This week the Undergraduate Students Association Council Internal Vice President Avi Oved is expected to present a bill to USAC that claims to seriously engage the Israeli-Palestinian impasse but instead fails to address several major questions.
First, the bill claims to know what Palestinians want and argues that investing in Palestinian businesses, as opposed to divesting from Israeli corporations directly engaged in ongoing human rights violations, will contribute to peace. We wonder how the authors came to this conclusion, as prominent Palestinian businessmen directly contradict the idea that investment alone can solve the problems that come with occupation.
As Zahi Khouri, the CEO of the Coca-Cola franchise in the West Bank and Gaza, told a congress of United Methodist delegates in 2012: “It may shock you, but whenever there is a viable project identified in Palestine, we can raise the funds … We don’t need your financial help, your charity. What we need is to be able to operate freely.”
Do the authors of this bill know something that Khouri doesn’t? What gives them the authority to speak on behalf of Palestinians?
Second, the bill claims that divestment is divisive, but it doesn’t explain how ending our financial ties to companies engaged in harmful behavior hurts anyone. Instead, divestment is a perfectly legitimate strategy that has been and continues to be employed for a wide range of causes.
Would this bill, which vaguely refers to “divestment resolutions at other UC campuses,” rule out divestment from companies profiting from the California prison system? Was divestment against South Africa’s regime of racism divisive? Is it divisive to divest from fossil fuels?
Even when it comes to divesting from corporations directly profiting from the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory, divestment campaigns are directed toward companies, not communities, and so can’t be divisive.
How does ending our investments in companies that violate human rights, in Palestine or anywhere else, harm anyone on campus? On the other hand, many Palestinian students at UCLA and on other campuses have expressed great discomfort with the fact that their tuition dollars are being funneled into companies that are harming their own families in Palestine.
It seems ill-advised for USAC to claim that divestment is harmful to students without offering any proof of its claims.
Finally, although the bill claims an interest in promoting dialogue among students from various organizations, this spirit is contradicted by the hypocritical behavior of its authors, who failed to make any effort to engage in the conversations they claim to be promoting.
If they are so concerned with fostering collaboration, why did they choose not to reach out to any pro-Palestinian groups or Palestinian students on campus to learn about what Palestinians and their supporters want? Shouldn’t a bill that claims to support community discussion actually engage the community it is speaking on behalf of?
We believe the reason for our exclusion is that if we had been included in writing such a bill, it would be dramatically different in content. It would call for the basic preconditions that must exist before any investment program can be successful – namely a lifting of the conditions of military control and unequal laws that deny Palestinians autonomy and equality.
As the World Bank noted in 2012, “Israeli restrictions on access to natural resources and markets” are among the major impediments to growth in the Palestinian private sector. Unfortunately, the authors of this bill focus on investments alone while turning a blind eye to the reasons that the Palestinian economy has been so crippled.
Instead of passing a bill that raises more questions than it provides answers to, USAC should engage in a serious investigation of the university’s investment policies that gives every student group an equal chance to be heard.
Kurwa is a graduate student in sociology and the vice president of Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA. Zahzah is a graduate student in comparative literature and the programming director of the organization.