Last night the University of California Los Angeles (UCLA) undergraduate student government voted 8-2-2 to pass a resolution calling on the university to divest from companies profiting from Israeli human rights abuses and occupation of the West Bank, including East Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip. According to a UCLA Students for Justice in Palestine press release, UCLA’s vote marks the sixth undergraduate University of California campus to support divestment from the Israeli occupation.
The full divestment resolution can be found here and it calls for the school to divest from Boeing, Caterpillar, Cement Roadstone Holdings, Cemex, General Dynamics, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, Raytheon, and United Technologies. It ends with this call to justice:
LET IT FINALLY BE RESOLVED, that we, the students, call upon our university to dissociate itself from companies that engage or aid in systematic prejudiced oppression, whether this system targets people based on their religion, nationality, gender, race or orientation, by divesting from companies that participate in or profit from human rights violations.
After the resolution was put to a vote, USAC President Avinoam Baral voiced his frustrations about not being able to voice his opinions against the resolution, especially because he is the only Israeli-born student sitting on council. USAC presidents typically do not vote unless there is a tie, and do not participate in discussions.
“I’m sorry I could not represent you how you wanted me to represent you,” Baral said to the Jewish and pro-Israel communities, in reference to the resolution.
Before the vote, some public commenters spoke about their personal connections to the issues outlined in the resolution.
Noor Habib El-Farra, a third-year geography and environmental studies student, said during public comment that nine of her family members died in the most recent conflict in the Gaza Strip this summer. She added that her uncle had cancer and died waiting at a checkpoint because it was difficult to receive proper medical care in the Gaza Strip.
“(The resolution) is just about seeing my family and not having to worry about them,” she said.
Multiple student groups signed onto the resolution as co-sponsors or endorsed its content, including the Afrikan Student Union, Armenian Student Association, MEChA de UCLA, Samahang Pilipino, Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, Queer Alliance and Bruin Feminists for Equality, among others. Many groups said their own communities have had experiences with discrimination and believe such experiences parallel what Palestinians are experiencing.
Representatives from Hillel at UCLA, Bruins for Israel and J Street U explained their opposition to the resolution in a 15-minute special presentation.
Eytan Davidovits, president of Bruins for Israel and a fourth-year economics student, said he thinks this resolution focuses on polarizing global issues and that USAC should instead look at issues that students on campus face.
At a press roundtable held prior to the USAC meeting, Tammy Rubin, a fourth-year human biology and society student and former president of Hillel at UCLA, said she thinks the divestment resolution does not accurately represent the views of the entire student body that the council represents.
As Alex Kane reported for Mondoweiss, UCLA Hillel partnered with D.C.-linked public relations firm 30 Point Strategies to combat BDS at the school and prepare for this vote. As can be seen in the Daily Bruin passage above Tammy Rubin employed the advice of the PR consultants who recommended Hillel to “‘isolate’ Students for Justice in Palestine as ‘unrepresentative, a groups [sic] of isolated graduate students, part of Nationwide Agenda that has nothing to do with Student Life at UCLA.'” The strategy was adopted by several pro-Israel campus groups as reported by The Jewish Journal:
prompted by a new strategy enacted by some of UCLA’s Jewish student groups, including Hillel at UCLA, Bruins for Israel and J-Street U, supporters of Israel effectively boycotted the hearing in an attempt to discredit and delegitimize UCLA’s strengthening pro-BDS movement. Only about 10 student representatives and members from those three organizations sat together during the hearing. While none of them participated in the public comment period that would have given the floor to dozens of divestment opponents in two-minute intervals, four of them made their case against divestment to the student government during a scripted 15-minute speech.
“We are not going to have our community sit through however long a session of bullying and hate speech,” said Tammy Rubin in an interview before the hearing began. Rubin is the president emeritus of Hillel at UCLA. She said that unlike last year, Hillel at UCLA, Bruins for Israel and J-Street U will now use the time not spent on opposing symbolic divestment resolutions to “reinvest in our community.”
“We’re not not fighting it [divestment],” Rubin said. “We are just fighting it strategically in a different way.”
Still the resolution had strong support from other student groups on campus including Students for Justice in Palestine, American Indian Students Association, Bengali Students Association, Bruin Feminists for Equality, IDEAS (Improving Dreams, Equality, Access, and Success), Incarcerated Youth Tutorial Project, Jewish Voice for Peace, Muslim Students Association, Queer Alliance, Samahang Pilipino, Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, UMMA Volunteer Project and the United Arab Society.
Reflecting the diversity of the coalition that came together to promote the resolution, UCLA SJP sees the vote as a “milestone victory for social justice” and a “foundation from which students from myriad backgrounds can continue to educate and organize in support of not just Palestinian rights but all causes of social justice.”
Here is a press release UCLA SJP sent out following the vote:
Divestment organizers at UCLA, representing a wide coalition of students from all backgrounds and sectors of campus, celebrated a milestone victory for social justice with the passage of “A Resolution to Divest from Corporations Engaged in Violence against Palestinians.” The resolution, sponsored by Negeen Sadeghi-Movahed, Conrad Contreras, and Manjot Singh, passed by an 8-2-2 margin. It was sponsored by 15 student organizations and endorsed by an additional 17, making for 32 total student groups in support of divestment. UCLA’s vote marks the 6th of 9 undergraduate University of California campuses to have taken a majority vote in support of divestment from corporations that violate Palestinian human rights.
Council members from a variety of political affiliations voted in favor of the resolution, including independents, progressives, and a member of the campus’ moderate party. Before the vote, council members expressed their admiration and respect for the coalition building, education, and outreach by SJP-UCLA during our campaign. Also notable was the positive tone of the hearing and discussion, wherein most council members affirmed their support for one another regardless of their votes.
The resolution could not have been successful without the support of the students from many communities who came out to speak in its favor and who stayed at the hearing until it passed. Alaa Abuadas, the programming director for SJP-UCLA said, “as a Palestinian, I want to thank every single person who helped us pass this bill, for getting us one step closer to a free Palestine.”
This resolution’s victory does not mark the end of SJP’s efforts. SJP sees the passage of divestment as a chance to help other communities use this tool as an avenue to attain more political agency. On that note, the organization sees this vote as laying a principled foundation from which students from myriad backgrounds can continue to educate and organize in support of not just Palestinian rights but all causes of social justice.