ASUC Senate Still Undecided on Vetoed Divestment Bill

By Allie Bidwell and Nick Myers

Following a nearly nine-hour discussion that began at 10:30 p.m. Wednesday evening and lasted into Thursday morning, ASUC senators have yet to reach a decision on whether or not they would uphold or override President Will Smelko’s March 24 veto of a controversial bill urging the student government and the UC to divest from two companies that have supplied Israel with materials for alleged war crimes.

After an initial 12-7-1 vote to uphold Smelko’s veto, the senate tabled the bill and will reconsider it next week. Several senators said they would work to alter the bill.

The one abstaining vote made by Student Action Senator Minji Kim resulted from what she said was a lack of sufficient qualifications to vote on such an issue.

CalSERVE Senator and Academic Affairs Vice President-Elect Viola Tang, who voted to uphold the veto, motioned to reconsider the vote to override the veto an hour and a half after senate discussion initially began.

Following nearly two more hours of discussion, the senate decided to table the motion to override the veto. The meeting adjourned soon after.

Student Action Senator Sandra Cohen, who voted to uphold the veto, said that it was not fair that after nine hours of discussion nobody’s questions were fully answered.

“By the end of the night, it was either one community wins, or the other community wins,” Cohen said.

However, CalSERVE Senator Rahul Patel said despite the length of the meeting, it was a productive and “fruitful” event.

A nearly month-long debate over the bill has drawn the attention of prominent public figures and organizations from across the world. The much-anticipated meeting last night attracted over 400 students, faculty and community members, at least 200 of whom remained at the meeting until it was adjourned. Due to the unexpected turnout of supporters from all sides, the meeting had to be moved several times from Eshleman Library, to the Martin Luther King Jr. Student Union Multicultural Center and finally to the Pauley Ballroom.

“If this bill was about any other country, we would not have a room packed this full tonight,” said independent Senator Huda Adem.

The meeting drew the opinions of over 50 public speakers, including UC Berkeley rhetoric professor Judith Butler, Consul General of Israel for the Pacific Northwest Akiva Tor and a phoned-in statement from Richard Falk, UN special rapporteur on human rights in the occupied Palestinian territory.

Proponents of the bill said they would feel discriminated against if the senate voted to uphold the veto, while opponents said they would feel discriminated against if the veto was overridden.

Rabbi Adam Naftalin-Kelman, the executive director of Berkeley Hillel, said he felt overriding the veto would be detrimental to the Jewish student population at UC Berkeley because students told him they would feel unsafe and uncomfortable being a Jewish student on campus.

“It will definitely cause a decrease in the number of Jewish students willing to attend Cal,” he said.

Independent Senator-Elect Waseem Salahi said he felt the voices of those hoping to override the veto had not been heard, but that this meeting presented an opportunity for those opinions to be expressed.

“People scream all the time, but it is the screams that have been muffled that are the most important to hear,” he said. “These are the screams that are usually so quiet-a suffocated cry that we, decorated by our own privilege, can barely notice. But tonight these screams are not quiet, even though some have attempted to muffle them through manipulation and a seemingly unstoppable sense of entitlement.”

Throughout the night, senators attempted to keep discussion flowing and applauded the attendees that remained for the duration.

“Justice doesn’t sleep,” said independent Senator Jonathan Gaurano. “What happened tonight was dialogue, awareness, conversation, enlightenment, turmoil and hope.”

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