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Students push Israeli divestment

David Scharfenberg
Thursday September 19, 2002

A small group of UC Berkeley students and activists called on the University of California to divest from Israel at a UC Board of Regents meeting in San Francisco Wednesday. 

“We’re starting an anti-apartheid movement,” said Hoang Phan of campus group Students for Justice in Palestine, which spearheaded the movement launched last spring. 

But the 26-member Board of Regents, which oversees the nine-campus UC system, was unmoved. 

“I don’t think we should get involved,” said Regent David Lee, arguing that the panel’s primary responsibility is to seek a solid return on university investments and provide a strong education for its students. 

The students claim that more than $6.4 billion of UC’s $52 billion portfolio is invested in companies that either produce or sell weapons technology to Israel or have substantial business operations in the country. 

UC spokesperson Trey Davis said he takes issue with some of the companies, like McDonald’s, listed by SJP. 

“If your argument is to remove military weapons, then it’s not clear that burgers and fries are, as yet, arms,” he quipped. 

But, Davis added, the university is not concerned with the divestment list, because the Regents have not taken up the issue. 

In a statement released several months ago, John J. Moores, chairman of the Board of Regents, laid out the panel’s position. 

The statement said the Regents “value and welcome the ideas of faculty, staff and students,” including calls for divestment. 

“The Regents also have a fiduciary responsibility to protect the security of the university’s pension and endowment funds,” the statement continued. “Those investments currently provide benefits to thousands of UC retirees and support university scholarship and research efforts.” 

Amy Aisen, a UC Santa Cruz graduate student and member of Students for Justice in Palestine, argued that divestment would have a minimal impact on UC’s portfolio and would send a powerful message to Israel, encouraging the country to change its policies. 

The UC system partially divested from South Africa in 1985, and students said the Regents should take similar steps in Israel. 

But Regent Lee took exception with students’ efforts to compare Israeli rule to South Africa’s apartheid government of the 1980s. 

“I don’t think it’s the right comparison,” he said. “[The Middle Eastern conflict] has been there for a thousand years, two thousand years.” 

Phan said the comparison is a fair one because Israel has contained Palestinians to specific geographic areas and deprived them of the same legal protections enjoyed by Jewish Israelis. The white South African government did the same to blacks, he said.  

Roughly 6,000 students and 200 faculty systemwide have signed petitions calling for divestment from Israel.