Berkeley human welfare commissioner fired for backing occupation divestment resolution
A commissioner for the city of Berkeley, California was fired for supporting a resolution calling on the city to consider divesting from corporations that operate in the illegally occupied Palestinian territories.
Cheryl Davila served on the Human Welfare and Community Action Commission (HWCAC) for over seven years, where she oversaw numerous human rights resolutions. In the summer of 2014, Commissioner Davila recalled being awestruck at the violence of Israel’s war on Gaza, code-named Operation Protective Edge, in which over 2,200 Palestinians were killed, the majority of whom were civilians, including more than 500 children.
“The Israeli bombardment was a disgraceful human rights violation that has caused a severe social welfare crisis, particularly for children, women, and the elderly in Gaza,” Commissioner Davila said. Numerous human rights groups and the UN accused Israel of intentionally targeting civilians and committing war crimes. “Given that Berkeley was one of the first municipalities to pass an anti-apartheid resolution in support of South African human rights, it is time for Berkeley to do the same for Palestinians who are living under an Apartheid regime,” she explained. “We cannot be silent any longer.”
The city of Berkeley has already approved ethical investment policies that call for divestment from fossil fuel corporations, gun manufacturers, tobacco companies, “oppressive states,” and the nuclear industry.
Commissioner Davila decided to propose a measure on behalf of Palestinian human rights. She authored the resolution “Conflict in Israel’s Impact on the City of Berkeley.” The measure calls for the city to “examine the feasibility of divesting all City of Berkeley direct holdings in companies complicit in on-going violations of human rights and International Law under Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territories.”
The resolution also recommends sending a letter from the City of Berkeley to the Board of Directors of California Public Employees’ Retirement System (CalPERS), “urging them to implement their existing responsible investment policies equitably and to divest all holdings in companies complicit in on-going violations of human rights and International Law under Israel’s military occupation of Palestinian territories.” Its final request is to add Israel’s illegal occupation to Berkeley’s Oppressive States Business Policy.
Commissioners are not themselves elected; City Council members appoint commissioners to serve on the various commissions. Commissioner positions are unpaid and filled on a volunteer basis. At a commission meeting on the evening of September 16, Davila was informed that she had been fired by Council Member Darryl Moore for refusing to withdraw the resolution.
Kumars Salehi, a PhD student at the University of California, Berkeley and leader in the city’s Palestinian solidarity movement who attended the meeting said there was an enormous turnout. “People on the commission were saying that they had never seen it so packed before,” Salehi said. Because of the size of the crowd, they had to in fact move to a bigger room, in which there were still not enough seats.
Many members of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP) came to speak in support of the resolution, along with representatives from pro-Palestinian organizations and the Palestinian youth movement. Cindy Shamban lamented that, “as a longtime Berkeley resident and a member of Jewish Voice for Peace, I was surprised and disappointed to see that a commissioner who has done such stellar work over the years would be silenced by her councilman simply for speaking her conscience.”