Posted by yaman
Perhaps the most important success of the divestment movement at Berkeley has been overlooked. Yes, it is true that a super majority of the student senate supported divestment from Israeli war crimes and the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. It is true that the vote was reversed only after pro-Israel mobilization kicked in to remind people where the interests of power reside. It is true that it was thus clear to all, including the flip-flopping senators, what the “right” thing to do was. It was also clear that the right thing to do, would not be the easy thing to do.
Yet the greater success lies elsewhere. While many have hailed the diversity of the bill’s proponents, few have pointed out that these coalitions were built in spite of extensive and expensive campaigns by pro-Israel propagandists to conjure an image of Israel as the natural cause for people of color, queer communities, and other progressive-minded activists working on environmental issues. In and of itself this is a huge victory for Palestinians and their supporters, and a huge defeat for the Israeli propaganda machine.
For years, groups like BlueStarPR have attempted to outfit the pro-Israel groups like Israel Action Committee and Tikvah: Students For Israel with posters and talking points meant to produce such an image. Yet despite those crude and tokenizing appeals to queer, Black, feminist, Latino, and environmental groups, not a single organization genuinely affiliated with those causes stood with pro-Israel students against the divestment resolution.
Instead, they all joined the diverse chorus of voices supporting divestment.
One answer is the obvious point that no amount of distortion can whitewash Israel’s crimes. But an answer more helpful to those hoping to replicate Berkeley’s coalition-building success elsewhere is that, in contrast to pro-Israel students and organizations, Students for Justice in Palestine never treated its connections to other groups as merely strategic. What separated our interest from that of Israel’s apologists was that our interest in other people’s struggles was never a matter of strategy.
Unlike BlueStarPR and the like, we do not distort, in highly tokenizing and offensive ways, the views of Martin Luther King Jr., in order to shore up the support of “the Blacks.” While pro-Israel groups try to “prove” that Black people “should” support Israel, because it would “look good” if “the Blacks” were on Israel’s side, SJP students, if they are not of those communities, seek to learn from them and work with them — irrespective of our interests in Palestine. We do not think — like Tikvah — that Black students on campus are so malleable and naive that merely mentioning Reverend King will result in their blind support. We rely on rational argument and the juxtaposition of social injustices, rather than the production of images by public relations and communications “experts.”
Our struggle occurs in light of the struggles of others. It is much more than a common aspiration for an ambiguous justice. We clash with power side by side. We are ready to put ourselves on the line with our brothers and sisters fighting for justice, whether they are queer, Black, Latin@, or any other group. Our struggle is the same as other struggles, and thus our interest guides us to know more about the peoples we feel at home with because we fight their battles and they fight ours. We seek allies, brothers, sisters, and friends in our struggle — not props.
More than anything else it was our substantive solidarity work and coalition building with other campus organizations that enabled the success of the divestment mobilization. It was not merely the persuasiveness of our arguments. It was also thanks to close alliances we have cultivated over the past several years. We had credibility as activists and as people with a consistent view and willingness to work on social justice issues.
This kind of coalition building is the kind of mobilization that will yield allies and activists who are willing to attend 3 consecutive senate meetings, from dusk until dawn. This kind of coalition building is the kind of mobilization that transforms us from a single-issue interest group to one that is embedded in a wider struggle. We must see the broader framework under which Israeli apartheid, US imperialism, and global capitalism occur in order to understand the framework under which our struggle to defeat them takes place. In other words, coalition work suggests not only the parallels between struggles, but rather the impossibility of one to succeed without the others.
If there is one thing to be learned from the Berkeley example, it is that we only stand to gain by learning more about other issues and applying ourselves to them as passionately as we apply ourselves to the liberation of Palestine.