UC Irvine student government passes divestment resolution

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A branch of UC Irvine’s student government has passed a resolution urging the UCI administration to divest from companies it alleges profit from human rights violations by supporting Israeli anti-Palestinian policies.

The resolution, which passed Nov. 13, asks UC Irvine to pull out funds from various companies, including Caterpillar, General Electric and Hewlett-Packard. The resolution still needs to be approved by the judicial and executive branches of the Irvine campus’s ASUC, after which it can be presented to the campus administration.

“It wasn’t because they were pro-Israel,” said Sabreen Shalabi, a representative in the campus’s ASUC legislative branch and the author of the resolution. “We were discontent with the fact that our university is investing in companies profiting off of human rights violations.”

The resolution argues that UCI’s investment in the companies is a violation of the university’s values.

“It is the mission of the UCI Foundation to ‘ensure the appropriate use of all funds’ in order to uphold the values of respect, intellectual curiosity, integrity, commitment appreciation, and empathy,” the resolution reads.

In the spring of 2010, UC Berkeley’s ASUC Senate passed a resolution urging the UC Board of Regents and the campus administration to divest from companies it alleged had provided war supplies to the Israeli military. The resolution drew international attention, with figures ranging from Nobel Peace Prize winner Desmond Tutu to prominent philosopher Noam Chomsky weighing in.

Though the Berkeley resolution passed the ASUC Senate, it was ultimately vetoed by then-president Will Smelko. The senate held a vote to override Smelko’s veto, but the move failed after a number of senators who initially supported the bill decided to oppose it.

At Berkeley, the resolution polarized the campus community, said Noah Stern, who opposed the resolution as an ASUC senator when it passed.

“It took several years for different campus communities to recover from the divisiveness of that event,” said Stern, who was ASUC president the following year. “There is no real sense of unanimity around the Israel-Palestine conflict when you actually talk to students on campus.”

Graduate student Tom Pessah, a member of the campus group Students for Justice in Palestine and co-author of the 2010 divestment resolution, said the veto came about because of pressure by nonuniversity organizations, including the American Israel Public Affairs Committee.

“AIPAC representatives … as well as senators who’ve been sent on trips to Israel continue to oppose the passing of such a resolution on our campus, despite students’ strong support for it,” Pessah said.

The UC Irvine administration issued a response to the resolution saying that it is not the policy of the campus nor of the university to divest from a foreign government unless the U.S. government deems it necessary.

According to Shalabi, the Irvine resolution garnered significant support from the student body.

“It was really nice to see students unafraid to stand up against human rights violations,” she said. “I feel like the resolution was very logical — there’s nothing emotional about it.”

Contact Andy Nguyen at [email protected].