Voted Down

    After more than two years of hesitation, A.S. Council made UCSD history last night by voting 13-20-0 to fail the divestment resolution proposed by Students for Justice in Palestine.

    The resolution called for the UC system to divest, or withdraw its investments, from General Electric and Northrop Grumman. Both companies have contracts with the Israeli Defense Forces; they create the Apache helicopter engines and radar technology, respectively, used by the IDF. SJP’s legislation, originally titled “Resolution in Support of UC San Diego Corporate Accountability Through Divestments From Corporations Profiting from Violent Conflict” argued that since the UC endowment fund — which does not draw from student fees or tuition — is not invested in companies supporting the Palestinian military, divesting from GE and Northrop Grumman promotes neutrality and corporate responsibility. But members of Tritons for Israel stated that the resolution used biased language to specifically target Israel and create a hostile and divisive campus community.

    This is the third year that SJP has introduced a divestment resolution to council. In 2010, the A.S. Campus Affairs Committee voted 7-8 to table the measure indefinitely. In 2011, council voted 13-10-4 to postpone voting on divestment until members of SJP and Tritons for Israel could produce a joint resolution agreeable to both sides. The two groups were unable to do so. Both years, council ultimately tabled the resolution without taking a stance. As of the Feb. 29 decision, UCSD is the second UC campus to fail the resolution. In 2010, UC Berkeley’s then-A.S. President Will Smelko vetoed a similar divestment resolution after it passed in Berkeley Senate. According to a Daily Californian article dated April 16, 2010, the Senate was unable to garner the 2/3 majority required to overturn Smelko’s veto.

    SJP members said that the resolution did not ask council to solve or take a side in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    “Currently, our university is taking a stand, a stand toward Israel, and that stance and the status quo is alienating for students — who identify as Arab or pro-Palestinian in general — who don’t believe we should be funding this conflict,” SJP member Amal Dalmar said. “If people feel that this resolution is, in any way, anti-Semitic, that’s just preposterous. There’s nothing in this resolution that in any way, shape or form suggests that we are doing anything more than divesting from these specific corporations, which have been linked directly to this conflict.”

    Dalmar, along with SJP President Nadia Abu-Gheida, said that past council decisions such as divestment from South African apartheid set precedent for student government to vote on issues of foreign policy. In November 2011, council passed the “Resolution in Support of Reclaim UCSD.” This stated that ASUCSD can make decisions regarding “world events and political issues that deeply impact UCSD students and are significant to their student lives.”

    “We’re not asking council to make a decision, or find a solution to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Abu-Gheida said. “We’re asking you to make a decision on the resolution in favor of neutrality so that neither side is funded, and we’ve provided enough information for that, and the precedent is set so that A.S. can deal with these issues. This campus is already divided, but this resolution is not divisive and the conflict is not something that will go away if council votes ‘no.'”

    But Tritons for Israel President Daniel Friedman said that the “Resolution in Support of Reclaim UCSD” was only applicable to clear-cut and non-divisive issues, and that council passing the divestment resolution would violate its mission statement to promote a cohesive and unified campus.

    “I don’t think the intent of the resolution is to be anti-Semitic,” Friedman said. “But the consequence is that Jewish students feel targeted, and Jewish students don’t feel as safe or comfortable on campus, and that has anti-Semitic consequences. So is it anti-Semitic? Yes and no, and if it passes, it will shut down important dialogue.”

    He added that the UC system invests in other companies linked to conflict, but the resolution language, despite being a blanket condemnation of such investments, targeted GE and Northrop Grumann because of their involvement with Israel. This is an example of holding Israel to a double standard, Friedman said.

    Yesterday night’s council meeting began with nearly three hours of public input, including passionate arguments from both sides.

    “I am unsafe on this campus when there is talk of divestment,” Muir College sophomore Shani Arbiv said. “I didn’t apply to Berkeley or Irvine because of the problems they have, with Jewish students feeling scared to go there. When I’m tabling on Admit Day and one of the questions I get is, ‘What is it like for Jewish students on campus? Is there anti-Semitism?’ It’s really hard to tell people ‘no’, and by voting ‘yes’ you are making the campus very hostile for students who go here.”

    But Students for Justice in Palestine member Samera Yousuf said that the resolution had no anti-Semitic intent and asked only for the UC system to refuse to profit off human rights violations.

    “For those who feel alienated, I understand that — as an Afghan Muslim, I feel alienated by U.S. foreign policy every single day,” she said. “If this resolution in support of neutrality from the violence in the Israeli-Palestinian territory is not voted ‘yes’ on, I would feel scared that my representatives are in support of violent conflict.”

    After public input, Friedman and TFI member Ben Hass gave a special presentation arguing that the resolution targeted Israel — and by extension, the Jewish and pro-Israel campus community — unfairly. Friedman and Hass added that, if passed, the resolution would be claimed as a victory by the Boycott Divest Sanctions movement, a political group created by Palestinian NGOs.

    During debate, councilmembers revised the original language of the referendum went twice.

    Associate Vice President of College Affairs Leonard Bobbitt added an amendment to the resolution stating that it was not in support of the BDS movement. He also called for the language to specifically state that the UC system, in the future, should avoid investing in countries associated with the Palestinian military as well to ensure full neutrality.

    The second round of revisions, spearheaded by Muir College Senator Leah Wong, changed the title of the resolution to include specific mention of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

    Wong said that she asked for this change to clarify the exact nature of the resolution, which she said was clearly not a call for divestment from all corporations profiting from violent conflict, but instead centered on the Middle East. Council passed both amendments.

    A.S. President Alyssa Wing said that she believed the resolution had no place in council and urged members to vote ‘no.’

    “This evening, for the third year in a row, it is proven to me that this resolution does not belong in the Associated Students,” she said. “It is undeniable that this resolution causes divisiveness, and we will destroy our campus community with this resolution.”

    Shortly before 1 a.m., the council took an open roll call vote. The resolution failed with 13 “yes” votes, 20 “no” votes and zero abstentions.

    “[The resolution failing] is not the end of dialogue, it is the beginning of a valuable opportunity that we need to really take advantage of, and use to help bridge communities,” Friedman said.

    Vice President of External Affairs Samer Naji, who sponsored the resolution, said that the impact of the resolution failing affected more students than solely the members of SJP.

    “I think that the council let down every member of every org that supported the resolution,” Naji said. Organizati
    ons that have publicly supported the resolution include the Student Affirmative Action Committee, Student Sustainability Collective, Students for Civil Rights in Iran and the Public Education Coalition.

    SJP member Meryem Kamil said that much of the dialogue during the council meeting was problematic.

    “I’m extremely disappointed in the outcome, and not only am I disappointed, I’m very hurt by it,” Kamil said. “There has been intimidation of councilmembers and there has been explicit pressure put onto councilmembers to vote no. […] And honestly, after seven hours of being in this room, I might’ve even voted ‘no.’ I think that the debates were not productive, and the folks conducting these debates knew that it would not be productive.”

    According to the A.S. Bylaws, failed resolutions can be brought back before council as early as the next meeting.

    Members of both Students for Justice in Palestine and Tritons for Israel have stated that — though they will continue to engage in dialogue — the two groups have mutually exclusive interests when it comes to divestment.

    Friedman said he hopes that, if the divestment resolution is reintroduced next year, Tritons for Israel would continue to oppose it.

    Kamil and Abu-Gheida said that SJP will reintroduce the legislation next year.

    Additional reporting by Margaret Yau.

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