Cathartic Post?

Disclaimer: while I normally try to remain positive on here, I am so upset that I’m physically shaking right now. This entry will be passionate, and I certainly cannot claim to be unbiased, because, simply, the situation does affect me as both a Jew and a Cal student. The opinions expressed here are my own, and do not represent all other Jews, all other Cal students, or even all others objecting to the bill. Just me (and Finn, because he’s sitting on me while I write).  Also, in the interest of full disclosure, I have been to Israel, I have interacted with Israeli citizenry and IDF soldiers, and I have been following the conflict through various news sources. Also, I do NOT think that Israel is blameless in their actions; however, I do believe that they do act to defend their country and their citizens, and not out of hate, unlike Hamas and other Palestinian groups, who have directly and publicly stated their hatred toward Israel and Jews in general.

Background: here’s the Daily Cal article from Pres. Will Smelko’s veto of the original bill. In a nutshell, the ASUC (at Berkeley) senate passed a bill that called for UC’s divestment from United Technologies and GE because they have purportedly been supplying Israel with the weapons with which they have been committing “war crimes.”

Tonight, the ASUC held a meeting to attempt to overturn the veto, which would require 14 votes in favor. The meeting was open to the public, in the Pauley Ballroom. I attended for about an hour before I was both too upset to stay and also too stressed about my online class’s final tomorrow… but here are my thoughts on the speakers and audience behavior that I did witness.

One of the first things that I noticed when I walked into the meeting was the identifying paraphernalia worn by both supporters and opposers of the bill.  Interestingly, many supporters of the bill wore, for lack of a better term, propaganda- tshirts and stickers saying “divest from war crimes” and “another ___ for human rights.”  I had to wonder, who was paying to print all of these? The original bill was essentially written by an outside (non-UC) movement that has been pushing for divestment at many college campuses; my best guess is that they or Students for Justice in Palestine (the UC Berkeley chapter) sponsored these advertisements of their opinion.  In contrast, many Jewish men of the opposition wore yarmulkes, the Jewish prayer cap… something symbolic of their faith. The dichotomy here was an interesting one- while the supporters claim to be pushing for divestment because of “war crimes,” many members opposing the bill– myself included– believe that because it is specifically targeting Israel, there are religious factors that run deeper here.

The first person that I heard speak was an elderly lady, who was also a Holocaust survivor. Much to my surprise, she spoke in support of the bill.  While criticizing the acts of Israel, she discussed the “dignity … of the Palestinian people.” I immediately took issue with this. Sure, many of the Palestinians may act with dignity, but it is completely blind and biased to ignore the murdering and suicide bombings perpetuated by many other Palestinians. To me, that is not dignity.  In response to Will’s veto, she said, “President Smelko does not speak for me.” Yes, you are completely correct. You– and the original writers of the bill, as well as a good part of the audience– are NOT Cal students. Will was elected as ASUC by Cal students, and his job as president is to speak for the student body, not random people from everywhere else. Will was elected by the student body, and therefore in vetoing the bill, spoke for the majority that voted him into office in the first place.  That’s how a democracy works. She also used the common comparison of the situation in Israel to the apartheid in South Africa. I’m not well-versed enough in the latter to say that she is completely wrong; however, this situation, unlike apartheid, has strong religious undertones that play a huge role in the conflict and must be considered when looking at things like this, particularly when actions are motivated by hatred of another religious group.  When she finished, the supporters of the bill gave her a standing ovation, while the opposers remained politely silent.

