AMP congratulates Berkeley students for successful divestment vote

April 18, 2013

The American Muslims for Palestine congratulates the Associated Students of the University of California, Berkeley, for the successful passage of a Resolution SB-160, calling for divestment of student and university of funds from companies that profit from Israel's occupation of Palestine.

Below is a letter to the Berkeley student government written by AMP Chairman, Prof. Hatem Bazian, a Palestinian American, who spoke of his own torment caused by the knowledge his tax dollars fund the oppression of Palestinians and urging students to stand on the side of justice.

 April 18th, 2013

Dear ASUC Senator;

I write to you as a member of the UC Berkeley faculty, a member of the campus community and as a long-time human rights and civil rights activist to urge you to vote for the divestment resolution, SB-160. In my earlier years, I sat in the same seats you are currently sitting in and had to confront a similar question related to divestment from companies that had investments in South Africa. The challenge was then and still is today the role we collectively play in issues of justice at home and abroad. The student leadership at the time understood that justice at home is linked to justice abroad and we knew we were all endowed with agency in our sphere of influence. So we made the decision to remove our own investments from the Apartheid system and to express solidarity in small and large ways with those suffering in South Africa.

Indeed, some who identified with South Africa at the time and who financially benefited from it argued for a different course of action. Some argued for dialogue between blacks and whites, while others stated that divestment will hurt black South Africans and we should instead invest in developing South African black businesses. I do recall then President Ronald Reagan and US political establishment advancing the concept of constructive engagement, which meant keeping everything the same and oppose the call for change and for sure oppose divestment. Furthermore, the global threat of communism was advanced as a solid reason why White South Africa was a key ally in the on-going cold war and the crisis that would emerge if we support change and divestment. It was argued that South Africa was a key ally in preventing the spread of communism is Southern Africa and are instrumental in counter insurgency efforts in Angola and Southern Africa.

All these arguments, on the face of it, seemed and sounded sincere in expressing concern for black South African; nevertheless they all were rooted in defending the status quo and not altering the epistemic structure of Apartheid and all its consequences. The African National Congress correctly at the time understood this strategy as an attempt at obfuscating the core struggle against Apartheid and called for real and affirmative solidarity that can and did in due time alter the course of history in South Africa. Yes, in the short term it impacted segments of the black in South Africa and whites but it also helped usher-in the logic for change and put an end to Apartheid. The arguments advanced in relations to protecting Israel and the occupation is identical to those made in relations to South Africa and I can state this as a participant and an activist within the anti-Apartheid solidarity movement in the 1980s. While we can speak of differences between both; nevertheless the similarity in structural oppression set in place and in defending it by a cluster of cultural, political, ideological and religious interests can’t be dismissed.

Today, at UC Berkeley and other campuses in the United States and around the world, a new generation of students is confronted with the same challenge and is called upon to uphold universal principles of human rights and international law through a declaration and by means of a resolution that unequivocally asserts that Israeli human rights violations, settlement construction and occupation should not be facilitated by our own funds. Not in our name and not with our money.

As in the case of South Africa we will find some who will argue for a different course of action in the hope of preventing a change away from the oppressive status quo. The arguments are many -- from charges of anti-Semitism for only singling out Israel and no other country (ASUC supported sanctions on Sudan this was not argued as singling out Muslims or the fact that Iran, Iraq, Syria, Libya and Somalia are all subjects to Sanctions) to naming dialogue as the best approach to solving the problem, to investment in and with the occupied Palestinians (the investment in black South Africans argument of the 1980s). We even hear the most insulting argument – that students should not involve themselves in these “complex” international issues, which means that this is the business of sophisticated adults. In addition, a more sophisticated anti-imperial argument is advanced that speaks of all the wrongs the US has done in occupying Iraq, Afghanistan as well as all the other countries we are involved with that have extensive records of human rights violation like China and Saudi Arabia so we must divest ourselves from America before embarking on divestment from Israel since we are more alike than different. Such is a profound strategy of using an underhanded anti-imperial analysis as a way to lead toward a paralysis in the divestment debate relative to companies that empower Israeli occupation.

The arguments for status quo and no actions are many. But doing nothing on the divestment front has already demonstrated its impact on the Palestinians. Doing nothing has increased settlements daily. Doing nothing has made for racist, on-going attacks on the Palestinians. Doing nothing has caused the uprooting of more than one million trees. Doing nothing affirms and defends occupation. Doing nothing on divestment implies that we are not on the side of occupation by institutionally investing in its machinery and oiling its engines. While investing in the Palestinian economy does have its merit, a golden cage has never stopped being a cage and the structural impact of the occupation is what leaves Palestinians wanting.

I stated above that I am faculty member at UC Berkeley. I am also a Palestinian who sees his own taxes being used to fund the occupation $3 billion annually, thus causing a constant state of torment because I am a financial participant in the occupation structure. I do know that some claim that divestment resolution and movement at UC Berkeley and other campuses creates a hostile environment and thus makes Berkeley and other campuses unwelcoming space for them, therefore we should do nothing and continue to fund the Israeli war machine. Let’s for a moment take an alternative view on this particular point.

I do feel that the campus is hostile and unwelcoming for Palestinians since the campus is affirmatively investing in the occupation and supporting it in deeds and words. We are not neutral when we invest in the occupation, we are not neutral when we advocate for the status quo constructive engagement discourses and we are not neutral when the feelings of those supporting oppression of an occupied people is advanced as a “logical” argument and a cause of inaction. If they are concerned for the Palestinians then let join in one common human movement to end the occupation. Consider the argument that the feelings of Whites in America’s South should have been taken into consideration and advanced as a sufficient argument on its face to oppose Martin Luther King and the Civil Rights Movement push for boycotts, marches and protest to bring about freedom and equality for African Americans. More over what was our collective response when whites in the South threatened to withhold funding from colleges and universities that moved toward equality and desegregation! Freedom, justice and pursuit of happiness are universal principles belonging to all and the privileges enjoyed by the few should not be at the expense of the many who are suffering. What are the feelings of the occupied Palestinians? How do they feel about UC Berkeley funding the machinery of their occupation? How hallow and hypocritical our community values sound to the occupied Palestinians when settlers are able to use our investment to yet expand and steal more Palestinian land! Yes, we are the Golden Bears but we are not neutral and we do help fund the occupation with our investments! In here, the issue is not supporting Israel or not; rather are we supporting the occupation, are we enabling the occupier and are we protecting and funding the settlers and settlement!

I call on you to rise up to the occasion and make history by your action. I urge you to support UC divestment from companies profiting from Israel’s occupation. We should be united in supporting the right of the Palestinian people to be free of the repression and violence that is inflicted upon them and being carried out with our financial consent and investments. Our stand for justice should be universal and indivisible regardless who is involved or what interests are impacted. My belief is firm that divesting from companies that provide significant support for the Israeli military is both moral and strategic way to take responsibility for how tuition- and taxpayer-funded research dollars are used in our educational institutions. I urge the ASUC to take the lead in this direction as has been its tradition, and I do commend the student leaders who are working to achieve this goal. I also urge those who oppose this bill to call for an immediate end of the occupation as the first step in remedying the status quo. Don’t wait for a future date for freedom for some at the expense of bondage for others because this is neither moral nor ethical. Uphold the values of the university and stand up for justice for all!

Dr. Hatem Bazian
Senior Lecturer
University of California, Berkeley
[email protected]