What happened to Berkeley?

To the best of my knowledge the Associated Students of the University of California hasn’t come out against the butchery in Syria.

April 29, 2013 20:26
3 minute read.
Pro-Palestinian protesters hold a banner

PRO-PALESTINIAN protesters hold a banner 390. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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On several occasions during my first term as Israel’s ambassador to the US, officials in the Bush-41 administration, once even the president himself, asked me a bit suspiciously (with a pronounced Texas drawl) after seeing my bio and learning that I had studied at the University of California, Berkeley: “Were you there during the anti-Vietnam War demonstrations?” “No,” I replied, “I was there during the anti-Korean War demonstrations.”

I am not quite certain this put the questioners’ minds at ease.

I was again reminded of my Berkeley days when I read an item (Jerusalem Post, April 19) about the Berkeley Student Senate adopting an “Israel divestment resolution.”

UC Berkeley during my time used to be not only one of the five top universities in America (academically it still is), but also deservedly famous for the progressive and liberal leanings of most of its students and faculty (in spite of its rather conservative chancellor at the time).

Because of its tolerant atmosphere, it had a large Jewish student body, including many Israelis, though like on most US university campuses, fraternities and sororities still discriminated against Jews, and its school of medicine maintained a numerus clausus rule limiting the number of Jewish medical students.

Most Jewish students at the university participated in the vibrant Jewish cultural and Zionist activities taking place at the very active Hillel House (which Arab students one night set on fire), and at the same time having close ties with other student organizations, pro- Israel church groups, etc.

All this is now apparently a thing of the past – at least judging by the increasingly anti-Israel and anti-Semitic (usually couched as anti- Zionism or anti-Israelism) trends on the campus. Worrying signals have been there for a long time (one remembers the rowdy reception given to Israel’s Ambassador Michael Oren at another University of California campus, Irvine), but the “Israel divestment resolution” has now brought matters to an unprecedented low point (the fact that some of the anti-Israel agitators were themselves Jewish won’t surprise anyone who knows the goings-on at some Israeli universities).

What happened was the following: The senate of the Associated Students of the university (a body officially recognized by the school’s administration) voted 11-9 to call upon UC Berkeley’s administration to divest $14 million from American companies that “do business with the IDF.” The resolution’s authors were Arab and Muslim, but those who voted for it included Pulitzer Prize winner Alice Walker, author of the best-selling The Color Purple, a book preaching tolerance – who went a step further and called for a general boycott of Israel.

Walker, according to the CAL student newspaper, The Daily Californian, (to which I think I once contributed a piece during my student days) expressly used the term “boycott” – and, indeed, though “divesting” (i.e. dis-investing) may not quite be boycotting, it comes pretty close.

To the best of my knowledge the Associated Students of the University of California hasn’t come out against the butchery in Syria, the Islamist-inspired terrorist acts in the US itself – nor, needless to say, speaking about boycotts – against the trade boycott of Israel by some international, including US companies, which are loath to endanger their profitable Arab contracts.

Boycotts against Jews, one remembers, were one of the first steps taken by the Nazis when they came to power in 1933 – culminating in the 1938 Kristallnacht pogrom – and what came after that is also known.

Though the divestment resolution was supposedly aimed at improving the lot of Palestinians living under “Israeli occupation,” the real and much more far reaching anti-Israel motives of its sponsors were made clear by the senate’s refusal to consider another motion calling for “investment opportunities that strengthen Israeli-Palestinian cooperation in pursuit of a two-state resolution.”

Without going into the matter of the respective advantages or disadvantages of the two-state formula, the above body’s disinclination to even consider the possibility of two states, one Jewish, one Arab, can only be interpreted as a rejection of any sort of statehood for the Jewish people.

Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman of CAL’s Hillel House was encouraged by the fact that “there were more student senators who voted against this bill than in previous years,” but the trend is ominous just the same – especially as this happened on a campus which used to be a beacon of enlightenment and the American tradition of fairness. I used to be proud of my blue-andgold colors. I am not sure I still am.

The author is a former Ambassador to the US.

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