However, Joey Freeman, who served on the UCSA board last year and publicly opposed its bill, candidly told me, “If it was the other way around, I don’t know if Tikvah (the pro-Israel advocacy group on campus) would reach out to [SJP] either.” Instead, Freeman put the blame on UCSA board members. Shahryar Abbasi, who represents Berkeley at the UCSA, said in an email, “[T]here were procedural mistakes made and they are being addressed.” That seems to suggest that the matter would soon be settled as merely a bureaucratic issue, but it is more than that.
The UCSA resolution also responded to HR 35’s attack on the SJP-supported movement to boycott, divest from, and sanction (BDS) parties complicit in the Israeli occupation of the Palestinians, calling the tactics “important social movement tools” and encouraging divestment from all countries with human rights violations (although Israel was the only one specifically referenced). Had there been more debate allowed at the proceedings, Freeman believed, “there probably would have been more of a discussion around BDS itself rather than the procedure.”
Tom Pessah, a Jewish-Israeli Berkeley grad student and a co-author of the UCSA bill, argues just the opposite: that this attack on the procedure of the UCSA bill is intended to “divert attention” from the content of the bill and BDS. “This has been the way to shut down discussion on Israel-Palestine for decades,” he said, recalling challenges to a hotly-debated divestment bill at UC Berkeley three years ago that critics claimed attacked and marginalized the Jewish community.
When pressed on whether he believed BDS was anti-Semitic, Freeman relented that BDS efforts at Berkeley should be protected under free speech: “I strongly disagree with it, but I do think they have the right to pursue it.”
With Freeman’s step forward the goose chase finally comes to an end. The allegations of silencing are revealed—at least in effect if not in intent—as functioning to divert attention from the content of the resolution, from talking frankly and openly about the “red line” of BDS, in line with a multiplicity of taboo topics smothered by a more formidable silence whenever the words “Israel” or “Palestine” are uttered in the mainstream.