Two years after an ASUC vote on divestment from Israel prompted outcry from Jewish groups across the nation, the UC Student Association passed a similar resolution two weeks ago without protest from pro-Israel organizations — that is, until the Jewish community learned of the resolution.
For weeks, Jewish student groups were left in the dark while a resolution was penned for the UCSA condemning HR 35 — a California Assembly resolution that condemns anti-Semitism at California’s higher education institutions — claiming it stifles free speech.
The resolution also encourages the university to divest from countries perpetrating human rights violations — acts it alleges Israel has committed.
While members of the campus student group Students for Justice in Palestine presented the resolution to the board at its Sept. 15 meeting, no Jewish student groups were reached out to prior to the meeting, according to UCSA Organizing and Communications Director Darius Kemp.
The resolution passed unanimously, 12-0, with two abstentions.
Student leaders have since acknowledged the uneven outreach as a flaw that tarnished the vote.
“With UCSA, we made some mistakes because we did not realize the magnanimity of what could have happened,” said Shahryar Abbasi, ASUC external affairs vice president and a UC Berkeley representative on the UCSA Board of Directors. “I do think it could be worthwhile to reconsider this (resolution) with more voices at the table.”
Abraham Levine, president of Tikvah: Students for Israel, said he found out about the UCSA resolution a day after it passed.
“I couldn’t believe it went through without being on anyone’s radar,” Levine said.
Historically, the UCSA posts meeting agendas online after the meetings have already taken place, and agendas remain open to change up until the day of each meeting.
According to Abbasi, that process even left some board members unsure about the topics up for discussion at the meeting. He said he only saw the resolution the day before the vote.
The UCSA resolution was originally written by UC Berkeley graduate student and SJP member Emiliano Huet-Vaughn.
Huet-Vaughn has been at the center of a number of pieces of legislation calling for divestment from Israel, including the 2010 ASUC bill, which he co-authored, and a similar bill in 2008 at the London School of Economics that he proposed.
The 2010 ASUC resolution garnered national attention after then-ASUC president Will Smelko vetoed it, with prominent figures like Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu weighing in.
Following the national scrutiny, four ASUC senators who had initially voted in favor of the resolution did not vote to overturn Smelko’s veto, allowing the proposal to die.
In light of that experience, an apparent effort was made to limit awareness of the resolution facing the UCSA.
“There was not much word spread about this in the last few days that led up to the meeting,” SJP member Luma Haddad wrote in an internal email to the SJP board after the resolution passed. “This was done in order to prevent unwanted lobbying/intimidation tactics.”
In a Sept. 21 op-ed for The Daily Californian, Haddad said senators who voted in favor of the 2010 bill received hate mail threatening future job prospects.
“Without threats, intimidation and emotional diversions, UCSA representatives chose to take a stand for free speech and the right to criticize any state political actor with no special exceptions,” she wrote.
A representative from SJP declined to comment for this article.
Going forward, ASUC senators Jason Bellet and Nolan Pack hope to draft a bill calling on Abbasi to make amends to the UCSA’s legislative process to ensure greater transparency and inclusion. The pair plans on suggesting a final deadline for agenda amendments, among other adjustments.
“I hope to work with Nolan and Shahryar making sure (the UCSA) is accountable to each and every student that they claim to represent,” Bellet said. “The way that their infrastructure and communications processes exist right now is not the most effective way to carry out their mission.”
Contact Curan Mehra and Libby Rainey at [email protected]