The campaign for divestment from companies that assist and profit from Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights took a big step forward in California this weekend.
The board of the University of California Students Association (UCSA) passed two resolutions at its 8 February meeting in Los Angeles urging university governors to divest from companies including Boeing, Caterpillar and Hewlett-Packard that make weapons and systems Israel uses to commit violations of Palestinian rights.
UCSA, which officially represents hundreds of thousands of students in the University of California (UC) system, passed both measures by a 9-1 majority with six abstentions.
One resolution notes that six of nine undergraduate student associations on UC campuses have already passed similar measures. It calls on UC Regents, the university’s overall governing body, “to respect and act upon the call of University of California students to divest.”
It also notes that the “student body of the University of California has a long and proud history of activism for social justice” using divestment as a tool in campaigns including South Africa, fossil fuels and the prison-industrial complex.
SJP West, a coalition of West Coast chapters of Students for Justice in Palestine, welcomed the “historic” vote.
“Students for Justice in Palestine chapters and their many allies across the UC applaud and celebrate the UCSA’s decision to affirm student activism, endorse the divestment call, and carry it forth to the UC Regents,” SJP West said in a media release.
Opponents appeal to patriotism
The UCSA divestment victory came despite intense efforts by pro-Israel groups to campaign against it. Anti-Palestinian groups appear to be trying a new line of attack, appealing to US patriotism.
UCLA student newspaper The Daily Bruin reported that several dozen protestors stormed out of the meeting “holding American and Israeli flags as well as signs that said ‘Divestment incites hate.’”
At a rally outside, student body president Avinoam Baral, whose scandal-plagued election campaign was financed by Islamophobic anti-Palestinian property tycoon and convicted tax evader Adam Milstein, declared that the divestment resolution was “anti-Semitic.”
Days before the vote, legal defense group Palestine Solidarity Legal Support wrote to UC administrators urging them “to honor the First Amendment rights of … students who support the divestment initiative and refrain from condemning their actions as uncivil or anti-Semitic.”
In an op-ed in The Daily Californian last week, Marium Navid and Rahim Kurwa reviewed the long campus-by-campus battle to reach this point, against stiff and determined opposition.
“Despite attempts to vilify Palestinians and their supporters or claims to support human rights and oppose the occupation, the loudest opponents of divestment could never produce a convincing argument for why the university should continue investing in, implicitly endorsing and actually profiting from companies that carry out Israel’s brutal, decades-long occupation of the Palestinian territories,” the pair write.
But Kurwa, a graduate student at UCLA, and Navid, a senator at UC Berkeley, say the next stage will be even more challenging: “Although years of hard work went into passing divestment at a majority of UC campuses, the next step is even harder – getting the UC regents to implement the democratically expressed will of the students.”
The UCSA vote, just days after the op-ed was published, will undoubtedly encourage many students to believe that goal is possible.