings have been held behind closed doors. While I can understand the desire to avoid more circuses like the recent all-nighters where the fate of divestment was recently debated, it seems the decision to go behind closed doors was made to allow some kind of BDS “surprise” resolution to be put on the books before the year is out.

Why the rush? Well apparently the other major campus political party (Student Action), which has pretty much stood against BDS during the recent conflict, won a handy majority in an election that fell right in the middle of the whole divestment brouhaha. In other words, rather than taking their recent loss at the polls as a possible example of students having a say on the divestment matter, the pro-boycott partisans are doing everything they can to stuff the BDS message into the mouth of that student body before their term expires.

So just like with the churches or the unions, student government is being asked to sacrifice the things upon which their authority rests (in this case, democratic responsibility), hiding behind closed doors in order to ram something down the campus’ throat, even after it seems pretty clear that they have no mandate to do so.

No doubt the pro-divestment Senators would claim that they are “bearing witness,” that a higher calling requires them to bend or break the rules in order to screw their constituents. But, in fact, they are simply being asked by their SJP/BDS handlers to throw everything under the bus: the rules, their reputation, those people they claim to serve, not to serve a higher calling, but to do something that the boycotters (and the boycotters alone) are telling them is their only moral choice.

Berkeley Divestment – Everyone Loves a Circus!

Word on the streets is that an override vote on the UC Berkeley divestment veto may not take place tonight. If that’s the case, I may move onto other topics between now and whenever that vote happens. But not before alerting the friends I’ve been making at Berkeley about the fun they can expect when “The Circus” comes town!

“The Circus” is what shows up whenever a civic institution (like a university, city, or church) wittingly or unwittingly flirts with a divest-from-Israel campaign. It consists of students, citizens, or church members who once smiled at each other on the streets waving bloody shirts and gruesome photographs at one another. It includes people with honest political differences branded as “enemies of human rights,” or murderers with “blood on their hands.” Seminars or “teach ins” designed to demonize one side of the conflict and bury all information that does not support a black-and-white storyline of villains and victims replace thoughtful learning under the circus tent. As does the incessant meddling in the affairs of an institution by partisans worldwide, trying to push the organization one way or another.

While I and other anti-divestment activists outside of the university could reasonably be criticized as being some of those “incessant meddlers,” I should note that we are not advocating for Berkeley to take an official stand that brands our political rivals as enemies of human rights and freedom. While some of us may act thoughtlessly during the course of this debate (and apologies right now for any hurt my writing to date has caused anyone), no one I know of who has organized against Berkeley’s divestment policy has ruthlessly pushed the school into officially condemning and threatening to punish the massive human rights abuses visited on Israeli and Arab alike by Israel’s Middle East neighbors.

When The Circus came to my former home of Somerville Massachusetts years ago, our normally sleepy Alderman’s chambers became a noisy, hysterical big top, with partisans flinging accusations of racism and anti-Semitism, photos of ravaged bodies pushed under people’s noses, and – when divestment was finally defeated – the site of a near riot. While heat was the goal of divestment advocates during the miserable months divestment wreaked havoc on the city, The Circus managed to shed enough light onto the city’s leaders, helping them understand that this was not an issue that belonged on their agenda.

Now a college campus is different than City Hall, at least with regard to the range of issues (local, national and international) that are routinely discussed and debated within the institution. Yet once talk turns into democratic action within the hall of an elected body (even allowing for some level of informality within student government), it’s reasonable to expect a certain level of decorum and gentility to accompany such a debate.

The Circus, however, does not allow good manners or sincere differences of opinion to interfere in its proceedings. For as one BDS activist put it years ago (while trying to ram an anti-Israel proposal through the leadership of Massachusetts Green Party behind the backs of party members): “The only reason one can have for not supporting the right of return for Palestinians is racism.”

Now there is the basis for a forthright airing of competing, but legitimate views!

A theme in everything I have written is how much divestment asks of institutions, and how little it gives in return. For divestment advocates, UC Berkeley like the Presbyterian Church, the city of Somerville, and other groups are not civic institutions made up of thousands of individuals, all facing their own unique challenges. No, for those pushing hardest to make BDS the official policy of Berkeley’s student government, UC Berkeley is simply a prop, an organization with a 150-year-old reputation that can be leveraged to help divestment activists punch enormously above their actual weight.

Student Senators need only look around to hear about issue after issue (tuition increases, service cuts, etc.) that can have enormous, long-term impact on themselves and their constituents. Divestment, on the other hands, is on the school agenda not by necessity, but by choice. As you watch The Circus put up its tents and park itself for the weeks and months it might take to wring divestment fully out of Berkeley’s system, it might be worth asking why someone else’s propaganda campaign must be put at the top of everyone’s agenda.