The next speaker was a UN Representative (of Palestine, I believe?) via phone.  He spoke with regards to the Goldstone report, which has been condemned by numerous presidents for its bias and inaccuracies.  He cited a report of the testimonies of 33 Israeli soldiers. I’m sorry, but since when do 33 people represent an ENTIRE army and an ENTIRE nation? When the Abu Ghraib scandal arose here, I didn’t hear people saying “Let’s divest from the US, because those soldiers committing atrocities demonstrate that everyone in the army committed them!”  Yes, there was upset, and yes, there may have been issues with the orders from up high in the military, but look at the way the two situations have been handled. Parallel situations, almost equivalent in scope, and yet polar opposites in the way people have reacted. I personally believe that it is because people have such strong feelings of anti-Semitism, which were certainly present at tonight’s meeting.  One of the most telling things that the representative said tonight, in two different iterations, was that “the government does not speak for the citizenry” and that “the US government is not the voice of conscience when it comes to the American people.”  Again, what’s the point of a democracy, then? We elect those in government because we believe they will represent us as a people.  We can disagree, sure, but obviously they were elected because the majority of the American people do agree with them and believe that those people are representative and spokespeople for the general population.  When the rep was finished talking, again, the supporters clapped while the opposers remained silent.

Then, it was time for those against the bill to speak.  The first speaker, whose title I didn’t catch because the noise level suddenly rose after the pro-bill speakers had finished, started off by saying that “Israel seeks peace,” “negotiations with the Palestinian leadership,” and that “half the Jewish people live in Israel.”  At this point, the blatant disrespect by the bill’s supporters seated around me began.  For example, one boy (I feel that calling him a man is too respectful after his immature behavior) would, somewhat loudly, say “liar!” after every pro-Israel statement made by the speaker. Every time. Meanwhile, his friends, I observed, patted him on the back in support and talked audibly during the speech in a sign of disrespect.  Returning to the speaker himself, he brought up one of the points that best serves to demonstrate why this bill is, in fact, anti-Israeli and anti-Semitic: the singling out of Israel in particular for these “war crimes” (a term that is problematic in and of itself, particularly with the debate over the validity of the Goldstone report). He brought up the key example of Iran, whose nuclear development we essentially fund through our dependence on oil, etc.  Iran is currently holding 3 UC Berkeley graduates hostage in prison for supposed espionage activities and frequently has blatant human rights abuses– which no one disputed– but yet, it is only Israel that is targeted as a perpetrator of war crimes and a country to be divested from.  This, to me, is the core issue with the bill.  If you want to pass a bill condemning war crimes/human rights violations, or asking UC to divest from ALL companies that have contributions to/ties to ANY country accused of perpetrating war crimes, that is one thing and should be written as such. However, the singling out of Israel, initiated by groups like Students for Justice in Palestine, reeks not only of anti-Israeli sentiment, but, plain and simple, anti-Semitism at its core.

One of the most eye-opening moments of the evening came when this speaker was finished talking.  Like the supporters did for their speaker, the opponents of the bill rose and clapped for the opposition’s speaker.  However, instead of remaining politely silent like the opponents of the bill had, those in favor of the bill felt the need to boo and hiss at the speaker, and, indirectly, all of the opposers.  I’m sorry, but on a personal level, if nothing else, that is simply rude, disrespectful, and ignorant, to act that way towards someone whom you disagree with.  Interestingly, it’s quite resonant of the Tea Party behaviors, only thus far, less violent.

The final speaker I observed before leaving was a professor from UC Berkeley’s own Boalt School of Law, a highly ranked and nationally-recognized institution of its own right.  He began by saying that, he does agree with Professor Butler (who had spoken earlier in favor of the bill) that “the Jews speak with many voices” and that “Israel should be held to international law.”  However, this professor’s point was one that resonated quite strongly with me.  He said that the ASUC is, in essence, acting as an “adjudicating body,” in that they are identifying Israel’s guilt and consequently seeking to issue a punishment (divestment).  This bill is so concretely rooted in opinion and sentiment (much of it hateful) and so little of it actual verifiable fact (again, the Goldstone report is hotly contested, and would not hold up as incontestable “proof” of war crimes), while at the same time, exaggerating the facts that are present on the side of the Israeli army’s actions and completely minimizing the atrocities committed by Hamas and Palestinian suicide bombers.  Yet, many of the ASUC senators, so strongly influenced by SJP and other such outside groups, has pushed forward in attempt to override the veto for this bill because they have decided it is their right to act as both judge and jury. I don’t understand how anyone in good faith could support that, if for no other reason than simple logic- these senators are only looking at one side of the conflict and targeting a particular country and particular group of people, again, based on bias and ultimately hatred.

