California city commissioner fired for proposing Israel divestment

An official in Berkeley has been terminated for proposing a resolution calling for divestment from international and Israeli companies that profit from the occupation of Palestinian territories.

Cheryl Davila, a member of the famously liberal Northern California city’s Human Welfare and Community Action Commission, was informed Wednesday that she had been fired moments before the body was set to debate and vote on the resolution.

After a heated discussion in a room packed with around 100 community members, most supporting the measure, the resolution failed to advance to the city council.

Davila, who was appointed to the commission by city council member Darryl Moore in 2009, told The Electronic Intifada that she was moved to draft the divestment resolution after Israel’s attack on Gaza in July-August 2014 that killed more than 2,200 Palestinians.

“Turmoil”

But the night before the resolution was to be put to a vote, and nearly a year after it was proposed, Moore called Davila to try to persuade her to withdraw it.

Davila said Moore told her he had received phone calls from people unhappy about the resolution, and that she should have informed him when she was going to do something “controversial.”

Davila told The Electronic Intifada that this was the first time Moore had contacted her about her work on the commission, whose role is to advise the city council on social welfare issues.

Shocked by the call, Davila immediately wrote notes of what Moore said.

Davila said that Moore had told her he was “disappointed” in her and that the resolution was going to cause “turmoil” in the city.

Davila said she told Moore she was uncomfortable withdrawing the resolution, which had been under deliberation since October.

She recalled that Moore ended the conversation by saying, “you do what you do and I do what I do.”

Darryl Moore did not respond to a request for comment.

But it wasn’t until Davila walked into the commission’s monthly meeting the following night, 16 September, that she was informed by a city employee that she had been terminated and would not be able to participate in the debate about her resolution.

Community input

Berkeley residents and community members supporting the resolution filled the meeting room, as images tweeted by trade union activist Kumars Salehi show.

Davila drafted the resolution with Noah Sochet, the former chair of Berkeley’s Peace and Justice Commission, and Carol Sanders, a lawyer and member of Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP).

They wrote the resolution with input from such groups as the Arab Resource and Organizing Center (AROC) and Palestine Legal.

Had it been adopted, the resolution would have called on the city to divest all holdings in companies “participating in ongoing violations of human rights and international law in occupied Palestinian territories.”

It would have added Israel’s military regime in the occupied West Bank and Gaza Strip to Berkeley’s “Oppressive States List,” a designation triggering a city boycott.

“Speak now”

Davila was the first to speak during the public comment period, when she announced for the first time that she had been terminated as a result of the resolution. “I am hopeful you all move forward, and aren’t intimidated to do so,” she said, shaking visibly.

Those who spoke after Davila expressed outrage at her termination and urged the commission to advance the divestment resolution to the city council.

Hatem Bazian, a lecturer at the University of California, Berkeley, and chair of American Muslims for Palestine, denounced Davila’s removal.

“It is time for us to speak. Speak now. No more silencing every one of us on this issue,” Bazian said.

Others speakers supporting the resolution included a long-time pastor at a Methodist church which historically served the Japanese-American community, AROC’s Lara Kiswani and several members of Jewish Voice for Peace.

Only three people in attendance spoke against the resolution.

“Positive investment”

While several commissioners were strongly in favor of the resolution, it failed to garner the six votes it needed to pass the 11-member body.

In addition to Davila, who had just been fired, two other commissioners were absent and did not take part.

Commission chair Praveen Sood proposed adding language to the resolution about positive investment and shareholder activism.

But many in attendance saw this as an attempt to water the resolution down.

Members of the public urged the commission to vote on the resolution as it was, to take a stand in solidarity with Davila, and not bend to the intimidation to which she had been subjected.

In the end, the commission voted to continue to work on the resolution to incorporate Sood’s suggestions and bring it back at their next meeting.

One audience member raised his voice and said, “This is a completely different resolution than the one Davila proposed.”

While Sood insisted he was moving Davila’s resolution forward, there was a palpable sense of disappointment among many as they left the room.

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Comments

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Well, you nailed that one on the head.

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Sometimes it's possible to raise enough public pressure to reverse an action such as Cheryl Davila's unfair dismissal. It may even be that her resolution, and not the watered-down replacement, can be reintroduced for discussion. In this case, I don't presume to predict an outcome, but for those who are interested, here's the email address of Councilmember Darryl Moore, who evidently played a major role in firing Davila:

dmoore@cityofberkeley.info

According to Cheryl Davila's notes, he indicated he was responding to pressure against the BDS resolution in the form of phone calls, so maybe he reads emails, too.

Anyone contacting him should avoid inflammatory language or personal accusations. Just be firm, and demand Davila's reinstatement. Defend the resolution to divest. It's democracy.

