Berkeley human welfare commissioner fired for backing occupation divestment resolution

US Politics
on 25 Comments

A commissioner for the city of Berkeley, California was fired for supporting a resolution calling on the city to consider divesting from corporations that operate in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories.

Cheryl Davila served on the Human Welfare and Community Action Commission (HWCAC) for over seven years, where she oversaw numerous human rights resolutions. In the summer of 2014, Commissioner Davila recalled being awestruck at the violence of Israel’s war on Gaza, code-named Operation Protective Edge, in which over 2,200 Palestinians were killed, the majority of whom were civilians, including more than 500 children.

“The Israeli bombardment was a disgraceful human rights violation that has caused a severe social welfare crisis, particularly for children, women, and the elderly in Gaza,” Commissioner Davila said. Numerous human rights groups and the UN accused Israel of intentionally targeting civilians and committing war crimes. “Given that Berkeley was one of the first municipalities to pass an anti-apartheid resolution in support of South African human rights, it is time for Berkeley to do the same for Palestinians who are living under an Apartheid regime,” she explained. “We cannot be silent any longer.”

The city of Berkeley has already approved ethical investment policies that call for divestment from fossil fuel corporations, gun manufacturers, tobacco companies, “oppressive states,” and the nuclear industry.

Commissioner Davila decided to propose a measure on behalf of Palestinian human rights. She authored the resolution “Conflict in Israel’s Impact on the City of Berkeley.” The measure calls for the city to “examine the feasibility of divesting all City of Berkeley direct holdings in companies complicit in on-going violations of human rights and International Law under Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territories.”

The resolution also recommends sending a letter from the City of Berkeley to the Board of Directors of California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), “urging them to implement their existing responsible investment policies equitably and to divest all holdings in companies complicit in on-going violations of human rights and International Law under Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territories.” Its final request is to add Israel’s illegal occupation to Berkeley’s Oppressive States Business Policy.

Commissioners are not themselves elected; City Council members appoint commissioners to serve on the various commissions. Commissioner positions are unpaid and filled on a volunteer basis. At a commission meeting on the evening of September 16, Davila was informed that she had been fired by Council Member Darryl Moore for refusing to withdraw the resolution.

Enormous Support

Kumars Salehi, a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley and leader in the city’s Palestinian solidarity movement who attended the meeting said there was an enormous turnout. “People on the commission were saying that they had never seen it so packed before,” Salehi said. Because of the size of the crowd, they had to in fact move to a bigger room, in which there were still not enough seats.

Many members of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) came to speak in support of the resolution, along with representatives from pro-Palestinian organizations and the Palestinian youth movement. Cindy Shamban lamented that, “as a longtime Berkeley resident and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, I was surprised and disappointed to see that a commissioner who has done such stellar work over the years would be silenced by her councilman simply for speaking her conscience.”

Cheryl Davila (left) speaking at the commission meeting Photo: Kumars Salehi

Cheryl Davila (left) speaking at the commission meeting
Photo: Kumars Salehi

Commissioner Davila was informed upon arrival at the meeting that she was fired from the commission and was therefore not allowed to sit as a member and vote. Davila sat in the front row during the meeting and spoke as part of the public. She was in tears during her opening statement, which Salehi recalls was moving and powerful.

“She was incredibly brave. And it was so clear that she, as a black woman, truly cared about this issue and identified with the struggle of Palestinians,” Salehi said.

The vast majority of people at the meeting were there to speak in support of the resolution, Salehi explained. He had been told that the vote on the resolution was going to be very close. During the discussion, he said, most people on the commission appeared to be sympathetic, but some of those same commission members later voted against the measure. The resolution did not pass, but commissioners decided to table it, in order to reconsider it at a later meeting.

I obtained several videos of Davila speaking at the meeting, right after she had been informed she was fired.

Commissioner Davila recounts receiving a “threatening” phone call from Council Member Moore, telling her to withdraw her support for the resolution or he would fire her from her position.

