WASHINGTON - Last month, UC Berkeley student senate voted 16 - 4 in favor of a divestment bill calling on the university to halt its investments to the companies General Electric and United Technologies, "which support war crimes". The two companies supply the Israel Air Force with F-16 and Black-Hawk engines. But following an Israeli diplomatic effort, assisted by pro-Israeli students of the Hillel Foundation, the decision was overturned last week.
In response to the bill, which has no practical significance and serves only as a recommendation, Will Smelko, president of the Associated Students of the University of California, was bombarded with some 12,000 emails from the bill's opponents. Smelko used his authority to veto the bill, and the student senators called a meeting on Thursday in an attempt to override the veto.
The bill's backers presented letters of support from Nobel laureate Desmond Tutu, and authors Naomi Klein and Alice Walker. The body that was behind the decision, the Jewish Voice for Peace, is made up of Jews and Israelis who support penalizing Israel.
It includes activists Daniel Boyarin, a Jewish history researcher, Hannah Kronfeld, a Hebrew literature lecturer, and Ofra Ben-Artzi, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu's sister-in-law, who was in the past detained during a protest in Sheikh Jarrah.
The pro-Israel corner presented a letter of support from Nobel laureate Elie Wiesel, and authors Amos Oz and A.B. Yehoshua. The supporters of the Geneva Initiative and leftist organizations J-Street and the New Israel Fund also expressed their support.
Israeli Consul General in San Francisco Akiva Tor spoke before the student senate and explained that Israel is trying to work towards the establishment of a Palestinian state and that this bill harms Israel's ability to defend itself.
Tor suggested the students instead work to have the university cut its investments in the Iranian energy sector, saying it is Iran that is holding Berkeley graduates in prison and accusing them of espionage, while building a nuclear bomb to threaten Israel.
In order to achieve a victory in Thursday's vote, the students needed a majority of 14 votes, but ultimately, only 13 student senators voted for the bill, meaning the decision to call off the "boycott" remains unchanged.