Editorial | January 18th, 2024

A History of Double Standards

Berkeley City Council’s Record on International Human Rights

In mid-December Mayor Jesse Arreguin took a stand on refusing to calendar a resolution on a Ceasefire in Gaza. He said: “I don’t think Berkeley passing a resolution is going to change the outcome of the conflict. I don’t think Benjamin Netanyahu or Hamas is going to change their thinking on the basis of what the city of Berkeley does.” 


While that may well be true, it hasn’t stopped Arreguin from trumpeting Berkeley’s conscience in a myriad of international resolutions when it suits his politics, as recently as last year. “There’s this feeling of, what can we do about it, since we’re so far away?” Arreguín said. “But we have to do everything we can, whether it’s cutting diplomatic ties, donating or even just flying the Ukrainian flag. And we want to do more.” Perhaps he thinks we’re living in Orwell’s 1984 where government minions scrub past newspaper stories to reflect current political trends. Fortunately, we’re not there yet Jesse.


We do not pretend to be an authority on the history of the Berkeley City Council, but our experience and research suggest a pretty clear trend. The City Council is generally willing to take on any issue – no matter how irrelevant to city business, how unlikely to have any real world impact or how likely it is to be divisive within the community … with one obvious exception. The Council passed “useless” Impeachment Resolutions in 2006 and 2017. Over the years they have singled out damn near every bad actor nation state one can think of: Apartheid South Africa, China, Myanmar, Nigeria, Indonesia, Russia, the list goes on and on. They are also quick to come to the defense of oppressed people – usually of color and often indigenous – fighting for dignity and self-determination as in Tibet, East Timor and numerous other places around the world. There have also been plenty of divisive measures considered, including a resolution to ban the Marines from recruiting in Berkeley.  


The one glaring exception, the one country they won’t take on is our very own United States of America. Just kidding. Dozens of resolutions over the past decades have squarely taken on our leaders when public opinion in Berkeley has demanded it. Viewed against the backdrop of the current humanitarian apocalypse spiraling out of control in Gaza and the Council’s unwillingness to address it, these measures reek of hypocrisy. Take for example the language in section 2 of the resolution they passed five weeks (10/16/01) after over 3,000 Americans were killed in the World Trade Center bombings, when America, like Israel, was exercising its right to defend itself after a gruesome attack on its civilians:


Resolved to: “Ask our representatives to help break the cycle of violence, bringing the bombing to a conclusion as soon as possible, avoiding actions that can endanger the lives of innocent people in Afghanistan.” Where is that empathy now? And the numbers are telling. The Project on Defense Alternatives estimated that in a 3-month period between October 7, 2001, and January 1, 2002, between 1,000-1,300 civilians were directly killed by the U.S.-led aerial bombing campaign in Afghanistan. So, by October 16, 2001 when the Council took up the resolution how many civilians had American bombs killed? A couple hundred maybe? Nonetheless, this relatively negligible number of dead spoke to the humanitarian compassion of the City Council, while over 24,000 dead Palestinians including 10,000 children killed by the IDF raises only equivocation and retrenchment. It would appear that 3000 innocent American lives do not rise to the same level of outrage, nor do they demand the same level of violent response, acceptable to the Council as do 1200 Israeli lives.


In fact, we have only found two examples in the last 50 years where the Berkeley City Council failed to pass an “ineffective” resolution in defense of oppressed people. One was that Tuesday in December, when the Mayor and his two obstructionist partners on the Agenda Committee, Sophie Hahn and Susan Wengraf, refused to bring the Ceasefire Resolution to a vote, and the other was in 1988 when Councilmember Maudelle Shirek, a black woman, disturbed by the “state-sponsored violence in the occupied territories,” proposed making Jabalya in Gaza a sister city of Berkeley to give them some measure of protection. The City Council rejected Shirek’s characterizations and referred it to the city’s Peace and Justice Commission for further research. When the Commission called for adoption of the proposal, the Council rejected it and pro-Palestinian groups moved to put the measure on the ballot. Yes on J raised $10,000, mostly from local Muslim businesses while No on J raised $120,000 from donors all across the country. J went down to defeat. 


“The propositions are very dangerous,” said Rita Semel, director of the Jewish Community Relations Council in San Francisco at the time, “because they encourage local governments to take stands on international affairs. It is very divisive and diverts attention from local issues.” But wait … what about Russia, Indonesia, China, Myanmar, South Africa and every other repressive state under the sun? And talk about a small world, the Jewish Community Relations Council, which according to a pamphlet seeks to engage in “pro-Israel advocacy through community relations,” is the same organization that recently sponsored Mayor Arrequin’s 10 day all-expense-paid junket to Israel in May of 2022. It was money well spent.


And there are those buzzwords again: divisive, diverts attention from local issues. Thirty-five years on, Berkeley’s pro-Israel officials have really stayed on message … at least about Israel … only. And not just any Israel, but the extreme rightwing Israel of Benjamin Netanyahu, Bezalel Smotrich and Itamar Ben-Gvir. Finance Minister Smotrich wants to empty Gaza of Palestinians and National Security Minister Ben-Gvir, an admirer of Meir Kahane and mass murderer Baruch Goldstein, was convicted of providing support to a terrorist group. And with prison looming for Netanyahu when he’s no longer prime minister (sound familiar?), he needs to pander to these two unapologetic racists to keep his tenuous coalition in power … and himself out of prison. THIS is the Israeli government our City Council refuses to hold accountable.


It’s long past time to stand up to the bullies in our community, reject this racist double standard, and be true to our Berkeley ideals which value the humanity of ALL oppressed people and call to account those states that would deny such humanity … not just when it’s convenient.


Ceasefire Now!


(Again, we do not pretend to be omniscient on these matters though we did put in many hours looking for answers. Please submit names of other bad actor nations that the Council rallied around over the minority they were oppressing, a date range and a Resolution number and we commit to publishing that data because at the Flipside, we do not run from the truth.)




Further Reading/Sources: 


Berkeley’s progressive mayor parties in apartheid state – Mondoweiss 


Berkeley’s Sister-City Initiative – MERIP


Civilian casualties in the war in Afghanistan (2001–2021) – Wikipedia


Berkeley to cut ties with Russian sister cities until war’s end (berkeleyside.org)


Israel appoints far-right politician with a history of inciting racism as national security minister : NPR


U.S. Calls Out Far-right Israeli Ministers for Advocating Transfer of Palestinians Out of Gaza – Israel News – Haaretz.com



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