Davila also revealed that, in spite of seven years of work on the HWCAC, she almost never heard from her City Council sponsor, who said he largely ignored the work done in the commissions.

No Comment

I contacted the HWCAC, requesting an official statement on the incident. The commission itself did not respond. Matthai Chakko, Assistant to the City Manager, forwarded a message to Council Member Moore, who did not reply either. Chakko clarified that it is the council member’s right to choose a commissioner as he or she sees fit. “In Berkeley’s governmental system, each council member and the mayor are allowed to appoint a representative to commissions,” Chakko told Mondoweiss.

The Berkeley Human Welfare and Community Action Commission is one of many commissions the city of Berkeley sets up to discuss and deal with various issues. Others include the Community Health Commission, the Energy Commission, the Mental Health Commission, and more. The groups essentially workshop legislation that, if passed, would later go to a vote at the City Council.

Politically Motivated

Rochelle Gause, a Berkeley-based National Organizer with Friends of Sabeel North America, disclosed to Mondoweiss that at least one other commissioner was also pressured by their City Council sponsor to vote against the resolution, Gause said.

“Her fellow commissioners seemed shocked at her termination,” remarked Gause. Later in the meeting, the fellow commissioners committed to writing a letter to the City Council, requesting an explanation for why Commissioner Davila was removed. The fellow commissioners also unanimously agreed to add Davila to the agenda for the October meeting and hope to, if possible, vote her back on to the commission as a representative of the poor.

Council Member Moore has not provided a statement on the affair to Gause or to the advocacy groups in which she is involved.

Legal Action

Liz Jackson, a staff attorney for Palestine Legal, a group that helps to protect the civil and constitutional rights of Americans who speak on behalf of Palestinian human rights, told Mondoweiss that her organization is involved in the case. “We are looking into whether Council Member Moore had the legal authority to remove Commissioner Davila under the city regulations that govern appointment and removal of commissioners, and we are considering the possibility of legal action,” Jackson said.

“But whether or not he violated the letter of the law, there is no doubt that he violated the spirit of grassroots democracy that the commission system is designed for,” Jackson added. “Unfortunately, in this climate of repression targeting those who dare speak out for Palestinian rights—in Berkeley and across the country—I would speculate that Moore’s motivations were to shut down discussion of Palestinian rights and BDS,” she said, referring to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement.

“We have responded to hundreds of incidents of suppression of Palestinian human rights advocacy over the past few years, including firings, harassment, and false accusations of terrorism,” Jackson revealed. The Palestine Legal attorney mentioned the case of Steven Salaita, a professor who was fired from a tenured position at the University of Illinois over tweets critical of Israel, among others. “Commissioner Davila is the latest target among many,” she said.

‘Unprecedented and Undemocratic’

David McCleary, a University of California, Berkeley PhD student and leader in the Palestinian solidarity movement, told Mondoweiss that other commissioners are facing similar pressure from their sponsoring council people. He spoke to a commissioner who said he got a call from his council member pressuring him to oppose the measure.

“It is definitely unprecedented for a commissioner to be removed like this, especially right before a vote,” McClary explained. “This council member ostensibly could have voted against the resolution when it came to the City Council, but instead opted to take this unprecedented and undemocratic step.”

Lara Kiswani, executive director of the Arab Resource and Organizing Center, harshly condemned the firing of Commission Davila. Kiswani applauded the commissioner’s efforts, saying they are “indicative of the long standing work between poor, Arab, Black, and Brown communities to raise awareness and organize around issues of state violence and racism.”

“We encourage the City of Berkeley to stand on the right side of history as they did during Apartheid South Africa, and advocate for justice and dignity for Palestinian people,” Kiswani remarked. “Doing so is in fact taking a stand for justice for all people.”

About Ben Norton

Ben Norton is a journalist and writer based in New York City. His work has been featured in a variety of publications. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @BenjaminNorton. His website is BenNorton.com.

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25 Responses

  1. just
    September 19, 2015, 6:15 pm

    Bring back Commissioner Davila!

