A recent Berkeley City Council discussion prompted allegations of racism on the dais during a debate over the look of new welcome signage at the city borders.
It was the third council meeting since mid-September where West Berkeley Councilwoman Cheryl Davila has said she's been disrespected by her colleagues.
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Last week's meeting was the third time in five weeks that Davila has alleged racism by her colleagues. Twice in September she read statements to rebuke what she said were racist efforts to stop her from appointing Hatem Bazian, Zaytuna College co-founder and UC Berkeley lecturer, as her replacement on council should she be unreachable during an emergency.
Back on Sept. 13, a council majority had voted in favor of a proposal from Wengraf to create standards for those replacements because the existing city criteria are minimal. That night, Droste suggested a moratorium on all new appointments until that work is done. Bartlett and Worthington were absent, while Harrison and Davila voted against the motion.
"I just feel like it's a form of racism and that we don't want to go down that line," Davila told her colleagues Sept. 13. "It's really disheartening and disappointing and actually disgusting."
Reading a prepared statement, Davila described the Wengraf proposal as "following the lead of the colonizers that continually attempt to oppress and silence and control people of color and silence Palestinians."
She said Bazian had passed an FBI fingerprint check, and questioned the timing of the new requirements.
"It hasn't been a problem in city history," she said. "And now it's a problem. And I think that's really a messed up thing to do."
Wengraf said City Council members receive extensive training to ensure they are familiar with the rules and policies that shape their work. She said other cities have guidelines to ensure emergency officers are prepared. Otherwise, she said, "they're going to have a steep learning curve at a time when … there's been some horrendous catastrophe."
Davila said the moratorium was frustrating because it meant she couldn't appoint anyone to replace her. And she said her colleagues seem to change the rules when they don't like how she does things. She said the shift with the standby officer standards seemed racist and "Zionistic," as well as pathetic and unfair.
"That's just some BS if I ever heard it. Honestly! I don't even know how you guys can live with yourself knowing that you're being, well OK, I won't use those… Well, I don't know," Davila said. "The act that is being taken I find really problematic."
Some members of the public have asked council to reject Bazian's appointment because of concerns about how he sees Jews. Last fall, he retweeted a pair of memes seen as anti-Semitic. He later apologized, undid the retweet, and said he meant only to take aim at Israel and its policies. Critics have said he also made disparaging remarks 15 years ago, as a UC Berkeley graduate student, about campus buildings named after Jewish people.
But Bazian has vigorous supporters too. Local residents, including leaders in the activist community, have urged council to appoint him as Davila's standby officer and stop the delays. They say Bazian is a well-regarded spiritual leader who should not be excluded from city service because he is Palestinian.
Two Jewish women told council in July that they've worked with Bazian and know him to be respectful of Jewish residents.
"It's been a big surprise to me," said a member of Jewish Voice for Peace about the controversy around Bazian's appointment. "There's a lot of confusion I think, between anti-Zionism and anti-Semitism, and not that sometimes the two of them aren't mixed, but very often they're very different."
"Despicable, disgusting and really appalling"
The Bazian appointment initially had been scheduled for July 24, but council postponed it that night to Sept. 25. Officials bumped the item — a confirmation list of numerous emergency standby officers — because background checks were still underway and elements of the process were under review, the mayor said at the time.
Toward the beginning of the Sept. 25 meeting, City Manager Dee Williams-Ridley announced she was removing the standby officer item from the agenda because of the council vote two weeks earlier to halt new appointments while criteria were developed. Council could not take action on the item because of that moratorium, she explained.
Davila then read a prepared statement similar to the one from two weeks prior, saying "the attempt to prevent me from appointing Professor Hatem Bazian" was part of "a well-resourced strategy to change the laws" to prevent Palestinians from holding leadership roles. Many attendees at the meeting applauded her remarks.
Davila urged her colleagues to "be honest" and admit that "a bias" was driving the policy to create standards for emergency appointees: "I still find it despicable, disgusting and really appalling that this is the action being taken."
At both meetings, Mayor Arreguín reminded Davila to respect the city's decorum rules, which he read from at length on one occasion. He said council members could disagree while maintaining civility. And he said he took issue with Davila "maligning those people that disagree with you," adding, "to call people disgusting … it's not appropriate."
In the first September meeting, Davila agreed to hold back — but protested the mayor's request.
"I've tolerated a lot of disrespect on this dais. It's been documented, it's been recorded. And I just think this is just another level of it," she said.
At the meeting two weeks later, she took a bolder stance, speaking forcefully though it was not her turn.
"You're not recognized," the mayor told her, as he tried to restore order and cut her off. "You're not recognized."
"I'll be out of order, because lots of times people have been out of order and go on for 20-30 minutes — and I never get that opportunity," she told him. "It's just super, super sad that this has to happen in this way. It is a form of racism. It is a form of oppression. It's a form of colonization. It's a form of all of the -isms that we're supposed to not be having when we're supposed to be united against hate. How can we be 'united against hate' if we're hating on one professor at UC Berkeley to not be my standby officer."
On Sept. 18, Davila appointed Bazian to the city's Peace & Justice Commission.
The item to create guidelines for the city's emergency standby officers has not been scheduled to return to council.
Davila has said her "commitment to the rights of Palestinians," along with human rights and equity in general, have been central features of her platform. She drew fire earlier this year, however, after allegations that her political views had driven her appointments to city commissions and committees. She removed one commissioner after he declined to state his position on the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions campaign against Israel. Other appointees and commission hopefuls told Berkeleyside she asked them about the subject too.
Davila initially responded to that criticism, in a brief written statement, by describing Berkeleyside coverage about the issue as "another reflection of the ongoing suppression campaigns to smear anyone who supports Palestine. The campaign to silence support for Palestinian rights is how I came to be a councilmember in the first place."