Saturday, July 17, 2010




You’d think tempers on University of California campuses last spring were hotter about the upcoming tuition increases than anything else. You’d be wrong.

The most contentious issue on the flagship Berkeley campus and the large campus in San Diego was about money, true, but the question students grappled with most loudly was whether the university’s Board of Regents should divest itself of investments in companies that help supply Israel’s military, specifically General Electric and United Technologies.

The divestment proposal considered by student senates on the two campuses was based on claims that Israel has committed war crimes and the two companies aid and abet that by supplying aircraft engines, helicopters and other military equipment.

The margins by which the divestment demands – not binding on the Regents in any case – lost were so narrow that this proposal is certain to be back during the next school year at these campuses and others.

At Berkeley, for instance, the student senate first passed a divestment resolution by a 16-4 vote, only to have student body President Will Smelko veto the measure. That margin was more than the supermajority needed to override his veto, but three yes votes evaporated in the days between meetings, and the veto was eventually sustained when the vote to override came in at 13-5, just a single vote short of an override.

All this, of course, was based on a bunch of flawed premises pushed by Palestinian activists and so-called “human rights” groups.

They complained, for instance, that Israel’s security barrier denies some Palestinians access to fields and orchards, even though it’s been re-routed many times to allow access where it’s possible without defeating security goals. They complain that the wall (actually a fence for 97 percent of its length) denies Palestinians access to medical care and to the territory of Israel itself. They contend that Israel denies political and human rights to Palestinians within Israel, in its occupied territories and the coastal enclave of Gaza.

These claims, full of falsehoods and half-truths as they are, find many sympathetic ears on UC campuses, where residents of Muslim countries make up a large portion of the almost 12,000 foreign students, whose ultra-high out-of-state tuition and fees subsidize the educations of thousands of in-state resident students. Their governments, and their often oil-wealthy parents, also donate additional funds to various campuses.

Those students have become extremely active politically on campuses. One example: they made up much of the crowd that shouted down Israeli Consul General Michael Oren when he attempted to speak on the UC Irvine campus last February. UCI in June suspended the Muslim Student Union for a year because of that incident.

Each claim these students regularly make against Israel is severely flawed. Complaints about the security fence, for instance, ignore the many suicide bombings carried out by Palestinians in the years before the barrier went up and the fact that now there are almost none. The gripe that Israel deprives Palestinians of civil rights ignores the free elections held in the West Bank and Gaza, which most recently produced the radically anti-Israel Hamas-led government of Gaza. It also ignores the fact that Israel’s Arab citizens, all ethnic Palestinians, enjoy the same rights as other Israelis, more civil rights and freedoms than are possessed by any Arab populace in any Arab nation.

The allegations of war crimes during Israel’s most recent incursion into Gaza, claims that Israel deliberately bombed schools and hospitals, ignore the fact – verified by international observers – that Hamas combatants regularly took shelter in such buildings (a war crime), using their occupants as human shields while they fired at Israeli troops. Claims that the incursion itself was illegal under international law consistently ignore thousands of rockets fired from Gaza into Israel during several prior years.

Given these facts, the remarkable thing was that any resolution demanding divestment from companies doing business with Israel could get anywhere. But the political determination of Muslim students at UC campuses gives them on-campus clout out of all proportion to their numbers.

Which means there’s a very good chance these resolutions will pass next year, placing Berkeley or any other UC campus that okays them among the most radically anti-Israel student bodies in the world. All that prevented passage at Berkeley this year was the courage of the student body president.

The Muslims and their allies, who include some leftist Jewish students and faculty, claim all this is not anti-Semitism. But the resolution at Berkeley singled out Israel, while ignoring all human rights violations in counties like Iran, Russia, Sudan, China and Rwanda, all among the most egregious violators of human rights on the planet, some of them sites of mass slaughters. If singling out the Jewish state for special condemnation when its actions don't even belong in the same category as those others’ is not anti-Semitism, it’s hard to see what is.

Email Thomas Elias at His book, "The Burzynski Breakthrough," is now available in a soft cover fourth edition. For more Elias columns, visit

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