The animosity towards Israel and Jews that was present in the room tonight, frankly, scared the living daylights out of me.  Just last month, my sister found a Swastika drawn in their dorm, after another one had been painted on a building sign just a day or two prior.  These incidents of blatant anti-semitism have certainly become more frequent lately, as have the perpetuation of actions like this, where a zero-sum situation is created and Israel (and therefore the Jewish people) are made out to be completely in the wrong. Like I said in the beginning of this, I do not agree with everything the IDF has done, nor with everything put forth by the Knesset (Israel’s governing body).  However, by targeting one specific country for supposed war crimes (particularly when those doing the targeting could likewise be accused of human rights violations) the ASUC is not only acting in a manner that is ignorant and biased, but in this case, rooted in anti-Semitism and anti-Israeli sentiment.  It is things like this that simply serve to perpetuate the all-or-nothing mantra that has led to such violence in the first place, and makes any hope of future reconciliation between the Israelis and Palestinians a vague memory.

Somewhat ironically, Yom Hashoah, Holocaust remembrance day, was this past Sunday. I think it would serve everyone well to remember what happened on the account of blind faith, compliance, and hatred under the Third Reich.  As a Cal student, I hope that the ASUC will soon get back to the issues at hand on campus, such as skyrocketing fees and cutting of classes, rather than seeking to incite controversy, and consequently, the rise of hate.  As a Jew, I hope that the  anti-Semitism that I have felt, both tonight and with the original passing of the bill (as well as many responses to the situation), is not indicative of the world as a whole, but rather of a marginal group of extremists.  As a pragmatist, however, I think that this is indicative of the general rise of anti-Semitism, and that is an issue that must be addressed before things once again rise to Holocaust proportions.  As Santayana said, “Those who cannot learn from history are doomed to repeat it.”  I think it’s high time that we learn from it and prevent it from repeating.


3 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Matt White
    Apr 15, 2010 @ 03:20:39

    Some thoughts on your passionately-written blogpost (I’m not being sarcastic, I really applaud you):
    1) There were so many survivors of the Holocaust and it affected so many lives that it is common sense that at least one person surviving it would be crazy and have fucked up morals. And that is Hedy Epstein. It was awful and hurtful to see her say such things, but understand this.
    2) I understand your Abu Ghraib point, but I would not put that on the same level as questionable war crimes allegations. Abu Ghraib was proven.
    3) The people who wore yarmulkes and hijabs would have worn them anyway on a normal day, it wasn’t a dividing factor. SJP, meanwhile, specifically rush-ordered their divestment shirts. Splitting the community visibly? I think so.
    4) The first speaker was Akiva Tor. He’s the Consul General of Israel in the Pacific Northwest.
    5) As a follow-up to Yom Hashoah, SJP copied what we as Jews did Monday for our memorial. We wore all black and stood in silence on Sproul; they did it today in honor of the bill. They have also sickeningly made comparisons between the Holocaust and the plight of the Palestinians, claiming the latter is genocide. Revolting. And shame on them for appropriating our Holocaust memorial.


  2. Julia
    Apr 15, 2010 @ 14:36:15

    I’m about to enter Cal as a PhD student and I completely agree with what you’ve written here. Glad to see there are people like you in Berkeley, as I’m Jewish and have been worrying about this whole mess.


  3. ljgoldner
    Apr 15, 2010 @ 15:47:30

    I wasn’t trying to say that religious garb was divisive; moreso pointing out the extreme contrasts between yarmulkes versus the propaganda tshirts… Also the appropriation of Yom Hashoah… wow. I hadn’t heard of that but again, it’s terrifying.

    Welcome!! Granted, I won’t be in Berk when you get here but there’s plenty more awesome people like me 😉 I suggest you go to Hillel on a Wed night for their BBQ’s, they rock. As for this… while it’s been a huge issue lately, there haven’t been that many times over the last four years that I’ve really been concerned about anti-semitism…although lately it certainly (obviously) has been an issue. What are you coming here for, btw?


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