Election Section

Commentary: Don’t Let Conservatives Silence Berkeley’s Voice By ELLIOT COHEN

Friday August 12, 2005

With U.S. forces in Afghanistan and Iraq, as North Korea boast about nuclear weapons, it’s amazing our elected officials appoint Peace and Justice commissioners opposed to bringing the troops home and creating a federal peace department. 

People who value peace and social justice should be concerned that conservative forces are seeking to mute our opposition to the war and silence Berkeley’s voice in the national dialogue. 

Every commissioner has a right to speak freely and vote as they please. Honest differences of opinion deserve respect. But “honest” is a key word when some commissioners harbor a secret agenda. In “Opposed to Department of Peace,” Commissioner Wornick deceitfully omits his father’s role as founder of the Wornick Company, the largest supplier of military food rations. 

To vote against a Department of Peace while his family profits from war, to vote against bringing the troops home while his family profits from keeping them on the ground in Iraq, raises clear ethical conflicts requiring investigation. 

Mr. Gertz wrote “The old Peace and Justice Commission was quick to jump on Israel, but passed not one resolution condemning suicide bombing … [or the] Arab mistreatment of women…” and Commissioner Seaton claims “…. the commission often has cared little about human rights violations, except  

when committed by the U.S. or it’s allies.” 

Both statements are false. The Peace and Justice Commission has condemned human rights abuses by Burma, China, Iran, Mexico, the U.S. and other countries. Before 9/11 we condemned the Taliban specifically for their treatment of women. The Rachel Corrie resolution that so infuriates Commissioner Seaton and Mr. Gertz condemns suicide bombing, stating “…the City of Berkeley … opposes the senseless killing of innocent civilians including Palestinians, Israelis and others…” 

Mr. Gertz justifies the new appointments, saying the new commissioners are not seeking resolutions against Israel or Palestine. That is not the issue. The issue is that they are destroying the Peace and Justice Commission’s ability to function on unrelated matters in an on-going hissy fit because two years ago we recommended Rachel Corrie’s death be investigated. 

And let’s be clear about that: All the Rachel Corrie resolution did was seek an investigation. It never condemned Israel, nor did it mention sanctions or divestment. As someone who abstained on the Rachel Corrie resolution and the resolution to divest from Israel and Palestine I have no ax to grind. As a Yeshiva-educated, Jewish member of this community I would have screamed from the roof tops if I felt Israel was “singled out.” And as a progressive Jew it offends me when extremists claiming to represent “the Jewish community” equate supporting Israel’s right to exist with its worst policies. 

Supporting Israel did not require backing its support of the former apartheid government of South Africa, nor does it require ignoring Rachel Corrie’s tragic death. Regardless of how one feels about Corrie, she engaged in civil disobedience, not violence, and requesting an investigation into the death of an American citizen is not unreasonable. 

That Mr. Gertz would “make toast” of the councilmember who cast the deciding vote against divesting from Israel because he voted for the Corrie resolution illustrates the extremist ideology of these conservatives. 

By law the Peace and Justice Commission develops proposals and advises City Council on international matters including abolishing nuclear weapons, supporting human rights and promoting peace (Berkeley Municipal Code § 3.68.070). When commissioners Kashner and Wornick obstruct that duty, saying we should only work on local issues, when Commissioner Seaton vilifies the reputation of the commission on which he serves by misrepresenting our human rights record, when Rabbi Litman tries to keep communications sent by the public from reaching commissioners because they “offend” her, and when she and commissioners Seaton and Wornick oppose reporting U.S. human rights violations since 9/11 to the U.N. because they are more concerned about the precedent for Israel than human rights, they commit perjury in their hearts and dishonor their oath to uphold the law. 

Before the 1960s Berkeley was similar to tens of thousands of non-descript college towns that dotted the nation. Today Berkeley is internationally known as a voice that speaks out against oppression. If Berkeley’s voice is silenced there will be one less candle in the darkness. 

These extremists are willing to destroy the Peace and Justice Commission, misrepresent our human rights record, and use the editorial pages of this newspaper to intimidate people into silence by implying that those who disagree with them are anti-Semites. These tactics of dishonesty and intimidation are the same tactics used by conservative Republicans. 

Conservatives have captured all three branches of the federal government. Now they are making their move right here in Berkeley. To be silent when attacked, as John Kerry did while the Swift Boat Veterans destroyed his reputation, is a strategy for failure. Those who support peace and social justice must stand our ground or we will lose it. We must speak out, and not allow ourselves to be intimidated. We must let Mayor Bates, councilmembers Capitelli, Olds, Wozniak, and School Board members Issel, Riddle and Rivera, who appointed these conservatives, know how we feel. 


Peace and Justice Commissioner Elliot Cohen sponsored the resolution urging Congress to pass legislation establishing a Department of Peace.