UC Berkeley encampment comes down after school agrees to review investments

Antiwar student protesters at the University of California, Berkeley, began dismantling their encampment Tuesday after reaching an agreement with administrators at the school over its Israel-related investments.

Protesters had been calling for the university to completely divest from weapons manufacturers and other Israeli businesses that have ties to military operations in Gaza, including weapons manufacturers and surveillance companies.

High-level investment decisions cannot be made by individual institutions under the University of California system, but instead fall to the UC Board of Regents.

Because UC Berkeley administrators cannot independently divest from all companies, Chancellor Carol Christ agreed to support and initiate a “rigorous examination” of the school’s investments.

“The University of California has decided in the past to divest from businesses that were determined to not be aligned with our values,” Christ wrote in one of two letters sent to protest organizers. “We should examine whether UC Berkeley’s investments continue to align with our values or should be modified in order to do so.”

She also said Berkeley would investigate discrimination complaints against Palestinian students and establish a task force by the end June to review financial dealings involving the UC Berkeley Foundation, a private fundraising entity.

The concessions end a three-week standoff between antiwar protesters and school administrators, who walked a tightrope for much of the year, trying to balance free speech rights with concerns over antisemitism and Islamophobia.

University officials decided early on not to call police unless absolutely necessary. Unlike other universities where students were arrested or tussled sometimes violently with counterprotesters, UC Berkeley’s encampment was largely peaceful.

No one was arrested and no fights broke out. The encampment, which grew to some 200 tents, featured daily activities, including student- and faculty-led lectures, arts programming, film screenings and an interfaith seder during Passover.

Even though the encampment was dismantled, protesters vowed to continue fighting for divestment across the University of California system. On Wednesday, they took their demonstrations to the University of California, Merced, where the board of regents is holding a three-day meeting.

“This is not a victory,” UCB Divest Coalition, one of the protest organizing bodies, said in a statement. “Our fight continues to a new terrain.”

On Tuesday, a handful of people spoke against the war in Gaza during opening remarks at the Merced meeting. Many echoed calls for divestment from Israeli companies with ties to the country’s military operations, drawing parallels to 1986, when the university system divested from South Africa’s stock holdings during apartheid.

In his presentation, Jagdeep Singh Bachher, the university system’s chief investment officer, outlined UC’s vast financial dealings. More than 18% of the $175 billion investment portfolio is tied to Israel, he said.

Of that total, antiwar student protesters are asking the system to divest some $32 billion, according to Bachher.

“These assets belong to the entire university,” he said, adding that 350,000 people, including employees and retirees, depend on returns to pay for pensions and health benefits.

“Anytime we’ve done things about buying and selling things from the portfolio, we’ve aimed to do it uniformly across all the portfolios that we manage at the University of California, not for any one group of constituents,” he said. “That is the responsibility we take very seriously.”

On other college campuses, antiwar protests appear to have dwindled as commencements take place. Students at Harvard University took down their encampment on Tuesday, a day after students at Williams College in Massachusetts dismantled theirs.

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