Letter in support of Berkeley BDS

The Chicago chapter of the International Jewish Anti-Zionist Network congratulates the Berkeley student senate for voting to divest from companies that support the Israeli occupation of Palestinian territory. We encourage the Senate to vote tonight to overturn the president’s veto.

In voting to divest, the Berkeley senate honors the call by Palestinian civil society for an international movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction the State of Israel until it begins to comply with international laws, ending the illegal occupation and dismantling the apartheid system. The international BDS movement is a powerful nonviolent method of solving the crisis in Israel/Palestine and builds on the success of the international BDS campaign against South African apartheid. Berkeley students were on the vanguard in that international anti-Apartheid movement, and we appreciate your courage in taking a similar role in the struggle today against Israeli apartheid.

The lopsided 16-4 vote in favor of divestment indicates that you have a grasp of these issues and the importance of divestment. But the veto message from President Smelko and a subsequent statement by Zionist organizations attempt to challenge your actions with veiled accusations of antisemitism. Particularly, we would like to rebut the claim by President Smelko that the divestment bill is "a symbolic attack on a specific community of our fellow students."

It is simply incorrect to imply that targeted divestment from companies involved in the occupation constitutes an attack on the Jewish community. Chicago IJAN is one of many Jewish organizations who oppose Israeli apartheid and who support divestment. The letters of support from Jewish Voice for Peace, Judith Butler, Naomi Klein, Noam Chomsky, and others make this abundantly clear.

A letter from a large group of Zionist organizations says that the actions by the Senate "marginaliz[e] Jewish students on campus who support Israel." We see this as a veiled accusation of anti-semitism, suggesting that challenging Israeli policies amounts to hurting Jews who support them. But we find this argument far more anti-semitic than its supposed target. To imply that Jews are marginalized by criticism of Israel only marginalizes those Jews, like us, who oppose Israeli apartheid from the Jewish community. To deny our Jewishness and to associate that Jewishness with immoral and violent policies is anti-semitism. Our criticism of the State of Israel is based on the illegal actions of the State, not the identity of the perpetrators.

Chicago IJAN would like the Berkeley Senate to know that Jewish groups like J Street, AIPAC, and the World Zionist Organization do not speak for all Jews. As Professor Butler makes clear, there is a deep Jewish tradition of social justice and respect for co-habitation from which perspective the occupation is abhorrent. Some of us call on this Jewish tradition in our support for Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions. But more importantly, none of us are "marginalized" by the BDS movement. In fact we are empowered and encouraged by it. Chicago IJAN stands beside the Berkeley Senate in its support for BDS, and we look forward to continuing the nonviolent international resistance to Israeli apartheid together with you.

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