Justice, Justice, Shall You Pursue: Grad Students Organize for BDS Policy at the University of California


On December 4, graduate students at the University of California will have the opportunity to pursue justice by exercising their vote on two related issues. The first is whether our union, Local UAW 2865, should join the global movement for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) to be enacted against Israel until that nation-state has complied with international law and respects the rights of all Palestinian people. The second measure asks each of us to personally commit to participation in the academic boycott against Israeli educational institutions.

divestment timeline at UC

Credit: sjpwest.org.

As a grad student, a labor activist, and as a Jew, I will be voting yes on both questions.
If the first question passes, we will call upon the University of California and the UAW International to divest from and decline to conduct business with Israeli state institutions as well as the international corporations that are complicit in the human rights violations committed by Israel against the Palestinian people. Our Local will also call upon our federal government to end military aid to Israel.
As we are reminded at every turn, 2014 is the quinquagenary of the Free Speech movement. Our institution is grounded in the belief that educational excellence can model respectful, civil communication and promote mutual respect. (Regents Policy 4400) If UC is to accomplish these objectives, it cannot simultaneously invest in entities that are structured to do exactly the opposite.
What does BDS mean?
This proposes both a traditional consumer boycott of goods and products, and an academic boycott. What is the latter? We are asked to pledge that we will personally refuse to take part in research, conferences, events, exchange programs, or other activities that are sponsored by Israeli universities complicit in the occupation of Palestine and the settler-colonial policies of the state of Israel. The boycott is directed against institutions, not individual scholars. In fact, we are actively encouraged to collaborate with individual Israelis, Palestinians, and others in the region who oppose the occupation of Palestine and related policies of the state of Israel.
The United States is virtually alone in its support of Israel’s war on the Palestinian people and occupation of Palestinian land. Most members of the global community are committed to the rule of law, and see the Israeli state’s actions for what they are: the occupation of Palestinian land, in violation of international law. Israel’s collective punishment of Palestinian people for individual acts of violence further violates international and human rights law. This past July, in a vote by the United Nations’ Human Rights Council, The United States was the sole vote in opposition to resolution (A/HRC/S-21/L.1) on ensuring respect for international law in the Occupied Palestinian Territory, including East Jerusalem.
In fact, the ongoing, brutal oppression of the Palestinian people relies on continuing U.S. military aid to Israel. US government support for the Israeli government legitimizes the messaging of that government to its people, while our tax dollars and other economic investments underwrite the cost. Calling on our government to cease its support for war against civilians is a position with which I, as a person of conscience, stand. In demanding that my University divest its capital investments from public and private entities that perpetuate the occupation and its human rights violations, I am joining with others who object to affiliation with an institution that uses its financial resources to underwrite illegal activity.
Both measures make a clear distinction between institutions and individuals. The actions called for are to be taken against the former: The nation-state of Israel, corporations, and universities that are complicit in the subjugation of the Palestinian people. It is also essential to note that this measure does not call for support of Hamas or any government of Palestine. Just as Americans are distinguishable from our government, so Palestinian – and Israeli – people are distinguishable from theirs. Enacting sanctions is a tool civil society uses to communicate the unacceptability of a nation’s practices.
At its most basic level, a vote to approve BDS is a vote for human rights. The Israeli government has been violating the human – and civil – rights of the Palestinian people continually and systematically. The Israeli military occupies Palestinian territory. The Israeli government has supported the illegal settlement of Palestinian land by Israeli citizens. Israel practices collective punishment against the Palestinian people for acts committed by individuals. None of these practices are defensible legally, morally, or ethically; if practiced by other nations they would be identified as acts of terror. Yet we as American taxpayers and those of us who are Jews pay for these practices both fiscally and through being held accountable for the actions of what is, for all practical terms, a rogue state.

A Haredi Jewish protester participates in a demonstration for boycott, divestment, and sanctions to end the Occupation. Credit: Creative Commons.

