Reflecting On Divestment

 

Symbolic Statement is Unequal to its Consequences

After watching the past three divestment discussions unfold like annual disasters, I knew there had to be some unexplored way to achieve compromise. To start on this impractical journey, I decided in July to never disclose my opinion or my vote to even my closest friends until the very end. In my eyes, the A.S. President represents all students, and therefore, it was better for both sides to treat me as a neutral business partner rather than a champion of either side.

In July, the other A.S. Council executive officers and I started a plan to put divestment back into the hands of A.S. Council. We began looking into different socially responsible indexes to center around our compromise. By late January, the other executives voted to abandon this plan, saying that it would “take away from the hard work of the [Students for Justice in Palestine] community” and that “a movement like this should be grassroots.” What had changed in those few months? ASUCI had passed a similar divestment resolution in November, and ASUCSD’s planned discussion of divestment loomed near.

I still refused to believe that compromise was impossible. A couple of days after Stanford University voted against the resolution, one of their senators contacted me about the compromise resolution that their student government was able to pass in lieu of their rejection of SJP’s resolution. Coincidentally enough, Campuswide Senator Irene Chang came to me soon after with the idea of debating on two different resolutions: one addressing corporate responsibility in its entirety and the other addressing Israeli and Palestinian students’ experiences on campus. Her resolutions were shot down on the council floor despite being conducive compromises because A.S. Council was so fixated on coming to a vote on the original divestment resolution.

During the past three-and-a-half years, I had surprisingly only befriended mostly pro-Palestine students. It was because of this that I had always come into the divestment discussion with the negative image of the pro-Israel cause that had been pre-painted for me. By mid-winter quarter, I had become unexpectedly close to some pro-Israel activists (one of whom would eventually present to A.S. Council on Tritons For Israel’s behalf). It was a mutual understanding that divestment was something we would eventually have to discuss but never wanted to. This personal conflict was almost a blessing in disguise, allowing me to finally humanize divestment and put faces to the conflict.

If there is anything I have learned, it is that life is not about “good” versus “evil.” Most people do not innately commit acts of “evil” upon others just for the sake of doing so. These acts occur because idealism and realism are bound to be at odds with each other when individuals define “justice” differently. After going to events hosted by J Street, SJP, TFI, and the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement over the course of the entire year, I learned that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is not the simple “oppressor versus oppressed” picture it had been painted as. In an ideal world, both Israelis and Palestinians would be able to coexist in a single mutual state where both would have the same rights and living standards. Unfortunately, idealism rarely answers anyone’s problems. When a major ally of UC students, such as California State Assembly Speaker John A. Perez, opts to speak at the American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference rather than the UC Student Lobby Conference banquet, it is clear that only realistic solutions will be heard in this uphill battle.

Throughout this entire process, my opinion was still kept secret until near the very end regardless of what some may assume. The year passed as I watched everyone around me assume how the president would vote while I was still doomed in hiding my true self in the hopes that this year’s divestment discussion would be better. Watching my friends become distraught and being unable to do anything to help them in fear of revealing my own opinion was the most psychologically straining experience I have ever had.

Hiding my opinion did allow me to learn a very valuable lesson: It is interesting how people treat others during times of uncertainty and duress. Throughout most of this journey, students on both sides were averse to and sometimes even abrasive toward me. Oddly enough, it was not until I officially declared my vote that many members of the pro-Israel community suddenly were warmer around me. When I did make my position public, I immediately received text messages from at least ten pro-divestment students. Some of them were upset yet still understanding, but most were from students who berated and harassed me. Many of these individuals continued to do so even after the vote occurred.

As I look back, I cannot help but ask myself, “Was this all worth it?” The answer is no. Whether it would have been in approval or disapproval, the statement made each year by A.S. Council’s vote is symbolic and only serves as an emotional win — albeit a very valid one — to whichever side the vote was in favor of. The outcome of divestment is the same each year: hurt and traumatized students who feel marginalized by their fellow peers. The amount of pain caused each year by divestment is far greater than the end effect the resolution actually has. Unless this resolution has tangible positive effects overseas, creating this alienating atmosphere here is irresponsible.

We have now effectively brought the Israeli-Palestinian conflict onto our campus in the form of student organizations. What will stop TFI from continuously introducing a resolution to overturn the current divestment resolution or a resolution in support of the Israeli people in their “strife against terrorist attacks by Hamas”? If A.S. Council commits to hearing all grassroots resolutions concerning global issues that are open for interpretation, UCSD will enter a dangerously vicious cycle of students alienating others in the name of “justice” and using the Associated Students as a forum to do so.

