After passing through the ASUC Senate’s external affairs committee Monday, two opposing bills on divestment from companies associated with Israel will be considered by the senate at its upcoming Wednesday night meeting.
The bill in support of divestment, SB 160, authored by Student Action Senator George Kadifa, calls for targeted divestment of ASUC and UC assets from any companies that provide support to Israel’s military in the Palestinian territories or contribute to the building, maintenance or economic development of Israeli settlements on the West Bank.
The committee meeting, which continued into the early morning, was attended by at least 100 community members, many of whom spoke both against and in favor of targeted divestment from Israel. Many senators who do not sit on the the six-person committee were also in attendance, as were External Affairs Vice President Shahryar Abbasi and Executive Vice President Justin Sayarath.
Abbasi said at the meeting that divestment enabled the ASUC to stay neutral in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by ending financial ties to either side.
“We should not be complicit in violations against human rights,” he said. “By divesting our funds, we are saying that we will not support one side or the other.”
SB 160 targets more than $14 million from the UC Retirement Fund and the UC General Endowment to be divested from three companies: Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard and Cement Roadstone Holdings. According to ASUC Finance Officer Amir Chini, this represents a tiny fraction of the total capital available to these companies — too little to realistically expect the companies to make any strategic changes.
An opposing bill discussed at the meeting, SB 158, calls for the ASUC to instruct managers of its funds to “seek investment opportunities that strengthen Israeli-Palestinian cooperation” as a constructive alternative to divestment. The bill was authored by authored by Student Action Senator Rafi Lurie, former External Affairs Vice President Joey Freeman, SQUELCH! Senator Jason Bellet, SQUELCH! Chair and former Daily Cal columnist Noah Ickowitz and former Student Action Senator Aviv Gilboa.
Community supporters of SB 158 emphasized that divestment was not conducive to a negotiated peace or the two-state solution and would only cause division and alienation of campus communities. Many Jewish and pro-Israel students said they felt alienated and unsafe on campus after a similar attempt to divest from Israel in 2010 brought national media attention to campus.
“What we want to do is use our political advocacy to promote a two-state solution,” Bellet said. “That’s more impactful than divesting from four companies.”
The bill was heavily amended by the committee before being passed for consideration by the senate.
Lurie took issue with the amendments to SB 158, which included the striking of clauses that compared SB 160 to the international movement for boycott, divestment and sanctions against Israel.
“Our community feels like our voices were silenced on this issue,” Lurie said. “These amendments are destroying the spirit of the bill.”
Freeman expressed that SB 160 harmfully blamed only one side of a complex historical conflict. “Tonight is not about valuing one side of this conflict over another,” he said. “There is very real and serious suffering on both sides of the conflict. But SB 160 is a one-sided narrative that places the burden entirely on Israel.”
Senior Shir Davidovic recalled the rise in anti-semitism that coincided with the last divestment effort, during which swastikas were drawn on the walls of Clark Kerr and her friends were spat on because they were Jewish.
‘The language of the BDS movement has anti-semitic undertones,” Davidovic said. “I considered transferring, and many of my friends did too. I know this is not the campus climate you want.”
Supporters of SB 158 also argued that it was an appropriate way to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that would avoid the tensions and hostility that arose after the ASUC Senate considered the similar bill passed in 2010. That bill led to heated debates, which drew hundreds of students to senate meetings and brought international attention to campus. It was passed by the senate but later vetoed by then-president Will Smelko. The senate failed to garner the two-thirds majority vote necessary to override the veto.
Bellet said that SB 158 sought to encourage diplomacy and a more productive conversation about the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“While Israel’s steps should be criticized, there are other ways we can address this issue that will be more impactful on an international scale,” Bellet said.