Hamas’ rain of rockets on the Israeli people is no more defensible than the actions of the Israeli government. The differences lie in inevitability, and outcome. By inevitability, I refer to what people – any people – will do when surrounded, subjugated, are denied their rights to land and livelihood – even to basic food for their children. According to the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East, only one in four Gaza households are food secure. The population density of Gaza is among the highest in the world and growing: On July 14th 2014 the Washington Post reported 42,600 people per square mile within Gaza City; two weeks later, on July 29th, it reported that land seized by Israel to create a “buffer zone” equaled 44% of the Gaza strip, most of which had been densely populated before the Israel military systematically destroyed it. (See http://tinyurl.com/n8e4hfp)
By outcomes, I mean bluntly, death and destruction. During Israel’s month long invasion of the Gaza Strip this past summer, 71 Israelis died – and so did 2,131 Palestinians (http://tinyurl.com/k8wxe5n) 69% of the Palestinians killed were civilians; 24% were children. Of the Israelis who lost their lives, 6% were civilians; 1% was a child. 2,927 rockets were launched at Israel from Gaza; the psychological affects of which were severe for the Israelis who spent much of that month in bomb shelters, though little physical damage was sustained. By contrast, Israel struck 3,834 targets in Gaza (http://tinyurl.com/l265xjh).
The Israeli government’s propaganda has also damaged the Israeli people’s collective psyche and identity. Israel was founded as a Jewish democratic state. Today, as the government takes every conceivable opportunity to reinforce its narrative that “Palestinians are enemies who threaten Jewish sovereignty and are solely to blame for the failure to achieve peace” (http://tinyurl.com/oz6u624), the Israeli people valorize a Jewish state over one that is democratic. What was founded as a secular state devolves into a theocracy.
For me personally, the abuses of human and civil rights that are funded through public and private investment in Israel are the central issue. Yet my support of BDS is also consistent with my identity as a Jew. It is precisely because of the values I hold as a Jew that I feel so strongly that Israel’s violations of international law are unsupportable. My task, the task of every Jew, is Tikkun Olam – to heal the world. Illegal occupation of Palestine produces violence, not peace. Palestinian and Israeli people, especially children, suffer the consequences of Israeli policies and the (predictable) response of the Palestinian government.
The Torah teaches: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt” (Exodus 23:9), and further requires that “When strangers reside with you in your land, you shall not wrong them. The strangers who reside with you shall be to you as your citizens; you shall love each one as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Leviticus 19:33-34) Yet as I write this, the Israeli Cabinet has just passed a bill that emphasizes Israel’s Jewishness above its democratic nature, and relegates Arabic from an official language to one with a “special status.”
Ultimately, the BDS is a call for one of the central tenets of my life as a Jew, an activist, and a human being: The pursuit of justice. The Torah exhorts us to pursue justice. Labor reminds us that the Industrial Workers of the World taught that “an injury to one is an injury to all.” The pursuit of justice is central to the human experience. Marx saw revolution as the inevitable result of injustice. Pope Paul VI articulated Catholic Social Teaching’s central principle when he counseled “If you want peace, work for justice.” I am proud of my union, which sees its work of achieving justice for the workers it represents within the context of injustice elsewhere in the world and is giving us the opportunity to speak truth to the University, to Labor, to Israel. I’m seizing that opportunity: I’m voting yes to both questions on December 4.

Lisa Feldstein is a doctoral candidate in City & Regional Planning at UC Berkeley and a member of UAW Local 2865’s “Jewish Officers and Members in Support of Divestment.” A progressive activist who resides in San Francisco, she is a member of Kehilla Community Community Synagogue in Piedmont, CA. She is grateful to Roi Livne, Zach Levenson, and Lilith C. Dornhuber de Bellesiles for fact-checking and support on this post.

22 thoughts on “Justice, Justice, Shall You Pursue: Grad Students Organize for BDS Policy at the University of California

  1. ) Lisa, you are wrong on 2 issues. The photo of 2 Haredim (ultra-Orthodox Jews) demonstrating for BDS is of the Neturei Karta, who are anti-Zionist, but also despise goyim (Gentiles), including Arabs. I have written about the NK who write explicitly in their books that goyim are worthless before God. The only reason they demonstrate for Palestinians is that the enemy of my enemy (Israel) is my friend. The anti-Zionism of NK is based on their belief that Jews are forbidden to build a state before the Messiah, not because of affection for Palestinians
    2) In Orthodox Judaism,love of a “stranger” means only a convert to Judaism. See the Talmud, Maimonides, Code of Jewish Laws (Shulchan Aruch). In fact, in Orthodoxy, especially ultra-Orthodoxy, it is strictly forbidden to love a non-Jew.

  2. I suspect as a graduate student, you are not familiar with international law. When was the West Bank ever under Palestinian? When was Jerusalem ever divided with the east being under Palestinians control. Asa student, you might be familiar with how a myth can perpetuate anti Semitism. I am all for the 2 states solution with shred sovereignty of Jerusalem, but I reject pressuring Israel to take a risks that would endanger its existence.
    Just a point about the Gaza war. Hamas did not have the interests of Gazans in mind when it launched thousands of rockets under cover of schools and hospitals and dug tunnels into Israel.