— Meggie Le
A.S. President

Divestment Shows Council Failed at Compromise

The divestment resolution A.S. Council passed wasn’t actually about corporate responsibility. If it had been, one of the many pushes for a fair compromise would have succeeded before the resolution passed. But corporate responsibility is a smart guise to advocate for divesting from Israel. Divestiture is then intended to appear to the outside world that our university ideologically endorses the Boycott, Divest and Sanction movement. The successful outcome of the BDS movement would involve the end of the Jewish state.

Looking back, it’s clear that the passage of divestment in A.S. Council was the culmination of months of strategic planning. This delineated a narrative in which pro-Israel students were aggressively violent to those who supported divestment and that anyone who opposed divestment stood against justice and human rights. These charges are false and misleading, but as Mark Twain put it, “It’s easier to fool people than to convince them that they have been fooled.”

Since the A.S. election last spring, divestment was guaranteed to be an uphill battle. My slate Bold lost badly, and at least nine unwavering divestment supporters won seats. This wasn’t just on Student Voice either (this was the slate most vocally in support of divestment which is now reincarnated as Keep it Real). It was no coincidence that Student Voice didn’t run anyone against the elected VP External Affairs or VP Student Life. TIDE won big on a platform of “diverse not divisive,” but many TIDE senators would eventually renege on this campaign promise.

Right after elections, Students for Justice in Palestine began meeting with our A.S. President, Senate Chair and VP External to discuss strategies for passing divestment. In fall, this went into overdrive when divestment passed at UC Irvine. Tritons for Israel and the Union of Jewish Students publicly asked to work on a compromise with A.S. Council and SJP, but this fell on deaf ears.

By winter quarter, divestment politics took over council. Our VP External played a video in A.S. Council that harshly criticized Israel. The video ended with a textbook anti-Semitic diatribe. When another Jewish senator and I vocally protested, pro-divestment senators unabashedly jumped in to defend the video. They were so eager to score points against Israel that they were willing to overlook the deplorable anti-Semitic rhetoric our VP External introduced to ASUCSD council floor. By no means are criticisms of Israel inherently anti-Semitic, but justifying content in which the two intersect is inexcusable.

The release of the resolution itself during week eight gave TFI just three-days notice to present a compressive response. Intervening to allow TFI a week to prepare was completely sensible, but the pro-divestment camp dug in against this. To put it bluntly, the less time the Jewish and pro-Israel communities had to respond, the more the voices of opposition could be quelled.

I was perplexed by moderates on council who seemed unwilling to listen to students trying to explicate what divestment was really about. There were more than 50 students who came into public input to oppose the resolution. We received letters asking council to oppose the resolution from UCSD’s largest donor Irwin Jacobs, Congresswoman Susan Davis and the Anti-Defamation League. Congressman Juan Vargas — who sits on the Foreign Affairs Committee — wrote us extolling Israel’s domestic and foreign policies (SJP announced that Vargas’ remarks sounded “Islamophoic” when I read his letter aloud on Council floor). As a student sporting a Reagan shirt in public input put it, “This resolution is so bad that even College Democrats and College Republicans came together to oppose it.” But yet again this all fell on deaf ears.

Around this time rumors of a #Zionistconspiracy started getting louder. One senator said she was physically threatened while talking to TFI. The pro-divestment camp said it was unfair to force senators to reveal their yes votes and thus demanded a secret ballot. I don’t deny that senators are placed under intense pressure regarding divestment — this is a symptom of the fact that A.S. Council shouldn’t deal with divestment in the first place. But still, there were ten witnesses who later reported that the threat was a false charge leveled against TFI. The reason the secret ballot ultimately gained traction was based on a political calculation that removing accountability would sway a few essential on-the-fence councilmembers to vote yes. Beyond irrevocably harming credibility of ASUCSD, this was a clever move.

Just before the final vote, a senator presented A.S. Council with a non-BDS neutral compromise. It was rather droll hearing divestment advocates denounce and bash a reasonable compromise while trying to not undermine their position on the proclaimed moral high ground. At least two senators who voiced support for the compromise were personally berated on council floor until they were in tears. Yet the narrative of it being Jewish and pro-Israel students alone who do everything it takes to win has yet to be dispelled from council.

I resigned as a Campus-wide Senator after compromise was tabled and a fundamentally one-sided divestment resolution was passed in its place. By endorsing a divestment resolution on behalf of the UCSD student body, A.S. Council effectively silenced the dissenting voices of Jewish students on this campus. Likewise, in resigning I am choosing to silence my voice on council floor as to stand in solidarity with the Triton Jewish community.

What A.S. Council has done in regards to divestment has yet to do anything that actually makes the world a better place. One could argue it’s worse. All rhetoric aside, that’s a shame when you consider how many hours countless passionate students have invested in the issue.

— Brad Segal
Former Campuswide Senator