    Davila for Berkeley City Council!

    Speak the truth and then resign, Darryl Moore. WHO got to you???

    Thanks, Ben.

    • JWalters
      September 19, 2015, 7:24 pm

      This is such a glaringly harsh squashing of civil discourse it cries out for an investigation. Who is behind Moore is indeed the question. Who are his campaign donors, his gift givers? His harsh action is especially strange given Moore is a member of two persecuted minorities, gays and African-Americans.

  2. strangefriend
    September 19, 2015, 6:39 pm

    Maybe folks should contact Darryl Moore at [email protected] & let him know what you think.

  3. Kay24
    September 19, 2015, 6:39 pm

    The influences of the zionist lobbies have reached colleges and schools. They are trying desperately to stop the BDS movement, and getting a Commissioner fired for supporting a cause that they are afraid of, and making him an example, so that others will be afraid to support this cause, is what they can do. It seems suddenly the freedom of speech in this nation, and supporting a cause you believe in, must be forgotten, for fear of zionists retaliating. Faculties around the nation must condemn this interference.

    The zionists succeeded in making the media afraid, now they are attempting to do the same in colleges.

    • JWalters
      September 19, 2015, 7:31 pm

      I agree, this is clearly the long arm of Israeli tyranny, in another action to crush America’s democracy. Hopefully they picked the wrong city council, and this will blow up in their faces.

      • echinococcus
        September 19, 2015, 9:52 pm

        Wrong city council? Not sure. Berkeley is Zionist-occupied territory. In addition to a very conspicuous concentration of an as usual mostly-Zionist (but yeah, sure “liberal”) Jewish population with only a couple Bundists still alive, it now has an occupier population of Israel-origin, boisterously Modern Hebrew-speaking, hardcore settlers (“liberal” bastards, too, I wouldn’t be surprised.) Has been increasing rapidly in the last 10 years. Coming to Berkeley to enjoy peace and the good life but not giving up their disease and imposing their dictatorship on the locals.

      • JWalters
        September 20, 2015, 6:46 pm

        Thanks for that info. How ironic that a bastion of free speech has become a bastion of suppressed speech. I hope the university community there will rally to protect America’s free speech and democratic processes against this tyrannical bullying.

  4. just
    September 19, 2015, 6:59 pm

    “Reykjavik Drops Boycott of Israeli Products, Adopts Boycott of Settlement Goods

    The capital of Iceland caused uproar last week when it passed a resolution to boycott all products made in Israel.

    The mayor of Reykjavik, the capital of Iceland, announced Saturday that a motion passed by the city council this week to boycott Israeli products is to be withdrawn. Mayor Dagur Eggertsson said in a radio interview that the city will instead  only boycott goods made in the settlements.

    “I have stated that it should have been made much clearer in the text [that only products from territories occupied by Israel should be boycotted], although that’s what we had in mind,” the mayor said. “I will suggest to the city council that the motion the way it reads now be withdrawn while we discuss the next steps and how to present it.”
    Eggertsson said that he had underestimated the response the motion, which was pass Tuesday, would get across Iceland and the world. …”
     
    read more: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.676726

    Too bad. Come ON people of Reykjavik, Iceland, and the world. Grow a spine and do the right thing!!! Anything less is an affront to humanity and completely uncivilized.

    (It makes each of us complicit, too.)

    • Kay24
      September 20, 2015, 6:49 am

      They should have stuck to the the initial resolution. Israel deserves to be boycotted until it decides to do the right thing and give the Palestinians their freedom and lands.

  5. Blaine Coleman
    September 19, 2015, 7:07 pm

    The Ann Arbor Human Rights Commission passed a “Resolution in Support of Ending U.S. Military Support for Israel” — http://4.bp.blogspot.com/_Q_cuohbm2B8/S3A2NKsFQFI/AAAAAAAAB9U/6onCKEk1us4/s1600-h/1.jpg

    The same resolution is visible here: http://www-personal.umich.edu/~hersko/Letters/AAHRC%20Resolution.doc

  6. just
    September 19, 2015, 7:37 pm

    “Israel Planning to Outsource Its PR in the United States

    From ‘Salsa and Kugel’ events to LGBT outreach: outsourcing of Philadelphia consulate’s PR reveals Israel’s communications strategy for America.

