We, the officers and board of Scholars for Peace In the Middle East (SPME) and the 55,000 academics we represent worldwide, recently issued a letter regarding the unfortunate vote by the University of California-Berkeley Student Senate accusing Israel of war crimes and calling for a divestment from all companies doing business with Israel. At the time we expressed our concern about the one-sidedness of the resolution and about the narrowly shaped premises on which it was based. In the letter we further noted that public policy should never be made on the basis of propaganda, lies, half truths, and partisan politics. We recognize that while the interest of the ASUC Student Senate in supporting universal human rights and equality is laudable, we also recognize that the resolution they allowed themselves to be talked into will have the exact opposite effect by attacking and isolating the one only truly democratic, open and multicultural country in the region.
As an organization of scholars dedicated to the proposition that discussions on campuses of higher education should be well-informed and civil, we are disappointed that a student body of the caliber for which UC-Berkeley is known, could be so easily pushed in this direction. The “Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions” campaign of which the Student Senate has now become a part does not at all serve to move the region toward dialogue and peace, but in fact only serves to radicalize the extremes,to harden positions and to make a peaceful resolution thereby even more remote.
We understand that the president of the UC Berkeley Student Body, Will Smelko, after due consideration, vetoed the resolution. As scholars from a variety of fields and disciplines we applaud Mr. Smelko’s actions and we call on the students of UC-Berkeley to support his thoughtful lead in this matter. We urge the student body to engage in informed, educated and open dialogue on these issues and not to resort to simplistic and one-sided resolutions when it comes to complex topics like the state of the current Middle East.
The President and Board of Scholars for Peace in the Middle East
Peter J. Haas
Abba Hillel Silver Professor of Jewish Studies
Chair, Department of Religious Studies
Case Western Reserve University