Berkeley Divestment: Comments

Rumor has it that student Senators at Berkeley are receiving e-mails from around the world regarding how they should vote on the divestment veto override at a rate of 50 an hour. Now only they are privy to the contents of these suggestions, but if this debate is playing out similarly to the one I participated in years ago in Somerville, MA, it must be getting harder and harder to hold the position that the divestment bill was a simple human rights measure that takes no sides in the Arab-Israeli conflict.

In Somerville, it was letters from Bahrain congratulating the Somerville Aldermen for “standing up to the Jews” that gave these leaders the hint that they may have unleashed something nasty by voting for a divestment bill crafted for them by the Somerville Divestment Project (the equivalent of the Berkeley Students for Justice in Palestine, or SJP, who drafted the Berkeley divestment bill) without fully understanding the implications of their activity. (Sound familiar?)

Now Berkeley is certainly different from Somerville, and it could be that – as SJP activists have been touting –the 20 elected student Senators represent the will of the students on campus, while the equally elected student-body President who vetoed the bill does not. But that presumes either one of two things:

* The student Senators specifically campaigned on divestment and were elected based on their stance on this issue; or

* By some other measure, divestment from Israel can clearly be seen as representing a consensus of campus opinion, if not an unquestionable majority

Presuming the first option is not the case (a safe assumption, given that no one has yet brought up a specific electoral mandate for divestment since this debate began), then the only way to claim the student Senators are representing their constituents on this matter is if they can demonstrate overall agreement to divest from Israel among the student body. This is not an impossible hurdle to overcome. After all, South African divestment debates in the 1980s (which divestment advocates claim they are heirs to) were built on such a consensus.

We do have a way of testing this level of consensus, by looking at how the matter of the vote for and veto against the divestment bill is playing out on campus. Berkeley’s Daily Californian newspaper (usually referred to as “The Daily Cal”) has published several news articles and editorials on the topic, each of which has attracted ten to a hundred times the usual number of comments on their online edition.

Unlike a professionally designed and run poll, Internet comments (especially on Web sites that do not limit input to only local students) hardly represents a scientific measure of campus opinion. But with numbers this high, we can take a stab at determining whether or not this issue has reached a level of agreement high enough to approximate a civil debate or at least demonstrate a desire to reach an understanding between supporters and critics of the divestment measure and veto.

So what do we find if we peel through the comments sections? Well there are lots of references to babies, often within phrases such as “baby killers.” And photos of bleeding corpses (victims of last year’s Gaza conflict or Palestinian terrorism) seem to dot the comments pages. Accusations of racism, anti-Semitism, hatred and bad faith abound, as do talking points that can be lifted right from the speeches that accompanied debate on this resolution last week.

If I were to pick a word or phrase that encapsulates this online debate it would not be “consensus-building” but “polarizing.” In other words, this debate has hardened everyone’s positions, taking an issue over which there is no campus consensus and turning disagreeing parties into armed camps.

So who wins on an issue that does nothing for Berkeley other than has to help exacerbate existing splits on campus (which, like the Middle East itself falls along political, religious and ethnic lines)? Well the Students for Justice in Palestine clearly won (albeit temporarily) once the Senate vote was taken. Within minutes, they and their international allies quickly capitalized on the vote, sending out press releases claiming that Berkeley (the university, not just 16 student Senators) was now squarely in the divestment camp and explaining that other campuses should follow suit and condemn Israel as an Apartheid state (is that what Senators voted on, by the way?).

But it’s not entirely clear to me why SJP’s needs must take precedent over the other 35,000+ student on campus, simply because their one skill is the ability to morally blackmail people who (like the student Senators and I would guess nearly all students on campus) actually possess the concern for human rights that SJP simply feigns for their own political gain.

Berkeley Divestment and “Loose Change”

Loose Change. That’s the term fringe political movements use to describe people who join their organizations or show up to their events, not because such people believe in what the group stands for, but because such people want to be doing something, anything, to demonstrate they care about an issue.

For example, in the last decade several far-right European political parties found success among voters who didn’t care for the right’s political and economic policies, but who wanted to “make a statement” on Europe’s challenging immigration issues. And in the US during that same period, many people who came out to protest the war in Iraq found themselves at rallies and marches where the messages from the podium or on banners and signs seemed to go far beyond the issue that brought them into the streets. To the uncomfortable European voter or the bewildered American marcher, he or she was trying to take a stand about issues they found important. But to the organizations that claimed those voices as their own, these well-intentioned people were just so much loose change.

To see the relevance of this “loose change” in the current Berkeley divestment debate, think about the outcomes (bad or good) that could come about if such a resolution ultimately wins the day.

Practically speaking, the vote will have little to no economic impact. The Berkeley administration, like the administration of hundreds of college campuses that have had divestment pressed on them over the last decade, has shown no interest in politicizing their investment strategies, especially based on the questionable characterization of the Middle East conflict so perfectly embodied in the Berkeley resolution.

