At approximately 3:00am local time last night, the UCLA Undergraduate Students Association Council voted 5-7-0 against a resolution that threatened the ability of students to pursue divestment from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation.
The resolution, entitled “A Resolution In Support of Positive Steps Towards an Israeli-Palestinian Peace,” was introduced by student party Bruins United. According to at least one person present at the public comment session in Kerckhoff Hall, the introduction of the bill may have been deliberately timed to coincide with the period during which Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at UCLA were expected to be preoccupied with organizing Palestine Awareness Week, their largest event of the semester.
Framing the cessessation of investment in the occupation as “harmful to campus life” and likely to “exacerbate tensions,” the bill sought to endorse investment in “companies and ventures such as Sadara Ventures, Al-Bawadar, Cisco Systems, Inc., Microsoft Corp., Intel Corp., and Google” as an alternative to divesting funds from weapons suppliers and other companies directly helping to perpetuate violence.
Investment in Sadara, an Israeli-Palestinian venture capital firm, had also been proposed as an alternative to divestment at the 2012 General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church (USA). Sadara Founding General Partner Saed Neshaf had been scheduled to address a General Assembly panel organized by Auburn Theological Seminary, known for its anti-Palestinian advocacy, before withdrawing without any public explanation.
The UCLA bill may mark the first time that the strategy of advocating “positive investment” as an alternative to divestment, believed by anti-boycott, divestment and sanctions strategists at the Israel Action Network to be more compelling to liberal audiences, has been applied on a college campus.
A small selection of tweets posted during the USAC session illustrates some of the responses to the propsosition that such investment can be a viable alternative to divestment:
Prior to the session, UCLA’s Daily Bruin published an op-ed by Students for Justice in Palestine members Rahim Kurwa and Omar Zahzah which also addressed the resolution’s premise:
As the World Bank noted in 2012, “Israeli restrictions on access to natural resources and markets” are among the major impediments to growth in the Palestinian private sector. Unfortunately, the authors of this bill focus on investments alone while turning a blind eye to the reasons that the Palestinian economy has been so crippled.
Instead of passing a bill that raises more questions than it provides answers to, USAC should engage in a serious investigation of the university’s investment policies that gives every student group an equal chance to be heard.
According to an SJP press release describing the proceedings:
Over the course of two and a half hours of public comment, over 40 students from a variety of campus communities spoke against the bill, arguing that its claims to support community engagement were hypocritical given the exclusion of SJP from the bill’s writing process; wide ranging criticism by Palestinians of “positive investment,” and criticism of the attempt to bar divestment from public debate. Two council members admitted to having taken free trips to Israel sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, which has actively opposed divestment bills at the University of California system and campaigned against SJPs.
Following the public comment period, the USAC voted 12-0 to strike clauses that attempted to speak “on behalf of Palestinians or limited their ability to engage in divestment activism.”
The move apparently left the motion’s sponsors in disarray:
Folowing the motion to strike the clauses, the entire bill was defeated in a vote of 5-7-0.
SJP expressed their gratitude to members of a diverse group of student organizations who remained at the session late into the night until the bill was defeated:
“I am very happy with tonight’s outcome,” said SJP’s Angélica Becerra. “It shows great resiliency on the part of SJP and that our community support is very strong.”