I was going to give the Berkeley divestment issue a rest for a little while, but the arrival of Naomi Klein into the Berkeley story warrants a quick response.
I’ve written on Klein’s contribution to the BDS debate in the past, so I won’t repeat my question about why Klein – allegedly the intellectual hyperpower of anti-globalization and now the boycott, divestment and sanctions “movements” – cannot provide a perspective beyond what you might find at any garden-variety anti-Israel blog.
That said, her letter is a reasonable articulation of most of the BDSers talking points which, while not deserving a point-by-point “Fisking,” does require a rejoinder to her call for Berkeley’s student leaders to fight against “intense pressure to reverse your historic and democratic decision to divest…”.
As I’ve pointed out, pressure to get Student Senators to vote one way or another on the veto override are clearly coming from both sides of this debate. Now one can try to determine the volume and nature of “pressure” coming from each side (as well as explain when a Berkeley student or third party expressing his or her opinion on the matter crosses from free speech to applying “intense pressure”). But given that she only seems to be discussing “pressure” when it comes from those who want to see Berkeley reject divestment, we seem to be in familiar Klein/BDS territory whereby those that agree with the divestment party line are simply exercising their democratic rights, while those who disagree are conspiring to “pressure” a decision (just as they are frequently accused of “muzzling” debate on the Middle East by contributing to it).
And speaking of democracy, from what I can tell the ASUC (a democratically elected body) passed the divestment resolution (which is their constitutional right), and that resolution was nixed by the Student President (another democratically elected office) who exercised his constitutional right to veto the bill. Now if a veto override does not go her way it will be interesting to see if Klein is ready to accept that particular democratic decision or whether, like most divestment advocates, she only considers votes that her sides win to be true examples of democracy.
Of course, Klein sidesteps the issue I’ve been discussing here regarding whom student leaders are representing when they take votes that are clearly outside the mandates upon which they were elected. I have yet to hear from anyone that divestment represents anything other than a minority opinion on campus (not a majority, not a consensus), so unless Klein feels that those in power owe nothing to those they represent (a strange position, given her other political stances), I would think the fact that these votes are being taken without any regard to whether or not they represent campus opinion would at least be worth mentioning.
But that assumes Klein, like other divestment advocates, actually care about Berkeley beyond the symbolic value they would love the university to provide their noisy but flailing BDS project. While her letter is steeped in flattery for those that originally voted to pass divestment, it fails to mention that BDS has been rejected by every campus in America for the ten year’s it’s been on the agenda (a start date of 2001, not the 2005 one that divestment advocates prefer since it helps mask the decade-long extent of their defeats at schools, cities, churches and other organizations).
Even for a political celebrity like Naomi Klein, it’s hard to throw up enough verbal fog to obscure a decade spent being rejected by every progressive institution in the country by overwhelming margins. And thus the hope of the divesetniks that by bringing in their “big guns” (i.e., Klein) they can make Berkeley’s student government swoon and do their bidding.
Time shall tell if they made a good bet.