    Israel is considering outsourcing to private communications firms the public relations of its diplomatic missions in the United States in an effort to better connect with groups and population segments that are gaining increasing influence in the country, Haaretz has learned.

    Over the last few months the Israeli consulate in Philadelphia has been working with a local PR firm as part of a pilot project, which could lead to similar outsourcing deals for other consulates in the United States.

    The agreement with the company, which has been obtained by Haaretz, sheds light on Israel’s PR strategy in the United States, which includes targeting districts of key members of Congress, reaching out to local gay groups and strengthening ties with the Hispanic community.

    Last year, the Israeli consulate for the Mid-Atlantic region was chosen to be the first diplomatic mission to hire an outside group to handle its communications, including PR and social media efforts. Ceisler Media and Issue Advocacy group – a Pennsylvania firm specializing in public relations, grassroots advocacy and strategic communications – drafted a plan for the consulate and at the end of 2014 signed a $90,000 contract that is set to end in November.

    Larry Ceisler, principal of the firm, said that his staff has been taking part in meetings at the consulate, leading its social media efforts and organizing other activities. He also took some of his employees to Israel – at his own expense – to see the country and meet Foreign Ministry officials.

    ‘For the love of Israel’

    “We are doing it more for the love of Israel than for the money,” he said in a phone interview.

    The company’s plan seeks to change the American public’s perception of Israel, saying that many in the United States only know the Jewish state for its religious character or think of it as a war zone ravaged by terrorism and discord. …

    … ‘What if Gaza was near your city?’

    Ceisler’s ideas for more politically-linked activities include developing roundtables or panels around “hot-button Israeli issues” such as Iran’s nuclear program and a project named “What if Gaza was Near Your City?”. It also suggests to “identify members of Congress serving in leadership and on key committees to target their districts for targeted outreach.”

    Ceisler provides two case studies which, the firm writes, can be replicated across the region: the districts of Speaker of the U.S. House of Representatives John Boehner and of West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin. In the first example, the firm recommends connecting with synagogues and chambers of commerce in the area, while in the second case it suggests building “a database of people that sit on the boards of cultural organizations who also are involved in/connected to politics.”

    Asked about this aspect of their work, Ceisler acknowledged that it appeared in the proposed plan, but added that “we probably have not done this per se.”…”

    read more: http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.676710?utm_source=dlvr.it&utm_medium=twitter

    Caveat emptor. Just saying.

    • JWalters
      September 20, 2015, 7:03 pm

      “for the love of Israel”

      But NO love for Justice. God warned Moses to put Justice above all. These people are lost and deluded. Sacrificing Justice for any pretense is asking for trouble.

    • Eva Smagacz
      September 22, 2015, 1:56 pm

      I wonder how will they spin this video:
      Hunting Palestinian children for sport and high fives all round after hit

  7. michelle
    September 20, 2015, 4:36 am

    .
    walls and check points in America to restrain Americans
    who da thunk it
    everyone ready on three
    one
    two
    three
    hail Israel Hail Israel HAIL ISRAEL
    .
    G-d help us
    .

  8. Boomer
    September 20, 2015, 6:57 am

    Another sad commentary on contemporary America. I was feeling depressed as I read the OP and comments, but then the news about Ann Arbor cheered me a bit. Of course, the Zionists still control our national media, our national politicians, and our national policy, so the cheer was limited. But better than nothing.

    I’ve never been to Berkeley. I wonder if it is true, as echinococcus says, that “Berkeley is Zionist-occupied territory. In addition to a very conspicuous concentration of an as usual mostly-Zionist (but yeah, sure “liberal”) Jewish population with only a couple Bundists still alive, it now has an occupier population of Israel-origin, boisterously Modern Hebrew-speaking, hardcore settlers . . . increasing rapidly in the last 10 years. Coming to Berkeley to enjoy peace and the good life but not giving up their disease and imposing their dictatorship on the locals.”

