Last night, the student government at the University of California at Davis voted in favor of a resolution to divest from corporations profiting from Israel’s occupation.
In a landslide vote — eight voting yes, two against and two abstaining — the student government at UC Davis recommended that the University of California system’s governing body divest from Caterpillar, G4S, Veolia Environment and Raytheon.
The divestment victory comes just months after the UC Davis administration appeared to be receptive to efforts by the Anti-Defamation League — a leading Israel lobby group — to treat boycott, divestment and sanctions efforts as “hostile events” that the university should deem security threats.
Seven out of nine undergraduate campuses within the University of California system have now voted in favor of divestment. (One campus, UC Santa Cruz, passed divestment last year but it is being put up to a re-vote due to possible interference by the student union chair who claimed that the vote failed.)
“Over 550 UC Davis students, staff and faculty members attended the senate meeting,” reported UC Davis campus newspaper The California Aggie.
“At approximately 9:10pm, after introduction speeches from both supporting and opposing sides of the bill, Aggies for Israel President Julia Reifkind called upon the anti-divestment crowd to participate in a walk-out of the meeting, causing most of those opposed to the bill — about a third of the attendees — to leave,” the paper stated.
The anti-divestment students walked out after repeating talking points attempting to brand Israel as a pluralistic, democratic state while denigrating and slandering the work of Students for Justice in Palestine and their supporters.
The hearing and vote was live-streamed on the Internet. Activists, especially students, on social media erupted in celebration around the world after the vote was held.
The divestment campaign at UC Davis is one of at least six newly launched, student-led initiatives around the country to pressure university administrations to divest from companies which profit from Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.
“We wanted to make sure that we had a really strong coalition … before we went public,” Moira Geary, a student at Northwestern University in Illinois and member of Students for Justice in Palestine, told The Electronic Intifada. Student activists at Northwestern launched a divestment campaign last week after months of research and planning.
“We have activists from Students for Justice in Palestine, activists from MEChA, which is the indigenous/Mexican students’ organization on campus, we have people who are working on Black Lives Matter and Ferguson activism primarily who are also helping us out on divestment, we have people who work with sex workers’ rights — a real variety of different activists [as part of the coalition],” Geary added.
Northwestern students say they have already faced increasing opposition from Israel-aligned individuals and campus organizations. But they are stepping up their interactions with fellow students about the importance of pulling their university’s investments in Israel’s occupation.
Campaigners have created a powerful video of students explaining why they support divestment.
Though they have amassed wide support on campus, Geary told The Electronic Intifada that divestment campaigners have been subjected to “vigilante censorship” of Palestine activism as flyers and materials have been torn down or destroyed.
Some Israel-aligned students, she said, have also been creating fake Twitter accounts “that are tweeting anti-Semitic statements and false information about divestment — they’re clearly intending to both mock the activism that we’re doing and confuse potential supporters. They’re tweeting with our [#NUDivest] hashtags.”
A Facebook group has also been set up by Israel supporters on campus promoting a “Coalition for Peace,” which Geary says is “strategically misleading” and an attempt to co-opt the word peace, distracting students away from the goals of divestment. “They’ve specifically said that NU Divest is being divisive, that divestment is a divisive issue on campus. Of course we’ve seen that rhetoric used against pretty much any divestment campaign on any US campus.”
Northwestern students are demanding transparency from the university administration around the billions of dollars it holds in assets, which likely include investments in at least six US or multinational corporations which contract with the Israeli military.
Geary said that student campaigners are focused on educating the campus community about the importance of Palestine solidarity. “[We have to] make sure that all of the student body is well-informed about the issue, and that the student body at large cares about where their tuition money is going and is engaged in trying to pressure the university.” The text of the resolution can be read at NorthwesternDivest.com.
Listen to the podcast interview with Geary via the media player below.
Meanwhile, a wave of divestment campaigns has started to roll across the country. In California, students at San Diego State University are planning for next week’s public forum on divestment, while students at Stanford University say they have collected more than one thousand signatures from students supporting their divestment campaign.
In Chicago, DePaul University’s Students for Justice in Palestine say they have recently begun a “second phase” of their divestment campaign — a divestment resolution was passed in student government last spring — demanding that the university uphold the vote and divest from twelve companies that profit from human rights abuses in Palestine.
And student activists at Ohio State University have officially launched their own divestment initiative. After gathering signatures from undergraduate students, a press release states, Ohio State activists are planning on voting “directly on the issue” later on this semester.