Readies a Boycott of Israelis and Palestinians
April 23, 2002
San Francisco Chronicle
by Chuck Squatriglia
Divestiture Seen As Way to Bring Peace
Having led the nation in divesting from South Africa and helping
bring an end to apartheid, the Berkeley City Council tonight will
consider clearing the city's portfolio of investments in Israel
and Palestinian territory in an attempt to bring peace to the Middle
The ambitious plan also calls on City Hall to boycott firms doing
business with Israel and the Palestinians and would prohibit the
purchase of products made there. Backers believe it would make Berkeley
the first city to boycott the two sides.
No one backing the proposal by the city's Peace and Justice Commission
believes that Berkeley alone can end the violence. But they hope
other cities will follow its lead, creating economic incentive for
Jews and Palestinians to make peace.
"Berkeley is a small city, and its economy is not going to
make or break the Middle East," said commissioner Steve Freedkin.
"But if others follow suit, it could have quite an impact."
The true effect of the measure remains to be seen, as no one at
City Hall had a clue yesterday how much money Berkeley has invested
in the region, nor did anyone know how many contracts it holds with
companies doing business with Israel and the Palestinians.
City Manager Weldon Rucker is urging the council to delay action
until May 28 so he can answer those questions. He also wonders how
the measure would be adopted and enforced.
"Managing this thing would be a major undertaking," said
Fred Medrano, who supervises the Peace and Justice Commission for
Rucker. "The finance department is real concerned with its
ability to implement this."
If the measure is approved, every city investment and contract
would have to be reviewed. The effect could be huge because some
of the nation's biggest companies, including General Electric, Hewlett-Packard,
Cisco Systems, AOL Time Warner and Microsoft do business in Israel.
While there is mounting pressure on many college campuses -- including
the University of California at Berkeley -- for universities to
divest from Israel, Berkeley is unique in making targets of both
Israel and the Palestinians.
"We feel that all parties need to respect human rights and
provide for peace and security in the region," Freedkin said.
Although the council probably will delay deciding on divestiture,
it is expected to embrace the commission's more mainstream proposals,
including "supporting all efforts by individuals and groups
toward a just peace in Israel and Palestine."
Berkeley has long used its pocketbook to influence global affairs
with varying degrees of success. Its pioneering decision to divest
from South Africa in 1979 was widely seen as a turning point in
the effort to end apartheid.
But the U.S. Supreme Court two years ago unanimously barred Berkeley
and other cities from boycotting Burma because the United States
must speak with one voice in foreign affairs.
In an embarrassing turn of events, the city in 1997 had to scramble
to find a gasoline supplier when it decided to boycott Nigeria,
precluding it from dealing with most petroleum firms.