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What about a letter /petition on Facebook and Twitter demanding her reinstatement and reintroduction of the original proposal?

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Petitions are great for informing people about issues, but no amount of furor on Twitter or Facebook is equal to constituent phone calls, physical mail and in-person commentary. Unless petition drives people to show up at Commission meetings and Council meetings, they are worth only the bits used to deliver them to your screen.

It's easier for a councilmember to ignore an electronic petition than it is for you to Like & Share it. To influence the council, live in-person bodies are by far most effective. Unless you have a ton of cash, that is. Get on Twitter and on FB, but ask people to commit to Show Up. Things are decided by the people who show up.

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I'd sure sign it, and I think a lot of people would.

I'd suggest: The petition call for only the reinstatement of Ms Davila, with no loss of pay. I think we can be confident that this would lead to increased support for the resolution. Calling for the passing of the resolution as well would dilute the impact of the petition (by demanding two separate things), and also allow opponents to claim they "will not be bullied" by outsiders. Focus on the justice & free speech issue.

Also, I'd suggest not using Facebook or Twitter to host the petition, which I think would limit response. You can publicise it on those media, without basing it there. There are other, more easily accessible petition-hosting sites.

In any case, I think it's a great idea, and an effective way to focus people's outrage at this high-handed attempt to suppress an issue of increasing concern in the US, and around the world.

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Just another example of how the Zionists don't show up to debate these issues in public, knowing that they don't have a leg to stand on, but will work effectively behind the scenes, using intimidation, to get what they want in the end. As long as government officials lack the courage to stand up to the Israel lobby, this will continue to happen.

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I live in the Bay Area and have heard nothing of this. Googling this woman's unusual name only comes up with this link to this story. The minutes for the meeting say this resolution passed by a vote of 6-2 with one member absent. There was nothing about Ms. Davila being "fired." So I'm sorry, but on face value your version of this story does not pass the smell test.
Take a minute and read the minutes, and explain to me how she was supposedly fired for proposing a resolution that passed. Here is the link: http://www.cityofberkeley.info...

Ali Abunimah's picture

The minutes you link to are from the June 17 meeting. They are attached to the agenda for the September 16 meeting, because minutes for the previous meeting must be approved at the subsequent meeting. The minutes for the September 16 meeting have not yet been published as you can see from the page where they would appear: http://www.cityofberkeley.info/Clerk/Commissions/Commissions__Human_Welf…

You should perhaps read more closely before faulting our reporting.

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In this post, you have the planned agenda for the meeting on 9/16 and the minutes from a past meeting (in June). In the past meeting they held a vote on whether to have Davila make certain changes to the resolution she was going to propose. I think that's what you're referring to when you mention the 6-2 vote.

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I do not believe that a person is anti-semitic when they are saying that the behavior of Israel is abusive to the Palestinian people. I have gone on two witness trips, first in 2008 and again in 2011 and I was appalled and continue to be appalled at what is going on in Israel and how the US supports such behavior. I hail Cheryl Davila and all others who support BDS. There are many Jewish People all over the world who support BDS. Archbishop Tutu from South Africa has stated over and over that aparthied in Israel is worse than it was in South Africa. BDS worked in South Africa and it is time that the world tell Israel that they can no longer treat the Palestinians as they have since 1948--68 years of treatment of Palestinians as the Jewish people were treated in he Holocaust. It needs to stop now and thank you Cheryl Davila for speaking truth to power.

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I was privileged to sit next to Cheryl Davila at the talk given by Omar Barghouti to a packed room (maybe more than 200 attending) at UC Berkeley. It was quite impressive but the MC, Dr. Hatem Bazian, just needed to point to her and mention her name and almost the whole audience, including Mr Barghouti, responded with rousing applause. It was quite emotional.
Ms Davila told me there will be a meeting on Wednesday, Oct 14th where she'd appreciate community support.
Exerting pressure for Ms Davila's return to her position and a campaign to have Berkeley City pass a divestment measure would receive great support from our community.
If Reykjavik can do it... Berkeley can!

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Freedom of Speech as long as nothing is said, or done, about colonialism, racism, apartheid or genocide in Palestine.
United States of America - home of the brave and land of the free as long as you say nothing bad about our baby.

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Can anyone help me confirm that the next meeting of the Human Welfare and Community Action Commission on October 21st?
I understand that community support is encouraged. And that the last day for letters of support is today Oct14th - HWCAC@cityofberkeley.info

Charlotte Silver

Charlotte Silver's picture

Charlotte Silver is an independent journalist and regular writer for The Electronic Intifada. She is based in Oakland, California and has reported from Palestine since 2010. Follow her on Twitter @CharESilver.