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California Schools Battle BDS Resolutions

March 7, 2013 By:
Zev Hurwitz, Israel Campus Beat
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Stanford University

Three California universities’ student governments addressed resolutions that sought to divest funds from companies doing business with Israel last week. One initiative passed, another failed and the third was postponed for the second time after more than 12 hours of discussions.

On March 6, the Associated Students at the University of California, Riverside became the second campus in the UC system to pass a resolution calling on the UC Regents to divest from companies involved in the building of Israeli Defense Force weapons and planes, including General Electric, Caterpillar, and Northrop Grumman. UC Irvine passed a similar bill in November.

Pro-divestment activists at UC Rivierside took to social media to celebrate the bill’s 11-5 passage under the hashtag #UCRDivest.

At Stanford University, however, a majority vote of the 15 students on the student government at the Palo Alto campus voted down a divestment bill March 5. That bill had been sponsored by the Students for Palestinian Equal Rights at Stanford.

And a UC San Diego, the divestment saga continued for another week, ending in impasse March 7 after the special room reserved for the high-turnout meeting had only been reserved with security until 2:00 a.m. Council members on UC San Diego's Associated Students were unable to agree on a motion to vote on the resolution in the final seconds of the meeting, which officially adjourned at 2:07 a.m.

The meeting marked the second time the divestment issue was the main topic of discussion at the student government group. Last week, the student council heard public input speeches for four-and-a-half hours, followed by another eight hours of conversations this week. Because no vote was taken, the divestment meetings will continue during a third meeting on the subject scheduled for March 13. p.m.

Last year, a similar resolution was voted down by a vote of 13-20-0 and focused only on GE and Northrop Grumman. In 2011 and 2010, Studens for Justice in Palestine brought a divestment bill to the council, though no formal vote was taken. In 2010, the bill was tabled without a vote and in 2011, Council tried unsuccessfully to foster a joint resolution from pro-Palestinian and pro-Israel groups.

Seating at the UC San Diego council meeting was restricted to 140 community members, including students, Hillel and StandWithUs professionals and interested community members.

The first 75 minutes of the meeting was allotted to public input, followed by an hour-long presentation by the pro-Israel Tritons for Israel and a presentation from SJP—both of which were followed by a question-and-answer sessions with council members and the groups’ representatives.

“Passing the BDS agenda delegitimizes Israel and advocates for a one-state solution,” said Ben Hass, president of the Tritons for Israel group known as TFI. “UCSD will be seen as a supporter of BDS with the passage of this bill.”

TFI board member Nicole Patolai said that the resolution’s contention that South Africa has officially labeled Israel an apartheid state was a false accusation and chipped away at the resolution’s credibility.

SJP’s presentation framed the divestment discussion within the lens of the Palestinian narrative of seeking equal civil rights and the right of return.

“These are real life people that are affected by the way we use our investments,” SJP board member Meryem Kamil said.

New to the resolution this year was a provision that called for the student council to “support the indigenous Palestinian people in their struggle against a colonial occupier.” Last year’s bill took a tone that suggested that divesting from the companies promoted the UC system’s presumed neutrality on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

A friendly amendment to this clause proposed by Associate Vice President of College Affairs Leonard Bobbitt changed the wording from support of Palestinians to reflect a neutral stance on the conflict and to remove the section regarding solidarity with the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. The proposal to remove the BDS statement was rejected, though AS Council did vote to reword the line about supporting Palestinians to a more neutral stance.

“We are not the BDS movement,” Bobbitt said. “If we choose to divest, we’re doing so as AS Council, not as the BDS movement.”

“Regardless of where you stand on the issue, there’s no denying that this is part of the BDS,” Patolai said. “This is an extreme movement and we don’t feel comfortable with our university advocating for a radical movement.”

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