Last night, the student senate of the University of California at Davis passed a resolution to divest from companies which profit from Israel’s occupation and abuses of Palestinian rights. Ten senators voted yes, none voted against and two abstained.
Marcelle Obeid, president of UC Davis’ chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), told The Electronic Intifada this morning that she and fellow student campaigners felt “excitement and relief” at the news.
The resolution recommends that the Regents, the University of California’s governing body, pull its investments from Caterpillar, G4S, Veolia Environment and Raytheon — US and multinational companies that profit from violations of Palestinians’ rights.
It was the second time in five months that a divestment resolution was passed at UC Davis. In mid-January, the student senate voted in favor of divestment by a landslide, with eight senators voting in support and two voting against.
Just weeks later, the student court determined that the resolution did not address “student welfare” and therefore was deemed “unconstitutional” under the ruling guidelines of the Associated Students of UC Davis, a move that was highly criticized by students.
As The Electronic Intifada reported in March, the ruling was based on a complaint made by Jonathan Mitchell, a former student body senator. Mitchell was also a former board member of the campus chapter of a right-wing Jewish fraternity that has ties to Israel advocacy organizations.
Harming student welfare
Obeid said that this time, student campaigners went through the student court first and worked with court members to make sure that the text of the resolution would be constitutional. “We took their advice straight from the court ruling, and we edited the resolution to include how it involved student welfare on campus,” she said.
None of the language concerning divestment and Israel’s human rights violations was omitted, watered down or altered in any way, Obeid said. But SJP added several sentences about how the University of California’s investments in the Israeli occupation and its complicity with Israel’s systematic discrimination harms the welfare of UC Davis’ Palestinian students.
In their additions to the resolution, SJP explained that Palestinian students at UC Davis are subject to discrimination as they can be denied access to study abroad programs at Israeli universities solely on the basis of their identity or place of birth (for example, students born in the occupied West Bank or Gaza Strip). “We kept bringing up connections like that throughout the resolution, but we didn’t change any of the original text. It was still a pretty powerful resolution,” Obeid said.
Obeid said that with the court deeming the new resolution valid and constitutional, opponents of the boycott won’t be able to challenge it and possibly undo all of their work. “It’s mission over for people who are opposed to it,” she remarked.
Last year, 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 (BDS) efforts as “hostile events” that the university should deem security threats.
Despite the intimidation by outside anti-Palestinian groups, seven out of nine undergraduate campuses across the University of California system have now passed divestment resolutions. SJP chapters across California are now planning on talking directly with the UC Regents to implement the consensus call for divestment.
“This is the step we’ve been working towards for the past ten years,” Obeid said.
Meanwhile, top leaders of Israeli academic institutions are appealing to Israeli president Reuven Rivlin to do something to stop the global BDS movement — especially on college campuses, where support for Palestinians’ rights is growing and boycott campaigns are succeeding.
Israeli daily Haaretz reported on Thursday that Rivlin himself described academic boycotts as “a strategic threat of the first order” and “promised to raise the issue whenever he meets with diplomatic figures in Israel and abroad.”
The university leaders admit to recognizing gains by the academic boycott campaign in isolating Israeli institutions. “University heads noted a number of results of the boycott movement, including a significant decline in collaborative scientific research with international companies out of fear that the resulting products would be boycotted,” the report added.
Peretz Lavie, president of the Technion, an Israeli university that has deep ties to Israel’s weapons manufacturing industry, was concerned that support for Palestinian rights is becoming mainstream on college campuses around the world. “Anti-Israel student organizations were once very few; now they are at all the leading universities,” Lavie told Rivlin, Haaretz reported.
In response, Obeid said that Israeli institutions have a reason to be intimidated by these boycotts — because they are effective. “That’s the whole point of BDS, essentially,” she said. “To peacefully disrupt the power structure already in place in order to have that power make concessions to those they are oppressing.”
Obeid said that a group called Faculty for Justice in Palestine at UC Davis are launching an academic boycott in the coming months against Technion, with plans for success. “It’ll be a battle, but there’s full support for it already,” she said.
“[Israel] knows that boycotts work, and this is where it hits the occupation hardest,” Obeid said.