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Berkeley Rejects Mideast Boycott Measure

San Francisco Chronicle
April 24, 2002
by Charles Burress


Besieged by protests, the Berkeley City Council ducked out of the Middle East conflict last night when it rejected a proposed boycott of firms doing business with Israel and Palestinians.

The proceedings were sometimes drowned out by the cheers, shouts and singing of dozens of pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli demonstrators gathered on the steps of City Hall. The council chambers and interior hallway were closed by police after they became filled.

The intensely watched measure carried symbolic importance in the activist city, which played a pioneering role in the divestment movement that helped topple South African apartheid.

Last night's Middle East proposal would have outlawed city contracts and investments with firms "who do business in or with Israel and Palestine until the United Nations declares that peace has been restored." It also called for a boycott of products produced in Israel and the Palestinian areas.

Berkeley Mayor Shirley Dean said she had received hundreds of e-mails on the issue, running "99 to 1" against the proposal.

"While it purports to be even-handed, it clearly is aimed at Israel," said Dean, a member of the council's centrist-liberal minority.

The proposal came with a long list of firms with investments in Israel and none that are tied to the Palestinians, she said.

Six of the eight speakers who addressed the issue during the public comment period condemned the measure as anti-Israeli.

"If you genuinely care for peace, this is not the way to go," said University of California student Micki Weinberg. "This is a boycott against Israel."

One of the two speakers who did not share those views was Dena Al-Adeeb of the Women of Color Resource Center. She said that Israel had "reoccupied Palestine" and that the Israeli army has massacred residents of the Jenin refugee camp. "We need to divest from Israel until U.N. resolutions are respected and followed," she said.

More than 100 e-mails were sent to the council at the last-minute, and the overwhelming majority seemed opposed to the measure.

Councilman Kriss Worthington, who belongs to the left-leaning faction on the politically divided council, told The Chronicle that the proposal "gives the appearance of trying to be fair" but in fact amounts to "pseudo-fairness."

The effort is not like the anti-apartheid movement, he said, because it doesn't have a clear demand, like the end of apartheid, and lacks analysis of what the problem is.

The resolution was proposed by the city's Peace and Justice Commission in a resolution that said, in part: "Money talks. Many will abandon their support of Israel if their economic interests are threatened."

The resolution said boycotts and divestment campaigns were used also as "educational tools."