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State officials in California sign letter denouncing BDS movement on college campuses

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JPAC
California officials participate in a panel on Israel-California trade at the Jewish Public Affairs Committee’s advocacy day. (Image via Jewish Federations of LA)

Over 30 California state legislators have signed on to a letter criticizing the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement and the passage of divestment resolutions on California college campuses. Addressed to the chair of the University of California (UC) Regents, which controls UC investments, the letter “congratulates” the Regents on “standing firm” against divestment.

The letter (published in full below) adds that the BDS movement is “divisive,” contributes to an “antagonistic environment for students who support Israel,” and will drive prospects for peace in Israel/Palestine further away. It applauds the UC Regents for their 2010 statement that they would only divest from a country the U.S. government deemed was committing genocide.

Senator Darrell Steinberg, the leader of the California Senate, worked with the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California (JPAC) and Assemblyman Bob Blumenfield on the letter. Steinberg, known as a powerful liberal in California, is a staunch supporter of Israel and a former chairman of Sacramento’s Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC).

Mondoweiss obtained the letter from California-based activists, who in turn received it from staff at California legislators’ offices. Calls and e-mails to Steinberg’s and Blumenfield’s office went unreturned by the time of publication.

The missive is a reaction to the drive for divestment on California campuses that garnered some modest success over the past academic year. “Due to the number of BDS resolutions that have been brought forward on UC campuses this year, we felt it was very timely,” a JPAC spokesperson said.

Over the past academic year, student government bodies at the UC campuses of IrvineSan Diego and Berkeley passed resolutions urging the UC system to divest from corporations profiting from the Israeli occupation.

UC officials have reiterated time and time again that they will not divest from Israel based on student government recommendations, making the resolutions symbolic. Still, the divestment drive has captured the attention of state officials, and, in the case of San Diego, the attention of members of the House of Representatives.

Members of Palestine solidarity student groups in California criticized the legislators’ letter when contacted. “The letter represents an attempt to police political speech on campus that simply disregards the voices of a growing number of UC students and faculty,” wrote Rebecca Pierce, a member of UC Santa Cruz’s Committee for Justice in Palestine, in an e-mail to me. “The divestment bills students presented throughout California this year were endorsed by a broad coalition of campus organizations representing a wide range of communities.”

The student-authored resolutions pushed for divestment from a number of Israeli military-linked companies UC has investments in, like Caterpillar, Northrop Grumman, Hewlett-Packard and more.

“It’s just totally inappropriate for the legislature to tell the UC regents…to take sides on something that’s a debate on a public issue on campus,” said David Mandel, a California-based attorney active in the movement for peace in Israel/Palestine. “This is in the context of huge attacks that have been going on…targeting advocates of Palestinian rights, particularly Arabs and Muslims, but also other supporters including Jews…It’s just another example of trying to quell this speech expressing a particular opinion.”

The letter was a priority for the Jewish Public Affairs Committee of California , and was also backed by the Anti-Defamation League, a member of JPAC. JPAC includes a number of other Jewish organizations as well, including local Jewish Federations and Jewish Community Relations Councils.

In May 2013, JPAC, whose board chair Dave Rand is a former Political Director for the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, held an advocacy day in Sacramento.

JPAC advocates “mingle[d]” and “schmooze[d]” with California legislators during the advocacy day. “[W]ith a strong and united voice, advocates met with over 50 senators and assembly members at the capitol and advocated on three issues,” a JPAC press release states. “The third [issue] was not a bill, but asks that law makers sign onto a letter to the UC Regents thanking them for their stance against divestment from companies that do business with Israel.” JPAC said they have “a rate of 100% support from legislators on our policy priorities for this year.” 

JPAC’s claimed success isn’t stopping California-based advocacy groups on the left from mobilizing against the letter, though. A coalition of groups including National Lawyers Guild chapters in California, the Center for Constitutional Rights and Jewish Voice for Peace have authored a letter criticizing the legislators’ effort that will be delivered to California officials this week.

The coalition writes that the legislators’ letter could leave students “bullied and intimidated” and chill free speech. A JPAC spokesperson would only say they “disagree” with those criticisms. 

