[Boycott - Divestment]
UC Berkeley student senate votes in favor of divestment
Dina Omar, The Electronic Intifada
19 March 2010
University of California Berkeley
Early yesterday morning, the University of California Berkeley Student Senate (ASUC) passed a bill to divest from companies that provide military support for the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Debate began the night before at 9:00pm and ended and six hours later when the vote was held at 3:00am. The session was attended by more than 150 students, educators and concerned community supporters, forcing the meeting to be relocated to a larger room. Never before has the senate chambers been so overcrowded, signifying the importance and interest in the issue of Israel-Palestine on the Berkeley campus. Ultimately, the bill passed with 16 senators in favor and 4 against.
During the debate, Rahul Patel, a Student Senator and supporter of the bill from the beginning, said that "In the 1980s the Berkeley Student Government was a central actor in demanding that the university divest from South African apartheid. Twenty-five years later, it is a key figure in shaping a nationwide movement against occupation and war crimes around the world." He added that "Student Government can be a space to mobilize and make decisions that have a significant impact on the international community. We must utilize these spaces to engage each other about issues of justice worldwide."
Emiliano Huet-Vaughn, a Ph.D. student in economics, co-author of the bill and a member of Berkeley's Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), went to Gaza last July. He explained that the bill was informed by the devastation he witnessed as a result of Israel's invasion of Gaza last winter, where civilian infrastructure was systematically targeted including schools, mosques, the education and justice ministries, Gaza's main university, hundreds of factories, livestock, prisons, courts and police stations. Israel's invasion resulted in the deaths of 1,440 Palestinians, including more than 400 children, and injuring another 5,380 Palestinians in Gaza.
The bill specifies two companies in particular, United Technologies and General Electric. It draws a direct connection between Berkeley's investments in these companies and their products, used to indiscriminately attack civilians and infrastructure. Shoaib Kamil, a Ph.D. student in Computer Science explained that "We are not pushing for divestment from Israel. This bill is directed at US companies that enable attacks described as 'war crimes' in the Goldstone report."
The Goldstone commission and report, led by respected South African judge Richard Goldstone, was authorized by the United Nations to investigate accusations of war crimes during Israel's invasion of Gaza. The final report, submitted to the UN Human Rights Council last September, found that both Israel and Hamas committed war crimes and called for both to conduct investigations. However, the Goldstone report was particularly critical of Israel's actions, especially the deliberate targeting of civilian infrastructure by the Israeli military.
The ASUC has control over their $1.7 million budget and the bill calls for a committee to investigate the investments by the ASUC and the University of California Regents to ensure that no monies are invested in companies that are complicit in war crimes. Divestment will likely be implemented first by the ASUC. However, getting the Regents to recognize and implement the students' call will be a more difficult task because students have little representation in the Regents' decisions.
Ibrahim Shikaki, a Visiting Scholar from Palestine, spoke in favor of the bill although he did not feel that it was written from the Palestinian perspective. Shikaki explained that "If this were a Palestinian bill it would have mentioned my grandfather's land that was stolen from him, or my friend who was shot ten feet in front of me ... or my aunt who for weeks was denied travel to Egypt for cancer treatment."
Mahaliyah Ayla O, a gender and women's studies major and Jewish member of SJP, voiced her surprise after the bill was passed. Ayla O said "It is not that complicated, we should not support corporations that manufacture weapons to oppress people."
Last year, the ASUC passed a bill establishing a sisterhood relationship between UC Berkeley and the three universities in Gaza: Al-Aqsa University, Al-Azhar University and the Islamic University of Gaza. With the passage of this divestment bill, Berkeley students are taking a stand against Israel's human rights violations and war crimes and continue Berkeley's commitment to being on the vanguard of student activism. In 1986, UC Berkeley was one of the first universities to call for a comprehensive divestment from companies that traded with or had operations in apartheid South Africa.
Dina Omar is a UC Berkeley alumni and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine. She currently works as the Membership Coordinator for the Arab Resource and Organizing Center.
UC Berkeley Student Senate Passes Divestment Bill
19 March 2010
For the first time in the University of California history, the UC Berkeley Student Senate has approved a bill to divest from two US companies in response to the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territories and to Israel’s siege and bombardment of the Gaza Strip.
The Senate bill directs both the UC Regents and the Student Government to divest from General Electric and United Technologies. General Electric manufactures Apache helicopter engines; United Technologies manufactures Sikorsky helicopters and F-16 aircraft engines. In addition, the bill creates a task force to look into furthering a socially responsible investment policy for the UC system.
Student Senator Rahul Patel supported the bill, declaring that “in the 1980s the Student Government was a central actor in demanding that the university divest from South African apartheid. 25 years later, it is a key figure in shaping a nationwide movement against occupation and war crimes around the world. Student Government can be a space to mobilize and make decisions that have a significant impact on the international community. We must utilize these spaces to engage each other about issues of justice worldwide.”
The Senate deliberation, which started Wednesday night, concluded at 3 am Thursday morning, March 18. The meeting was flooded with students, educators, and community members, which prompted the relocation of the Senate session from the Senate Chambers to a larger room. The attendees took turns making impassioned arguments for and against the bill. The diverse list of guest speakers included 76 names, ranging in age from college freshmen to Vietnam veterans.
After amendments, the final bill passed on a 16-4 vote.
In addition to Israeli military action, the student initiative was motivated by an 2005 call on behalf of 171 Palestinian civil society organizations calling on "people of conscience all over the world to impose broad boycotts and implement divestment initiatives against Israel … until it fully complies with the precepts of international law."