But if the practical repercussions of the resolution are small, the symbolic impact is more significant. For, despite the fact that the issue was sold to Berkeley’s leaders as a uncomplicated, general human-rights issue that takes no specific stand on the Arab-Israeli conflict, last week’s vote is today being communicated around the world as the university as a whole standing four-square behind the divestment movement’s real message: that Israel is a racist, apartheid state alone in the world deserving of punishment. And one need only look at how the controversy is playing out on campus to see that, far from helping students better understand these complex issues, divestment is helping to rub political, religious and ethnic wounds raw.

Given the resolution’s limited practical potential and significant downsides, we are left searching for where a successful resolution would do anyone any good. And thus we are left with twenty student Senators, many sincerely concerned about problems in the Middle East, and desiring to do something, anything, to make a statement. Even if they have no electoral mandate to make statements, much less take action on international issues, a “Yes” vote would give them the feeling that they are doing something virtuous, even though the actual effects will be all bad for Berkeley and for the Middle East. It would turn leaders trusted to do what’s right for the students they represent into a handful of loose change in the pocket of the worldwide boycott Israel movement

There are times, most times, when we want our leaders to lead, to think about and act on issues on which the rest of us have entrusted them. There are also times when we want our leaders to follow, or at least listen to the people who have elected them more than the few month’s preceding an election cycle.

Acting like loose change, however, does not represent either leading or following. It consists of being manipulated into taking harmful action in order to make oneself feel good. Another term for this would be “sucker” and while it would make me sad to see leaders at Berkeley or anywhere else waste their own money or reputation taking a sucker’s bet, it’s far worse to think that they are considering taking that bet with the reputation of the entire university, an asset they are not empowered to sell.

Courage

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.

BDS: Is Berkeley “in the bag”?

Apologies if I gave the impression that the Berkeley divestment story was over. According to some West Coast friends, the student government constitution still provides a mechanism whereby a two-thirds vote of the Student Senate (or 14 votes) can override yesterday’s veto. And as one West Coast Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) supporter put it when commenting on the Daily Californian story on the veto: “It’s all a formality. We have the ASUC [the Berkeley Student Senate] in the bag.”

Now it remains to be seen whether the Senate is in truly “in the bag” of the local branch of SJP just because more than the 14 Senators needed to override the veto voted for the original resolution.

After all, student senators, like many Berkeley students, have strong feelings about the Arab-Israeli conflict, human rights and many other domestic and international issues. But student government representatives also have a responsibility to represent their constituents and the student body as a whole.

And when the subjects on which they vote do not reflect top campus priorities or the issues on which they campaigned (which we can assume divestment from Israel did not), it’s fair to ask them: (1) in whose name they speak; (2) whether a divestment vote is relevant and a moral imperative for student government (just because SJP says it is); and (3) what will be the consequences of such a vote on the campus as a whole.

It’s clear what SJP gets out of the original ASUC vote and potential override. Their job is to take their political message (that Israel is an Apartheid state alone in the world at deserving economic punishment) and stuff it into the mouth of an organization more well known and respected that SJP itself. And the University of California at Berkeley, a 150-year-old institution ranked #1 in the world in almost every academic discipline, certainly falls into the “better known than SJP” category (as would almost every other organization in the world).

But now that student senators have gotten a whiff of what happens once they accede to SJP demands, now that divestment activists have sent out countless press releases and news stories stating that the ASUC vote last week means UC Berkeley as a whole now stands squarely on their side in the Arab-Israeli conflict, now that students have made it clear that the vote represents not consensus but bitter division on campus, it’s worth asking student leaders if dragging the Middle East conflict into the center of student politics is in the interest of those they represent.

The Daily Californian story mentioned above was closing in on 300 angry comments (complete with competing photos of bloody babies) at the time of this writing, and I suspect this is just a small percentage of the number of aggressive e-mails and other messages Berkeley student leaders have been getting in the last week urging them to vote this way or that. While each side will argue that they represent organic campus opinion (even if their messages come from a retirement home in Florida or a mosque in Oman), I think it’s safe to say that while divestment may represent the consensus of SJP and while many student leaders may agree with sentiments in the original resolution, the issue is NOT representative of anything other than an ugly disagreement among the student body as a whole.

I could certainly make a case against divestment based on history, fairness or my personal political opinions. But the best argument to direct at the student leaders at Berkeley is whether this vote represents leadership (either political or moral), or simple political posturing urged on by an organization (SJP) that only sees Berkeley as a means to their ends, people who will be long gone once the damage to the campus has been done, leaving their once-ASUC allies alone to deal with the wreckage caused by this divestment fight.

That wreckage will include more bitterness and division on campus, an opening of ethnic and religious conflict (at a time when Berkeley is already dealing with race-related controversy), and a student body and administration wondering whether student government can and should be taken seriously on any issue whatsoever (at a time of budget cuts when student voices are needed more than ever).

As I noted before, it’s clear what SJP gains if they can get the Berkeley student government chooses to hand the campus’ reputation over to them. The question remains, what does Berkeley get out of the deal that represents anything other than a loss?