The coalition also criticizes a factual error contained in the legislators’ letter. While the legislators’ letter says that the divestment resolutions targeted Israel itself, the coalition notes that the resolutions were about “specific (mostly if not all U.S.-based) corporations that profit from and support concrete Israeli government violations of international law, human rights and equality. We can think of no other explanation for this misstatement except that the letter’s authors sought to obfuscate the nature of the resolutions in order to gain support for their goals.”

The back and forth between legislators and advocates for Palestinian rights is just the latest chapter in the battle over BDS in California. Last year, the California legislature passed a resolution known as HR 35, which denounced alleged anti-Semitism on California campuses and condemned the BDS movement. HR 35 was drafted with the help of the Simon Wiesenthal Center. Earlier this year, the JCRC held an invitation-only conference in Burlingame, California aimed at combatting divestment initiatives in churches.

The JCRC’s Bay Area executive director, Rabbi Doug Kahn, also attended the JPAC advocacy day, where Jewish groups asked legislators to sign on to the anti-BDS letter.

Here’s the letter in full:

CA Legislators’ Anti-BDS Letter

Here’s the list of California legislators who have signed on so far:

Senators

Steinberg

Anderson

Leno

De León

Huff

Lieu

Emmerson

Wolk

Gaines

DeSaulnier

Torres

Roth

Evans

Jackson

Block

Galgiani

Assemblymembers

Blumenfield

Bloom

Dickenson

Hall

Conway

Das Williams

Levine

Buchanan

Bonilla

Calderon

Chau

Rendon

Patterson

Fox

Olsen

Stone

Daly

V. Manuel Perez

Ting

Fox

Alex Kane
About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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15 Responses

  1. Henry Norr
    Henry Norr
    June 18, 2013, 2:54 pm

    Anyone know where I can find a printed, rather than hand-written, list of the signers? I’ve tried a bunch of the links in this post but haven’t found it. Many of us in California would like to know which of our legislators signed this latest piece of BS, but the handwritten signatures on the Scribd version are hard to make out.

    • Alex Kane
      Alex Kane
      June 18, 2013, 6:36 pm

      Hi Henry,

      I should have done that initially. I updated the post with the list of legislators who have signed on. Note that it may be an incomplete list; more may have signed on.

  2. seafoid
    seafoid
    June 18, 2013, 3:14 pm

    While israeli businessmen tell Netanyahu the current policy is very bad for the Israeli economy. BDS is winning.

    • seafoid
      seafoid
      June 19, 2013, 6:37 am

      Meanwhile the news continues to roll in

      http://www.haaretz.com/news/presidential/former-mossad-chief-and-ambassadors-ask-what-is-israel-s-role-in-changing-mideast-1.530561

      Former Mossad chief Meir Dagan headlined a major panel Wednesday focusing on the role of Israel in a changing Middle East, at the fifth presidential conference in Jerusalem.
      The panel, scheduled for the second day of President Shimon Peres’ Facing Tomorrow conference, considers steps Israel should take amid the upheaval of the Arab Spring and the violent civil war in Syria.
      Other speakers on the panel include former ambassadors Israeli and American ambassadors including Dore Gold, Daniel Kurtzer and Itamar Rabinovich, and Sima Shine, the head of the Strategic Division at Israel’s Ministry of Strategic Affairs.
      LIVE BLOG:
      13:22 P.M. Dagan: IDF can protect Israel from any border . If the political need will be as such that the Jordan valley will not be in Israeli hands. Using security for political reason is a mistake.
      13:10 P.M.: Dagan: Should we wait for Hamas to take over the West Bank? The sooner we enter dialogue the better for Israel.
      13:06 P.M. Dagan: The peace process with the Palestinians is a necessity for Israel. Abu mazen has opposition in his own community , without creating backing for him in the Arab world he can’t sign.
      13:01 P.M. Kurtzer: Let’s say you agree that this is not the time for final status, why would you dig yourself into a deeper hole with settlements every single day? The Arab world is now ready to deal with the state of Israel with certain parameters.
      12:59 P.M. Itamar Rabinovich: It is damaging to say two-state solution is dead.

