“We are the turning point”: UC Santa Cruz passes divestment

UC Santa Cruz’s student government passed a divestment resolution on Wednesday. (Logo courtesy of UCSC Committee for Justice in Palestine)

The student government at the University of California at Santa Cruz passed a divestment resolution early Wednesday morning.

In a 22-14 vote, UC Santa Cruz has become the fifth University of California undergraduate campus out of nine to pass divestment in the student government, making support for divestment a majority decision by student government leaders across the UC undergraduate system.

Divestment votes have also passed at UC Irvine, UC San Diego, UC Riverside and UC Berkeley in the last year and a half.

UC Santa Cruz’s divestment resolution demands that the Regents — the University of California’s governing body — pull investments in US companies that profit from Israel’s human rights violations, including General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, Lockheed Martin, Caterpillar and Elbit Systems. So far, the Regents have been unwilling to heed student calls for divestment.

In a press release, the campus student group Committee for Justice in Palestine (CJP) states that the bill was endorsed by a wide array of allied student groups including UCSC chapters of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, Autonomous Students and the Muslim Student Association. The resolution was supported by the Sikh Student Association, the African/Black Student Alliance, the Student Alliance of North American Indians, the Queer Student Union and members of the broader community.

“The resolution was also endorsed by several off-campus organizations such as Boycott from Within, the Santa Cruz Palestine Israel Action Committee, and the University of Cape Town Palestine Solidarity Forum,” CJP added.

Pitched battle

This divestment victory comes after last year’s defeat of a similar resolution at UC Santa Cruz, and after years of pitched battles between Palestine solidarity activists and anti-Palestinian political groups on and off campus.

UC Santa Cruz employs notorious racist and inciter Tammi Rossman-Benjamin of the Zionist watchdog group the Amcha Initiative, which smears and legally harasses students and faculty who speak out against Israel’s policies, often equating Palestine solidarity activism with anti-Semitism. In 2013, Rossman-Benjamin was caught on video making racist and Islamophobic remarks about students involved in Palestine solidarity activism.

Earlier this year, The Electronic Intifada revealed that Amcha had spied on students, including UC Santa Cruz students, who participated in a delegation to Palestine. The University of California has not yet taken action against Amcha’s harassment or Rossman-Benjamin herself for her racist remarks.

Several UC Santa Cruz student government members have participated in all-expenses-paid propaganda trips to Israel, current student Elaine Ejigu told The Electronic Intifada, “so we really didn’t think they were going to be very open to us this year. Alumni and current members felt like our only chance [to pass divestment] was last year, but we went ahead and did it anyway. And to our surprise, it passed.”

Ejigu said that this divestment victory sends the message to groups such as Amcha that “a growing number of students on college campuses that are also Jewish and/or Israeli are open to divestment, and are also not anti-Semitic, because that’s not the issue here. The issue is the companies [that participate in] the human rights violations that are occurring under the occupation.”

“Navigating fear tactics”

Nadya Tannous, a graduate of UC Santa Cruz and a member of the Committee for Justice in Palestine alumni network, told The Electronic Intifada that she was proud of the student government members who “navigated fear tactics and protected the interests of students.” As a Palestinian alumna, Tannous said she was grateful that the student government demanded that “future tuition payments should not go to the direct oppression of my family and community in Palestine.”

Tannous explained that it was important to have the support of different student groups who all backed this resolution:

“It wasn’t just about Palestine — it was a connection between people coming from all backgrounds. Pulling it all together as a coalition of a diverse group of students makes us stronger in the future to continue not only other divestment campaigns that are profiting from human rights abuses, but to support each other through the struggle for representation on campus about our concerns as students of color.”

CJP adds in their press release that this latest victory in a wave of divestment resolution victories across the US and especially within the University of California system “directly challenges the UC Board of Regents’ undemocratic policy of refusing to divest from corporations based on their involvement in Israeli human rights violations.”

“We are the turning point,” Tannous said.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).