UCLA student council resolves to divest from companies tied to violence against Palestinians

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With an 8-2-2 vote Tuesday, the UCLA Undergraduate Students Association Council, or USAC, resolved to divest from a list of companies allegedly tied to violence against Palestinians, establishing a majority of UC student governments that have called for the UC Board of Regents to disentangle UC funds from Israel’s alleged human rights violations.

After a failed attempt in 2010, which came to a halt with a presidential veto, UC Berkeley’s ASUC Senate passed its own divestment bill with an 11-9 vote in April of 2013 amid contentious debate. The bill sparked heated controversy, and some said it contributed to a hostile campus climate for Jewish students and those who opposed divestment.

With the passage of the resolution, UCLA’s student government joins five other UC campuses — UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UC Riverside, UC Berkeley and UC Santa Cruz — that have passed similar proposals to date.

“By passing this resolution, we’re not setting a trend or anything, but it does keep a significant focus on Palestine,” said Safwan Ibrahim, a board member of Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA. “Now, so many people have begun to recognize that there are human rights violations against Palestinians … and it is becoming a huge conversation.”

The University of California Student Association, the body that aims to collectively represent students throughout the UC system, tabled a divestment resolution Nov. 8 and will reconsider the proposal at its Santa Cruz meeting from Jan. 10 to 11.

United Auto Workers Local 2865, a union comprised of more than 13,000 student-workers within the UC system, will vote on divestment Dec. 4 in what union members call the first vote of its kind by a major U.S. labor union.

USAC President Avinoam Baral said it was difficult for him to not have a voice in the conversation as the only Israeli on the council. As part of his role, the president does not participate in discussions.

“Overall, I’m disappointed in the council’s decision,” Baral said. “But I’m proud of the conversation, which was respectful, and that’s always a plus.”

According to the Daily Bruin, Baral assumed the role of USAC president after his predecessor, Devin Murphy, resigned from office due to high stress.

Jewish and pro-Israel student groups — including Hillel at UCLA, Bruins for Israel and J Street U — boycotted the meeting and held an alternative gathering focused on strengthening the community and fostering constructive dialogue, according to Arielle Yael, spokesperson for Bruins for Israel.

“We did not want to engage and bring legitimacy into that conversation,” Yael said.

Similar to what the ASUC saw during its unsuccessful 2010 attempt, last year’s USAC voted on a resolution in February that ended in a 7-5 vote against divestment, according to the Daily Bruin. More than 500 people attended and were split almost evenly between supporters and those opposed, according to Baral.

The Jewish and pro-Israel communities did not want to subject their members to the “hateful comments and hostility” they faced in February, Yael said.

According to Yael, the Jewish and pro-Israel community obtained 2,000 signatures for a petition against the council’s discussion of geopolitical issues instead of student issues.

“It’s very ironic that the eve before the decision on the tuition increase, our student body was trying to discuss a conflict happening 7,000 miles away,” Yael said.

In 2005, the regents stated that “a policy of divestment from a foreign government shall be adopted only when the United States government declares that a foreign regime is committing acts of genocide.” UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in a statement that UCLA and the regents board do not support divestment.

“That’s the administration’s position, and our job is to change that position,” said Rahim Kurwa, a UCLA graduate student involved in Students for Justice in Palestine. “That’s going to take faculty votes, graduate student union votes, Academic Senate votes to put enough pressure on the system.”

Michaela Fried — president of Tikvah, a Zionist group at UC Berkeley — sees the response of UCLA Jewish students against the resolution as “disingenuous” and “shallow.” She believes students on both sides of the issue were aware that the university would not change its course of action, saying that the resolution was symbolic in nature.

The debate surrounding divestment is beneficial to Jewish communities, Fried said, because it underscores the need to form “real responses.”

“I don’t care about us as being seen as angels in the Middle East — that would not be my argument,” Fried said. “I want to make it known that Jews are indigenous and that we do have a homeland in Israel.”

Ayesha Khan, who serves on the divestment committee for UCLA’s Students for Justice in Palestine, said she has seen a shift on campus regarding students’ willingness to share opinions on divestment and engage in conversations about the issue.

“I hope to see the remaining UCs start following suit and passing resolutions,” Khan said. “Everything only gets better from here.”

Contact Amy Jiang at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter @ajiang_dc.

A previous version of this article incorrectly quoted Michaela Fried as saying that the resolution was “shallow” and “disingenuous.” In fact, she was referring to the response of Jewish students at UCLA who were against the resolution.