  3. Blaine Coleman
    Blaine Coleman
    June 18, 2013, 3:20 pm

    These blowhards are powerless. Students will speak up for resolutions to boycott Apartheid Israel to the maximum extent allowed by law. The blowhards will just have to live with that.

    There are many ways to say “Boycott Israel”:

    http://dearbornboycottsisrael.blogspot.com/

    Here’s hoping that early September sees many students demanding boycott-Israel resolutions as a matter of basic human rights.

  4. Krauss
    Krauss
    June 18, 2013, 3:33 pm

    The institutional bias will continue, but they’re losing the campus in record time. Now even the Berkeley student body has gone against them.

    • seafoid
      seafoid
      June 18, 2013, 5:08 pm

      When a well organized but numerically small group exerts such control over policy it requires continuous leverage over the public . It isn’t enough to buy the legislature. If the public drift away there is no fear and the whole thing falls apart eventually.

      The bots should study the case of the News of the World.

  5. Mike_Konrad
    Mike_Konrad
    June 18, 2013, 4:31 pm

    they would only divest from a country the U.S. government deemed was committing genocide.

    Didn’t they divest from South Africa?

    SA was bad, but not genodical.

    In any event, I do NOT support BDS.

    But that official 2010 explanation made no sense at all.

  6. Tom Pessah
    Tom Pessah
    June 18, 2013, 8:51 pm

    >>UC officials have reiterated time and time again that they will not divest from Israel based on student government recommendations, making the resolutions symbolic.

    the students’ demands have not yet been accepted by the Regents, but that doesn’t make them any more “symbolic” than the demands of the Civil Rights Movement or any other human rights cause. The 1980s movement against South African apartheid also faced strong opposition from the UC Regents, but its eventual successes were anything but symbolic.

  7. yourstruly
    yourstruly
    June 18, 2013, 9:23 pm

    bds contributes to an antagonistic environment for students who support Israel?

    but during the Vietnam war didn’t the antiwar movement contribute to an antagonist environment for students who supported that war?

    and didn’t the anti-South African apartheid movement unnerve students who approved apartheid in that nation?

    and didn’t the anti-Iraq war movement contribute to an antagonist environment for students who favored that war?

    and don’t pro-choice actions on college campuses discombobulate pro-life students?

    so why is it that these politicians get upset if some students happen to be discomfited by campus movements for justice in palestine, but properly mind their own business when it comes to campus mobilizations against injustices elsewhere?

    what’s so special about Israel that it’s held to be immune to criticism for its crimes against humanity?

    says who?

  8. giladg
    giladg
    June 19, 2013, 8:21 am

    Anyone who has been on campus to witness the bullying and threats of violence and actual acts of physical and verbal abuse by pro-Palestinian supporters, should understand that the aggressive nature of this type of behavior is the slap in the face of free speech. The letter above will go a long way to encourage free speech. When a pro-Israel speaker stands up on campus to get his or her two words in, this letter will assist in this endeavor. The radicals need to learn to listen. But of course you are so sure that your position is right, why bother listening to anyone with a different opinion.

  9. Hostage
    Hostage
    June 19, 2013, 10:10 am

    It applauds the UC Regents for their 2010 statement that they would only divest from a country the U.S. government deemed was committing genocide.

    Why do the Regents only divest in the cases of genocide? The USA and every other government in the world have laws that target war crimes and crimes against humanity too.

    In the Wall Case, a Jewish jurist, Judge Higgins, pointed out that it was self-evident that Israel was violating international law and that an illegal situation like that is not to be recognized or assisted by third parties. She didn’t apologize to regents or students “who support Israel,”. She said it was everyone’s responsibility to bring the illegal situation to an end.

    • piotr
      piotr
      June 19, 2013, 11:04 am

      I think your reading is wrong. Clearly, a government can commit genocide without US government “deeming” so. For example, US government still has not formed an opinion if the massacres of Armenians during WWI were a genocide or not. Perhaps another 100 years will suffice to clear that issue. OTOH, if US government bestirs itself and does the “deeming” it normally imposes very severe sanctions and the Regents may join (regardless of the factual basis of the “deeming”, which may be thin).