    • Jim:
      I want to address your assumptions about me:
      I earned my JD from Boalt Hall More than two decades ago. I can also say, with reasonable certainty, that the majority of people have little or no knowledge of international law, student or no.
      I’m in my 50s. Your comments imply that you believe me to be young, lacking in life experience, wisdom, or knowledge. I’m compelled to correct your assumptions lest, as you suggest, myth can perpetuate inaccurate characterizations.

      • Yet you failed to answer 2 fundamental questions:
        When was the West Bank ever under Palestinian?
        When was Jerusalem ever divided with the east being under Palestinians control?

          • Dear Jim, you may want to consult Prof. Noam Chomsky on the matter. International law is clear about the fact that the partition plan designated territory of a Jewish and territory for a Palestinean state. Israel occupied the Plestinean territories in the 1967 war and international law is clear that no territory gain during a war is legal (not even if it is defensive as some claim the 1967 war was, though historic research shows it was an offensive war by Israel. But it does not matter. Illegal, either way).
            You may not like international law nor Mr. Chomsky, but just look at what Israel did after the 1967 war: Did it annex the occupied territories and give all the Palestineans there citicenship? No it didn’t. So, quite obviously, not even Israel itself considered the land gain as lawful, but ALWAYS treated it as an occupation with the occupied people subject to martial law.

          • To clarify things, Noam Chomsky is a linguist, not an expert on international law or history. To put Chomsky’s opinions on context, in the past he expressed admiration for the genocidal Khmer Rouge and his symthathy for the Serbs in their war against Muslim Bosnia. Finally. to be clear regarding the West Bank. It wsd actually annexed by Jordan in 1952. They opened a barrage of shelling after Eshkol warned them to stay out of the conflict. I like to work off of facts.

      • So this nutjob of an author is in her 50’s, and spends her time trying to brainwash young 20something students into supporting bigotry and discrimination against Israel.

  3. Thank you so much for taking this position and articulating it so clearly. My great fear is that current Israeli policies are a threat to Judaism itself. One way of understanding good acts (mitzvot) is to adhere to Jewish law. When a government acts with impunity and injustice, it violates this fundamental Jewish principle. When that government claims to ‘be Jewish’, it imposes a paradoxical demand: to be a faithful Jew, you must support that regime and its policies; and yet to do so, you must reject the funtamental tenets of the Torah. Right now Israel demands that Jews be David and Goliath at the same time; and it is a profoundly destructive demand that threatens Judaism as a faith, a way of life, an ethic, and a system of law.
    It takes a lot of courage to publicly declare for the BDS program in the face of cruel intolerance toward any questioning of Israeli governmental policy in the U.S. And through your display of courage, you embody that distinctly Jewish ethic of fighting for what is right in the face of intransigent opposition.

    • It’s kind of hard to give up land when Hamas is waiting in the wings to seize power where ever they can. Look what happened to Gaza aftar withdraw. Do you think the blockade was imposed for no reason?

  4. Just to point out where the BDS comes from … its funding comes from the same sources that provide funding to Hamas, Hezbollah, al-Qaeda, ISIS, and other designated terrorist organizations in the Muslim Middle East: the Wahhabi Saudis, the Qataris, and some of their neighbors.
    These countries use the groups they fund to wage proxy war on Israel; these same countries could *easily* fund constructive development in the West Bank and Gaza, and have had almost 70 years in which they could have assimilated the “refugees” living there.
    There is this reflexive tendency among some on the left to favor the underdog. That is fine, but it shouldn’t be unquestioning. Just because Israel has more weaponry than Gaza means little if the financial resources of the Arab “umma” are behind Hamas / Gaza.

    • It’s sad that undemocratic organizations that oppress their own people through violent intimidation fund a so called just causes.

  5. The objective of the BDS campaign is an unlimited right of return that would necessarily end Israel’s existence as Jewish state. And BDS seeks to cause economic harm to Israeli Jews in order to achieve that objective. BDS is neither progressive nor reflective of Jewish values.

  6. Uh, the official stance of the BDS movement is to erase Israel as a Jewish state. It does not seek to erase Arab states. It does not seek to erase Muslim states. It supports a Palestinian state, Arab states, Muslim states, all states, except it specifically wants to erase the only Jewish homeland on Earth, and turn it into another Arab-majority state.
    [Personal attack removed]

  7. Just as a handful of Jews helped the Nazis in the 1930’s, a handful of Jews today support BDS, jihad, anti-semitism, and the destruction of Israel as a Jewish state.

