A drawing from a fellow student group in support of the University of California San Diego’s divestment measure (Photo: SJP UCSD Facebook)
The student government at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD) overwhelmingly passed a nonbinding resolution last Wednesday that recommended divestment from companies implicated in Israeli rule over the Palestinians. The measure, which passed by a 20-12 margin (with 1 abstention) and was pushed by the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter on campus, followed weeks of spirited debate on the campus. It is the third UC campus to pass a divestment resolution this school year, and was successful despite pressure from elected officials on students to vote against the bill.
The resolution targets companies such as Northrop Grumman, Alliant Techsystems, General Electric, Caterpillar and more. All of those companies, as an SJP press statement put it, produce technology that is “used by the Israeli Defense Forces to violate the human rights of Palestinians.”
While the move to divest is largely symbolic, as the UC Regents controls the university’s investments, students who supported the resolution say that divestment has the potential to spark a conversation about Palestine on campus and inspire other student groups to resolve to divest as well.
The passage of the resolution was condemned by the Anti-Defamation League-affiliated student Tritons for Israel group. And after the vote, the UCSD administration issued a statement saying that “the UC leadership has reiterated its decision that such divestment is not the policy of the University of California and that a divestment resolution will not be brought before the Regents.”
The administration statement also said that “UC San Diego is a renowned university of international stature that provides students and faculty with opportunities to engage in collaborations and programs with leading scholars from around the world, including Israel.” SJP members said that despite the UC leadership’s vow against divestment, they were satisfied that their chancellor had cited the need for “open, balanced and civil dialogue when discussing highly complex world issues that evoke strong feelings and emotions.”
“We’re elated” at the passage of the resolution, one SJP member at UCSD told Mondoweiss in an interview. A group of students affiliated with SJP, as well as student senators who supported the resolution, spoke to Mondoweiss on the condition of anonymity because of what they say is the potential for personal attacks, employment troubles and wariness of being misrepresented by the media. Despite their elation, members of SJP did say they were disappointed that the resolution they supported was watered down.
The original resolution condemned Israeli “apartheid” and urged support for “the indigenous Palestinian people in their struggle against a colonial occupier.” The resolution that eventually passed the Associated Students of UC San Diego student group stripped out references to “apartheid” and the Palestinian people. The student senators who made those changes did so with the intention of making the resolution less divisive, but SJP members said the amendments “erased Palestinians” from the discourse.
But at the same time, the SJP group emphasized that the fact that divestment passed meant that “the conversation has changed.” UCSD had seen attempts to pass divestment fail over the past four years. The student members said despite the fact that divestment had failed in the past, the introduction of resolutions over the years, combined with coalition building, educated people on campus about the issue.
“This is really a conversation starter,” one Associated Students senator told Mondoweiss. SJP members pledged that education on Palestine would intensify on campus as result of the divestment resolution.
The passage of the measure came after three sessions of long debate on Israel/Palestine and divestment. Members of the Israel advocacy group on campus argued that it was divisive and alienated Jewish students. “The student organizations at UCSD representing the Jewish and Israeli communities strongly condemn the passing of this resolution. This resolution represents a step backwards for our campus, and a step backwards for the Israeli and Palestinian people,” reads a statement put out by Tritons for Israel after the divestment measure succeeded. “It has created a hostile environment at UCSD and alienates the many Jewish students who feel targeted by it.”
In addition to Tritons for Israel mobilizing against the resolution, Congressional representatives sent letters to the Associated Students president against the divestment measure. According to one student senator, another senator in opposition to the resolution passed out paper copies of the letters from the Congressional representatives during debate on divestment. A senator read out loud from the letters as well during the debate.
To assuage fears about backlash from the vote, the names of the senators who voted for and against the resolution have not been made public, though students Mondoweiss spoke to say that other students on campus can speak to individual senators and find out how they voted. At the end of Wednesday night’s long Associated Students’ session, one senator resigned in protest at the passage of the divestment resolution, according to a fellow senator who spoke with Mondoweiss.
Additional tactics to delay the divestment resolution, according to SJP members, included senators introducing two other resolutions the day of the vote. One resolution was a vague measure about “corporate responsibility” in the conflict, while another concerned the impact of the Israel/Palestine conflict on communities on campus.
Passage of the UC San Diego vote on resolution followed similar resolutions being passed at UC Irvine and UC Riverside. The UC San Diego vote, though, attracted the most attention and the most opposition. “All social movements start this way, and hopefully we can get the rest of UC student governments to pass similar resolutions,” said an SJP member at UCSD.
The success for divestment at San Diego comes despite the efforts of state legislators to condemn the BDS movement and the student movement targeting Israeli human rights abuses.
“Despite underhanded attacks to derail the movement, and despite everything we had to take, despite so many opportunities for the opposition to shut us down, to see this pass is really amazing,” said one SJP member.