    If so, it seems unfair: we give the Palestinians country to the Zionists, and they get to live here too. Seems to me that we should welcome the victims of the Zionists, not the perpetrators.

  9. Leahj
    September 20, 2015, 7:15 am

    This is an intro to John Gertz. Three years ago, AFTER Gertz led these 2 projects, Darryl Moore appointed him to Berkeley’s Peace & Justice Commission. What an interesting choice.

    “… A few East Bay individuals are threatening to bankrupt the Berkeley Daily Planet unless it stops publishing criticisms of Israel’s policies and actions—opinions and ideas they brand “anti-Semitic.”

    Some of them have been contacting the paper’s advertisers, urging them to cancel their contracts. One has created a website dedicated to attacks on the paper.

    The expressed goal, in the words of an April 21 e-mail from one of them to the Planet’s executive editor, is to make the Daily Planet “reform, or close, or bleed money until you are forced out of business or die broke.”

    The Planet is by no means Gertz’s only target—he has been a vindictive fanatic for many years, going ballistic when any possible criticism of Israel is discussed. When the council voted in 2005 to ask for an investigation of Rachel Corrie’s death, he took out after councilmembers who voted to support the inquiry. From an online report at the time:

    “For Gertz, his vendetta over the Corrie vote goes beyond the Peace and Justice Commission. He is focusing on future mayoral elections when two councilmembers who voted for the Corrie resolution, Linda Maio and Kriss Worthington, might run for the city’s top job.

    “The real political objective is that Maio is going down and so is Worthington,” Gertz said in a phone interview, but didn’t specify how he would ensure their defeat. “They refused to rescind their vote on Corrie. That’s it for them. They’re toast.”…”

    http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2012-07-06/article/39971

    • just
      September 20, 2015, 8:28 am

      Whoa! Way to go, Moore~ appoint this Zio- thug to “Berkeley’s Peace & Justice Commission”?

      I did a bit of research and found this letter from Gertz to the Daily Planet:

      “Anti-Israelism: Only in Berkeley By JOHN GERTZ
      Tuesday September 20, 2005

      As we longtime residents know, Berkeley can be an odd place. We have led the nation in some great directions. But sometimes our national reputation for nuttiness is actually well deserved. I happened to be in Germany the day the Berlin Wall fell. It was an amazing scene watching hordes of East Germans flood across the old barrier for their first look at freedom. Several days later I arrived back at SFO and grabbed a cab home. As soon as I said I was going to Berkeley, the driver identified himself as a Berkeleyan. He proceeded to give me a long harangue about how wonderful it was that the Wall had fallen because now everyone will know what an evil Stalinism had been, and what an evil Leninism had been. Now the whole world, at long last, will welcome the great truth of Trotskyism. Right! Only in Berkeley.

      Raging anti-Israelism is a study in such nuttiness. As far as I am aware, this is unique in all the country to our fair city and seems to rest on a confluence of four intertwined sources:

      1) The Peace and Justice Commission, which was until recently peopled almost exclusively by Berkeley’s radical left. Peace and Justice found support on the City Council for their hateful anti-Israelism from Linda Maio and Kriss Worthington.

      2) The Daily Planet’s editor, Becky O’Malley, who has turned this paper into a bastion of anti-Israelism. She has even gone so far as to recently appoint Henry Norr as her Middle East reporter, even though Norr is in the Middle East as a member of ISM, an anti-Israel group which praises and supports Palestinian terror. I will, however, allow that Ms. O’Malley has the integrity to consistently publish the letters and commentaries of her adversaries in this matter. …

      … The ultra-orthodox anti-Zionists now reside mostly in New York; the assimilationists have melted away in the sun of Southern California; and Berkeley seems to be the nexus of the communist strain of anti-Zionism. Even those rabid Israel bashers who are bona fide Jews are Jews only in the sense that Clarence Thomas is black. Their Jewish identity has been entirely superceded by their radical left identity, just as Thomas’ blackness has been obviated by his radical right ideology.

