In the wake of the UC Student Association’s decision to take a stance for free speech and the human rights of Palestinians and all people, I was disappointed by the Daily Cal’s decision to publish three opinion pieces decrying this as an attack on the Jewish community. As a Jewish student who advocates for justice for Palestinians, I was frustrated by these portrayals that ignored my existence and mischaracterized the ideals I stand for.
Anti-Semitism should never be condoned. But HR-35, a resolution passed by the California legislature, was absolutely wrong to conflate anti-Semitic hatred with the pro-Palestinian human rights movement. Not only incorrect, HR-35 encourages the silencing of pro-Palestinian voices, chilling our attempts to educate about and advocate against Israel’s racism and human rights abuses toward Palestinians. The UCSA, with input from two UC Berkeley students including a Jewish Israeli, rejected this silencing and affirmed the need for the university’s investments to reflect its values.
I, along with several other Jewish students I know at Cal, was thrilled by the UCSA decision. The self-designated “leaders of the Jewish community” do not speak for us when they defend Israel’s occupation and human rights violations and support attempts to silence pro-Palestinian activists. The Jewish community is not a monolith, and we don’t have to be loyal to the government of Israel no matter what it does. Many of us, as throughout history, see the struggle for justice and human rights for all as a fundamental part of our Jewish identity.
Previous op-eds on the UCSA decision lament that the issue of divestment — removal of university funds from companies complicit in Israeli human rights violations — is “divisive.” I am also disappointed that this issue is so divisive. But not because disagreement on an issue should be silenced, rather the fact that support of human rights should not be contentious. It should be a no-brainer to support human rights of Palestinians, and to instead prioritize defending Israel’s government from criticism, no matter what it does, is profoundly anti-human.
The claim that advocates of BDS are unfairly singling out Israel is wrong. I and other pro-Palestinian advocates care deeply about human rights across the world. We organize around the rights of Palestinians in large part because of the U.S.’s close military and economic ties to Israel — consider that the U.S. finances Israel’s military on the order of $3 billion dollars per year — mean that Americans are involved in its human rights violations, and that we also have a great potential to effect change. As we help build the movement for boycott, divestment, and sanctions, we can create the pressure necessary to force Israel to end its injustices against Palestinians, much as a similar movement a few decades ago forced the South African government to cease its apartheid policies.
In the 1980s, UC Berkeley students voted to divest from South African apartheid. It’s time to be on the right side of history again. We have to prioritize our commitment to justice and humanity over loyalty to any government, including Israel. Jewish students are part of the coalition across UC and across the world fighting for equality and dignity for Palestinians, and this UCSA decision is an important victory in our struggle.
Isabel Sausjord is a sophomore at UC Berkeley.