According to Emiliano Huet-Vaughn, co-author of the bill, “this vote is an historic step in holding all state and corporate actors accountable for their violations of basic human rights. The broad cross section of the community that came out to demand our university invest ethically belies the notion that the American people will tolerate the profiting from occupation or other human rights abuses.” Student Senator Emily Carlton, co-sponsor of the bill, agreed, adding “this action will only be historic if it is repeated throughout the country and the world; I hope that student governments all over America will see in this a sign that the time to divest from war is now.”
In 2009, Hampshire College in Amherst, MA, became the first US educational institution to divest from companies directly involved in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Hampshire College action was advocated by the group Students for Justice in Palestine, and ultimately adopted by the Board of Trustees. Today, through its Student Senate bill, UC Berkeley becomes the first large, public US institution to endorse a similar measure.
UC Berkeley Students for Justice in Palestine has been working on a divestment campaign from entities that profit from the occupation of Palestine since 2000. UC Berkeley Law Students for Justice in Palestine, founded in 2007, played a central role in researching the legal issues and the international laws pertaining to Israeli human rights violations.
A BILL IN SUPPORT OF UC DIVESTMENT FROM WAR CRIMES
Authored By: Emiliano Huet-Vaughn and Tom Pessah
Sponsored By: Senators Gaurano , Carlton, Kwon, Oatfield
1. WHEREAS, the ASUC notes the complexity of international relations in all cases, including the Middle East, and recognizes the inability of a body such as the ASUC to adjudicate matters of international law and human rights law, or to take sides on final status issues on wars and occupations throughout the world. Yet, we do note the following findings from the United Nations and other leading human rights organizations regarding the Israel/Palestine conflict, and use it as a case study; and,
2. WHEREAS, prior and subsequent to the bombing the Israeli government has engaged in collective punishment of the whole of the Palestinian population, in the view of the human rights community, as exemplified by the ongoing 32 month blockade on Gaza, of which Physicians for Human Rights-Israel has written, “the prolonged siege imposed by the Israeli government on Gaza, the closing of its borders, the tightening of policies regarding permission to exit Gaza for medical purposes, and the severe shortage of medications and other medical supplies all severely damage the Palestinian health system and endanger the lives and health of thousands of Palestinian patients,” and of which the Red Cross has said “the whole strip is being strangled, economically speaking” making life in Gaza “a nightmare” for the civilian population, with essential supplies, including electricity, water, and fuel, being denied to the 1.5 million inhabitants 90% of whom depend on aid to survive; and
3. WHEREAS, within the occupied West Bank (including East Jerusalem), the Israeli government continues a policy of settlement expansion that, in the opinion of the United Nations Security Council, Human Rights Watch, the International Committee of the Red Cross, and numerous other organizations concerned with enforcement of international law, constitutes a direct violation of Article 49, paragraph 6 of the 4th Geneva Convention which declares “an occupying power shall not deport or transfer parts of its own civilian population into territories it occupies.”; and
4. WHEREAS, in the context of this bill, “occupation” refers to the current state of Palestinian life under Israeli’s military control in the West Bank and Gaza; a definition that is consistent to commonly-held international law; and
5. WHEREAS, student research has revealed that, according to the most recent UC investment report, within the UC Retirement Program fund and the General Endowment Program fund there exist direct investments in American companies materially and militarily supporting the Israeli government's occupation of the Palestinian territories, including American companies General Electric and United Technologies; and
6. WHEREAS, General Electric holds engineering support and testing service contracts with the Israeli military and supplies the Israeli government with the propulsion system for its Apache Assault Helicopter fleet, which, as documented by Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, has been used in attacks on Palestinian and Lebanese civilians, including the January 4, 2009 killings of Palestinian medical aid workers; and
7. WHEREAS, United Technologies supplies the Israeli government with Blackhawk helicopters and with F-15 and F-16 aircraft engines and holds an ongoing fleet management contract for these engines, and, Amnesty International has documented the Israeli government’s use of these aircraft in the bombing of the American School in Gaza, the killing of Palestinians civilians, and the destruction of hundreds of Palestinian homes; therefore, be it
RESOLVED, that the ASUC will ensure that its assets, and will advocate that the UC assets, do not include holdings in General Electric and United Technologies because of their military support of the occupation of the Palestinian territories; be it further
RESOLVED, that the ASUC will further examine its assets and UC assets for funds being invested in companies that a) provide military support for or weaponry to support the occupation of the Palestinian territories or b) facilitate the building or maintenance of the illegal wall or the demolition of Palestinian homes, or c) facilitate the building, maintenance, or economic development of illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territories; be it further
RESOLVED, that if it is found that ASUC and/or the UC funds are being invested in any of the abovementioned ways, the ASUC will divest, and will advocate that the UC divests, all stocks, securities, or other obligations from such sources with the goal of maintaining the divestment, in the case of said companies, until they cease such practices. Moreover, the ASUC will not make further investments, and will advocate that the UC not make further investments, in any companies materially supporting or profiting from Israel's occupation in the abovementioned ways; be it further
RESOLVED, that this ASUC resolution not be interpreted as the taking of sides in the Palestinian/Israeli conflict, but instead as a principled expression of support for universal human rights and equality; be it further
RESOLVED, that the ASUC Senate engage in education campaigns to publicize the divestment efforts and violation of international human rights law, and that furthermore, a committee of 5 members, 2 senators selected by the senate body as a whole, 2 members of or students selected by the UC Berkeley Divestment Task Force, and the ASUC President or a representative from his/her office, form at the end of this semester to monitor and promote university progress in regards to the above mentioned ethical divestment goals; be it finally
RESOLVED, that this Committee will recommend additional divestment policies to keep university investments out of companies aiding war crimes throughout the world, such as those taking place in Morocco, the Congo, and other places as determined by the resolutions of the United Nations and other leading international human rights organizations
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