      Many of us have had just about enough of Berkeley’s hateful witch’s brew of anti-Israelism. I pointed out in a recent letter to this newspaper that Berkeley mirrors the UN General Assembly. Last year, with its automatic Islamic and third world majorities, it passed 88 separate anti-Israel resolutions, while passing a total of only four such resolutions about all other issues in the entire world put together. Someone wrote back that this must only mean that Israel deserves it. Only, dear Berkeley, if justice is to be measured by the size of a lynch mob that metes it out.

      John Gertz is s former president of the Jewish Community Center. ”

      http://www.berkeleydailyplanet.com/issue/2005-09-20/article/22356

      Peace and Justice are only “radical” ideas to rabid and threatening Ziosupremacists. Mentally healthy humans believe in and strive for Peace and Justice.

      Thanks, Leahj.

      • JWalters
        September 20, 2015, 7:19 pm

        This “Zio-thug” (as you so aptly put it) is another Boteach bully. He also has nothing but name calling and angry scolding. The relevant facts do not even exist in his garbage verbiage. A university community should be able to bury this bozo in facts and justice. Perhaps a parade of speakers at a city council meeting explaining the events of the Nakba.

        In trying to understand how Gertz could perhaps be so uninformed, or have such impaired logic, or be so emotionally distorted, my sense is that he really does believe he is superior to non-Jews. In private he would concede the facts of history and the logic of justice, but would feel this other factor, a deeply held religious belief, should trump those. That’s why the discussion never moves.

      • Froggy
        September 21, 2015, 10:54 am

        Land of the Free and Home of the Brave… not.

  10. DaBakr
    September 20, 2015, 10:17 pm

    he didn’t violate “the letter of the law” just the “spirit of democracy”. righto. thats exactly what folks like the Kentucky county clerk think too their wrong, of course but they don’t care as long as it supporting their personal issue.

  11. economy news
    September 21, 2015, 1:26 am

    Good.

  12. Froggy
    September 22, 2015, 2:50 pm

    DeBakr :

    There’s the difference.

    The Berkeley Commissioner was fired for supporting a resolution.

    The Kentucky cow isn’t doing her job and thus has broken the law which she swore to uphold.

    A person would have to be extremely stupid to think that the situations are the same, or maybe dishonest.

    • echinococcus
      September 22, 2015, 7:26 pm

      Froggy,

      It’s the culture medium. Even if he were smart and honest.

      • Froggy
        September 23, 2015, 2:27 pm

        Indeed.

  13. traintosiberia
    September 28, 2015, 8:02 am

    Blum’s verbatim comments at the Regents meeting are even creepier than that reporting suggests:

    ” I should add that over the weekend my wife, your senior Senator, and I talked about this issue at length. She wants to stay out of the conversation publicly but if we do not do the right thing she will engage publicly and is prepared to be critical of this university if we don’t have the kind of not only statement but penalties for those who commit what you can call them crimes, call them whatever you want. Students that do the things that have been cited here today probably ought to have a dismissal or a suspension from school. I don’t know how many of you feel strongly that way but my wife does and so do I.”

    https://theintercept.com/2015/09/25/dianne-feinstein-husband-threaten-univ-calif-demanding-ban-excessive-israel-criticism/

    Blum is the husband of Diane Feinestein .Couple ave made lot of money through defense contracts . Avid Zionist.
    Now they are attacking the university directly talking to the power at the top but not reaching out to the people concerned . They are not winning the debate. They are force shaping the debate in esoteric abstract term and denigrating it .
    Campus debate is being reduced to a farce .

    “In response to inquiries from The Intercept, Feinstein refused to say whether her husband was authorized to make such threats on her behalf, but she refused to distance herself from them. “This is a matter before the University of California and Senator Feinstein has no comment at this time,” her Press Secretary said.”

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