Prior to attending UCSD, none of us thought the Israeli-Palestinian conflict would define political discourse on campus. Sure, our expectations of protests against fee increases and environmental campaigns were easily met, but surprisingly, the persistent proposal to divest from companies profiting from the alleged Israeli occupation of Palestine could very well be mentioned on a campus tour. It enters student life every winter quarter like clockwork — an even older tradition than Hullabaloo.
For the fourth year in a row, Students for Justice in Palestine has made the case for why the Associated Students at UCSD should urge the UC administration to “divest for peace.” The resolution calls for a UC-wide financial divestment from General Electric, Northrop Grumman and other companies that SJP believes are profiting from a “non-neutral” and “unethical financial role” in the ongoing Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
The resolution has never passed, though last year was the first and only time it was voted down (it was tabled the previous years). Other campuses have passed similar resolutions, including UC Irvine and UC Berkeley (whose president vetoed it); UC Riverside also voted on one yesterday.
Leading up to the vote at UCSD every year is a tense public input session, usually lasting several hours, in which a group of students from each side makes rousing speeches in an attempt to sway councilmembers’ votes. We’ve sat through hours and hours of these meetings, turning early March into a “Game of Thrones”-esque cry of, “Divestment is coming.”
Not that we don’t support students pursuing their political convictions. What’s baffling is witnessing a council elected to “boost school spirit!” and “improve student life!” trying to navigate the political terrain of the conflict in the Middle East. While there are, indeed, members of council with passionate views on the subject, they are typically the fringe voters, such as Sean Estelle or Brad Segal, who operate on opposite ends of the spectrum from each other (one end being SJP, the other being Tritons for Israel).
It’s easy to see why talking about the Israel-Palestine conflict would be absurd to a lot of students, especially when the supposed purpose of A.S. Council is to “focus on the issues that directly affect the people with whom we have the responsibility to serve.” Now, not only is its purpose used to focus on measures about student life here, such as the University Centers Advisory Board referendum we discuss in our other editorial this week, but also has expanded to include the political issues students care about.
The problem is, the discourse surrounding the divestment resolution says: “If you are not with me, then you are against me.” For example, Students for Justice in Palestine said in Monday’s letter to the editor, “UCSD Needs to Divest to Uphold Basic Human Rights and Help End Apartheid in Israel and Palestine,” that “Our university, through its investment portfolio, has taken a position that is diametrically opposed to the human rights of Palestinians.” So by doing nothing, SJP says, we are already taking a political stance.
Their logic is reasonable, but it does make the possibility for compromise nearly impossible. TFI just wants divestment to go away, SJP wants it to pass, and A.S. Council is then left with the pieces. We would hope the democratic process of elections for A.S. Council each year would make the vote on the resolution an accurate measure of student opinion, but it’s not.
Only around 50 percent of students vote generally during A.S. elections (on a good year), making the current council a weak representation of the campus body as a whole. Student government may seem trivial to a lot of the student body, but the divestment resolution is strong evidence to the contrary. A.S. makes decisions that could greatly impact not only student life but campus climate itself, so be sure to vote in the election for next year’s council at the beginning of Spring Quarter. Candidates will be announced tomorrow and we’ll be interviewing all of them for our annual endorsements during Week 1. Read it, and get informed.
Regardless, the Guardian isn’t going to take a stance one way or the other on divestment. We’re all for corporate responsibility, but we also hate seeing the pain the debate inflicts upon both sides each year. Perhaps this isn’t an issue meant to be dealt with in council, and instead should be dealt with as an ongoing discussion between pro-Palestine, pro-Israel groups and the actual administration — especially since the University of California wouldn’t actually divest if the resolution passes.