  8. BDS started under a different name, rather without a name but simply as official policy, in 1948 by all of Israel’s neighbors as a reaction to the creation of Israel. It accompanied cleansing of Jews who had to leave their possessions behind when they left the countries surrounding Israel – much like the Palestinians – except the Palestinians had an option to stay, to welcome their enlightened new neighbors, and to become absorbed into an academic, economic, and democratic powerhouse. At the time, Israel was a progressive beacon and not as controlled by the Orthodox Jews. The sad fact that Orthodox and fundamentalist jews have increased their power in Israel does not mean that BDS should be supported by well-meaning and right-minded but totally mistaken people like the writer of this article.

  9. IN the school of perpetrating a myth, it appears that the author gets an “F”. Berkley students are rarely touch with reality

  10. Perpetuating a myth that potentially brings hard to others based on ethnicity is a hate crime. The BDS movement fits the bill.

  11. I have two points:In terms of International law please note the following:
    Legal rights of the State of Israel
    1. The Balfour Declaration (dated 2 November 1917) – His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object.
    The San Remo Conference following World War I (April 1920), the Supreme Council of the Principal Allied Powers determined the allocation of the Middle Eastern territories of the defeated Ottoman Empire and decided to incorporate the 1917 Balfour Declaration supporting a Jewish national home in Palestine into the British Mandate for the territory, a move which confirmed international recognition of the right of Jewish self-determination. It was clear at the time that the term “national home” really meant a state.
    The Council of the League of Nations on 24 July 1922, supplemented via the 16 September 1922 Transjordan memorandum and then came into effect on 29 September 1923 following the ratification of the Treaty of Lausanne.
    The San Remo conference assigned the mandate for Palestine to the United Kingdom under Article 22 of the Covenant of the League of Nations. The Allies also decided to make the UK responsible for putting into effect its own Balfour Declaration of 1917.
    In early 1921, prior to the convening of the Cairo Conference, the Middle East Department of the Colonial Office set out the situation as follows:
    Distinction to be drawn between Palestine and Trans-Jordan under the Mandate. His Majesty’s Government are responsible under the terms of the Mandate for establishing in Palestine a national home for the Jewish people.
    2.. BDS – Why no BDS against Turkey? Turkey occupied Northern Cyprus in 1974, ethnic cleansed out all the Christian Greek Cypriots from Northern Cyprus and brought in Muslim Turks from mainland Turkey to settle the newly created empty spots. The Turks also massacred a few thousand Christian Greek Cypriots. Turkish troops are still there. There is a wall between the Turkish and Greek part of the island. The separation wall goes through Nicosia the Capital of Cyprus. Cyprus is close to Israel in the Eastern Mediterranean sea.
    Turkey occupies part of the old Kurdish homeland/country and oppresses the Kurds. The Kurds are more deserving of an independent country than the Palestinians. The Kurds used to have their own country; they have their own culture, language, alphabet, etc. The Palestinians do not have these attributes.
    Turkey has a vision of recreating the old Turkish Ottoman empire…
    We do not hear about the Jews forced out of Muslim Arab countries after the establishment of the state of Israel in 1948. More than 1,000,000 Jews were ethnic cleansed out of the Muslim countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Most of these countries were Arab. The Jews fled without their possessions, money, properties, businesses, etc. They were never compensated. An example is Libya which had over 100,000 Jews prior to 1948. By 1967 it had zero ( 0 ) Jews left. By far, most of these dispossessed Jews fled to Israel. Israel accepted them and integrated them in the Israeli society. There was no UN aid for these Jews. The 800,000 Arabs who moved out of Israel were never integrated in any Muslim country. They were used by the respective political elites for their own gain. The Arabs who stayed behind in Israel are equal citizens and are represented in the Israeli parliament called the Knesset, Israeli Supreme Court, military and some attained high military rank, diplomatic corps, etc. Most of the Israeli Arabs opt out from serving in the Israeli military. Road signs, postal stamps, etc are all written in Hebrew and Arabic. The Jews who fled from Muslim lands left behind far more assets than the Arabs who left Israel.
    The Arabs in Palestine prior to World War II ethnic cleansed the Jews during different riots of 1920’s and 1930’s from Hebron, Safed, etc. East Jerusalem was the original site of the Hadassah, Hebrew University, Jewish Quarter, Mount of Olives cemetery, etc and of course the Wailing Wall. The Jordanian occupiers destroyed 58 of the 59 synagogues of the Jewish Quarter of East Jerusalem, they used the headstones of graves in the Mt. Olives cemetery to pave walkways for their latrines and ethnic cleansed all the Jews from East Jerusalem in 1948.
    It is Israel that lives under the microscope while “Russia invades. Nigeria enslaves. China oppresses. Pakistan rapes. Iraq slaughters. North Korea starves. Iran nuclearizes. Syria massacres. Venezuela plunders. Afghanistan tortures. Sudan annihilates. ISIS beheads, and Israel is the pariah state, put under the microscope

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