Berkeley Caves to Anti-Israel Protesters and Launches Divestment Task Force

Berkeley chancellor declares support for ‘permanent ceasefire’ and says boycott of Israel study abroad is on the table

Carol Christ (Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images)
May 15, 2024

University of California Berkeley’s chancellor on Tuesday pledged to declare her support for a "permanent ceasefire," launch a divestment task force to review the Berkeley endowment’s stock holdings, and entertain potential boycotts of Israeli study abroad programs. In exchange, anti-Israel activists whom she praised for their "efforts to peacefully protest the extraordinary death and destruction in Gaza," dismantled their encampments which took over a swath of campus over the last three weeks.

University chancellor Carol Christ, who laid out the concessions in letters to the protesters and the academic senate, said that the university cannot explicitly target companies based on their ties to Israel. Still, she promised activists that she will launch a divestment task force by the end of June to review the university foundation’s investments in industries profiting from "weapons manufacturing, mass incarceration, and/or surveillance."

"I, too, am concerned about the horrific killing of tens of thousands of Palestinians as well as the destruction of the Palestinian educational infrastructure," Christ said. "I plan to make a public statement by the end of the month sharing my personal support for government officials’ efforts to secure an immediate and permanent ceasefire. Such support for the plight of Palestinians, including protest, should not be conflated with hatred or anti-Semitism."

The concessions come as Berkeley leaders face national criticism as well as a lawsuit and congressional probe over its alleged failures to curb campus anti-Semitism, particularly after Hamas’s Oct. 7 terrorist attacks on Israel. Just a few months ago, Christ refused Berkeley Jewish students’ request that she publicly stand up for Israel defenders’ rights to free speech on campus after protesters violently derailed a presentation by an Israeli lawyer.

Berkeley is not the first California university to cave to anti-Israel protesters. Last week, Sacramento State University promised it would overhaul its entire investment strategy at the protesters’ behest, and earlier this month U.C. Irvine said it may pull Sabra hummus from its food offerings because of its Israel connections.

Berkeley encampment leaders declared on Instagram that "this is not a victory," and vowed to take their fight to a "new terrain" targeting the University of California governing body, which is ultimately responsible for setting system-wide investment policies. They nonetheless began dismantling their tents after receiving Christ’s letter.

Christ invited students to "formally report any anti-Palestinian discrimination in institutions with which we have existing global exchange and internship programs" and said the university will consider ending these programs "if remedy is unavailable." The U.C. Berkeley Divest Coalition—a primary driver of the campus protests—sees this as a "pathway to boycott Israeli university programs on grounds of anti-Palestinian and anti-Arab discrimination," according an Instagram statement.

The U.C. Berkeley Divest Coalition also blasted the negotiation process with Berkeley leaders as showing how "university bureaucracy perpetuates U.S. imperialism."

"By confronting the Zionist state, our revolt has cut to the heart of U.S. empire," the group said. "For seven months, the Palestinian Genocide has held up a mirror to American imperial liberalism—and liberals cannot bear the sight of their own reflection."

In a separate letter to Berkeley’s academic senate, Christ defended her concessions as "consistent with this university’s long-standing approach to nonviolent civil disobedience, which has often, in the past, resulted in the campus administration agreeing to requested actions or the exploration of institutional changes that do not violate university existing policies or values."

Assistant vice chancellor of executive communications Dan Mogulof downplayed the significance of Christ’s concessions. In a statement he said that "U.C. Berkeley does not make investment policy or investment decisions"—which the University of California’s governing body oversees—and that "no commitments were made about outcomes." On the potential boycott of Israel study abroad programs, he said such a decision is "the sole responsibility of the university administration."

Yet critics view Christ’s stance as another example of university leaders caving to anti-Semitic activists.

"I think that it is indicative of the rot in academia that someone responsible for the academic and social growth of next generations would effectively kowtow to those who ignore Jew-hatred," said Brandy Shufutinsky, director of education and community engagement at the Jewish Institute for Liberal Values.

U.C. Berkeley’s anti-Israel protest encampment lasted three weeks and came on the heels of months of campus unrest and harassment of Jewish faculty and students.

Earlier this year, U.C. Berkeley activists launched a 10-week blockade of a main campus artery, which morphed into the encampment by April. Violent anti-Israel protesters vandalized a campus building and assaulted Jewish students attending a lecture by an Israeli attorney and IDF reservist. University administrators abruptly canceled the event but offered no apology to the speaker, nor did they introduce him when he later returned to campus.

Anti-Israel activists also posted a blood libel cartoon targeting the university’s Jewish law school dean on social media and around campus, and then derailed a dinner he hosted for graduating students at his home.