      So the true restriction declared by the Regents is that UC students, faculty and administrators should remain loyal and obedient subjects and they should never exhibit initiatives that go beyond official government declarations.

      • Hostage
        Hostage
        June 20, 2013, 4:45 am

        I think your reading is wrong. Clearly, a government can commit genocide without US government “deeming” so.

        I’ve long since pointed out that the international convention on apartheid says that certain acts in the convention on genocide may also be considered acts of apartheid. While criminal liability for genocide only attaches when the requisite mens rea is present, criminal responsibility attaches for apartheid whenever the actus reus is occurs regardless of the motive involved.

        For example here is an extract from the Written Statement of Lebanon to the ICJ:

        “The construction of the wall and the resulting situation correspond to a number of the constituent acts of the crime of apartheid, as enumerated in Article 2 of the International Convention on the Suppression and Punishment of the Crime of Apartheid, adopted by the General Assembly on 30 November 1973: that is to say, the denial of the liberty and dignity of a group, the deliberate imposition on a group of living conditions calculated to cause its physical destruction in whole or in part, measures calculated to deprive a group of the right to work, the right to education and the right to freedom of movement and residence, the creation of ghettos, the expropriation of property, etc. Such actions constitute measures of collective punishment.”

        That can also be considered genocide. The Court did publish a finding that Israel’s wall had denied the Palestinians access to adequate sources of food, water, and health care. It also noted that the wall could not be justified on the grounds of Israel’s state security or necessity and ordered that the portions of the Wall in Palestinian territory be taken down or removed.

        Israel responded by constructing even more sections of wall which created additional walled-off ethnic enclaves. It ignored warnings from health experts and the agreed upon international watchdog, the ICRC that its policies were causing stunting, permanent developmental disabilities, and premature deaths in parts of the Palestinian population. That’s genocide. Full stop.

        So the true restriction declared by the Regents is that UC students, faculty and administrators should remain loyal and obedient subjects

        There is no duty for US citizens or third parties to assist Israelis in the commission of war crimes or crimes against humanity. The fact is that the US government is ignoring its obligations under the terms of the Chapter VII Security Council resolutions regarding the Armistice Lines (62 and 73) and it’s own multilateral undertakings to ensure that they are respected. See Article 24 and 25 of the UN Charter and the Tripartite Declaration Regarding the Armistice Borders : Statement by the Governments of the United States, The United Kingdom, and France, May 25, 1950
        http://www.yale.edu/lawweb/avalon/un/unchart.htm
        http://avalon.law.yale.edu/20th_century/mid001.asp

        The US is also under an obligation not to recognize any state that has acquired territory by war or any other qualification for statehood in violation of the UN Charter. See sections 201, & et seq of the Restatement (Third) of the Foreign Relations Law of the United States.

      • piotr
        piotr
        June 23, 2013, 2:42 pm

        Piotr: So the true restriction declared by the Regents is that UC students, faculty and administrators should remain loyal and obedient subjects

        Hostage: There is no duty for US citizens or third parties to assist Israelis in the commission of war crimes or crimes against humanity.

        First of all, Regents of UC can exercise their freedom precisely like that: “assisting” the Israelis and American companies marketing their products and services in the occupied territories. And it is not assistance per se, but merely declaration of moral (and financial) neutrality, something that can hardly be criminalized. I do not see why do you raise legal arguments here. The BDS resolutions are largely symbolic, and so are the statements of the Regents and the legislators. Thus I prefer a semiotic approach, i.e. deciphering of those symbol.

        Once I feed those statement to “piotr-translate”, I am getting: “Shut up you stupid brats. Wise people are running the Empire and you should just follow what they are saying.”

        If you follow your standards for what genocide is, using Agent Orange on Vietnam was a massive crime (the results included hundreds of thousands of infants either born dead or with birth defects). But not according to the Regents’ standard, because our State Department never made such a determination. Or closer in time and space, US congress outlawed supplying certain Central American governments with weapons on the account of their genocidal practices, and Israel used that as the marketing opportunity, and according to Regents’ standard, if US State Department did not make a relevant determination, it is not something that the students and faculty should worry their little heads about.

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