2 presidential candidates reflect on veto power in potential future divestment votes

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Most decisions made by the ASUC Senate are noncontroversial; its bills often see bipartisan support and pass unanimously.

No issue in the past four years, however, has polarized the senate more than its votes in 2010 and last spring to support divestment from companies affiliated with Israel’s military.

While the ASUC president has the constitutional power to veto bills passed by the senate, past presidents have responded differently to the divestment votes — one vetoing, the other not. The potential for a veto in any future divestment votes, then, could vary greatly, depending on who is elected the next ASUC president.

This year, the possible reversal of last year’s bill has, so far, not been raised in the senate. In a town hall hosted for the Jewish community April 1, however, the question of a divestment vote was raised again to the CalSERVE and Student Action presidential candidates, Naweed Mohabbat and Pavan Upadhyayula, respectively. The other three presidential hopefuls were not present.

The two candidates were asked when they thought it was appropriate to exercise the presidential right to veto, particularly as it relates to divestment from Israel.

Mohabbat replied he did not support Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions, a global campaign that aims to put economic and political pressure on Israel. Some students associated the divestment bill with this movement.

“I don’t think (BDS) is conducive to Israel,” he said at the town hall. “I don’t believe in the disestablishment of Israel. I think everyone has the right to feel safe in their own homes.”

Mohabbat drew criticism for this comment from SQUELCH! Senator Grant Fineman, who represents the Jewish community. Fineman criticized Mohabbat for appearing to seemingly contradict himself later at The Daily Californian’s annual ASUC Candidates Forum, where he said he did, in fact, support divestment.

“I myself am pro-human rights,” Mohabbat said at the forum. “But that doesn’t mean I can’t support divestment.”

In an email Monday night, Mohabbat distinguished the difference between BDS and divestment, saying, “BDS is often associated with a call to exterminate Israel.”

“Divestment in itself is conducive to the necessary discourses and conversations that we need to have as a campus,” Mohabbat said. “What is not conducive are the violent reactions and actions that are undertaken by some students in the face of having these tough and uncomfortable conversations.”

Meanwhile, Upadhyayula’s position on divestment has remained vague. He said at the town hall that he would not feel comfortable signing a bill that was contentious enough to threaten students’ physical or emotional well-being. He reiterated this stance at the forum, saying improving campus climate was his main priority.

“As ASUC president, my job is to protect student safety and work to maintain the critical function of the ASUC,” Upadhyayula said in an email. “So whether it is a divestment bill, or any other bill, to come through senate, I would not interfere unless I truly felt that the passage of the bill was detrimental to one of those two key areas.”

In the past, the often heated and protracted discussion surrounding divestment in the senate has extended to the student body, sparking conversations over campus climate. Last spring, hundreds of students packed into Anna Head Alumnae Hall to participate in a contentious, 10-hour-long debate over divestment.

Savannah Luschei covers student government. Contact her at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @savluschei.