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Eitan Arom: USAC Israeli-Palestinian resolution imposes false consensus

More than 100 students attended Tuesday’s USAC meeting, prompting the event to be moved to a larger venue of Kerckhoff Grand Salon. The focus of the meeting was a resolution supporting steps toward peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Public comments lasted for several hours.

More than 100 students attended Tuesday’s USAC meeting, prompting the event to be moved to a larger venue of Kerckhoff Grand Salon. The focus of the meeting was a resolution supporting steps toward peace in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Public comments lasted for several hours. Neil Bedi / Daily Bruin

The original version of this article contained an error and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for additional information.

On Tuesday night, more than 100 students crowded into the Kerckhoff Grand Salon. Many of them sat on the floor, while others stood in the back. For about two and a half hours, they took turns speaking and cheering one another on.

All it took to fill the room was an 800-word document authored by Undergraduate Students Association Council Internal Vice President Avi Oved. “A Resolution In Support of Positive Steps Towards an Israeli-Palestinian Peace” turned out to be much more controversial than its cheery name suggests.

But the marathon back-and-forth Oved’s resolution generated illustrates the limits of what a student government resolution can and can’t do. As evidenced by Tuesday’s late night debate, one thing a resolution can’t do is create a consensus where none exists.

Oved’s resolution, sponsored by two other councilmembers sought to promote “peaceful and respectful dialogue” about the Israel-Palestine conflict. On the face of it, the fact that more than 100 students attended the meeting – which had to be moved from its regular location to fit them – would indicate the resolution was a success.

But to call what happened at Tuesday’s meeting “dialogue” would be a misuse of the term. The meeting consisted of one group of people clapping and snapping for one set of statements, and another cheering for an entirely different set of ideas. If USAC is looking to host an amicable and educational conversation, that just isn’t the way to go about it.

Given the way the campus conversation about the Israel-Palestine conflict works – and has worked for some time – Oved’s decision to bring such a resolution to USAC was an irresponsible one.

Without consensus, an Israel-Palestine resolution acts only as a political hot potato, drawing the council’s attention away from issues where it can make progress.

That’s not to say a conversation about the Israel-Palestine conflict can’t or shouldn’t happen on campus. The conflict is one of the most drawn-out instances of political and social strife in the history of modern democracy, and it deserves the attention of future leaders and UCLA students.

Instead, the problem results from a lack of understanding among councilmembers of the role a USAC resolution can play in that conversation.

Resolutions tend to go something like this: The first set of paragraphs start with the word “whereas” and state a series of agreed-upon principles upon which to build an argument. The second set of paragraphs start with the words “therefore be it resolved,” and are supposed to represent meaningful conclusions.

The structure of a USAC resolution implies a consensus: “Whereas we agree upon Statement A, therefore be it resolved that Statement B.” And in some cases, that structure works. A proposition that a majority of campus agrees upon is a good candidate for a resolution.

For example, in August, USAC passed a resolution condemning the use of the word “illegal” to refer to undocumented immigrants. The resolution garnered some media attention for a premise that most of this campus seems to accept: that a human being cannot be illegal, whether or not they have broken the law.

A more recent USAC resolution in support of the University of California Student Association’s “Invest in Graduations, not Incarcerations, Transform Education” campaign is more ambiguous.

Although students can surely get behind the idea of increasing funding for higher education, a clause in the resolution advocating a California constitutional amendment to legalize affirmative action is more likely to divide the campus.

But the conversation about the Israel-Palestine conflict has long been a immovable and bitter one. The problem is not hard to identify: the most relevant parties to an Israeli-Palestinian resolution – namely, the pro-Israel and pro-Palestine communities on campus – agree on very little.

The campus Palestinian community will only support a resolution that promotes a dialogue in which Palestinian students feel safe participating, said Dana Saifan the president of Students for Justice in Palestine and fourth-year psychology student.

The only way that can happen is if the University of California withdraws all investments from companies that do business with Israel, Saifan said. Otherwise, the oppression of the Palestinian people will remain the status quo, funded with tuition dollars from students on this campus, she added.

That call – termed “boycott, divestment and sanctions” or BDS – is a proposition that the Jewish and pro-Israel community at UCLA has rejected in the past.

Last year, for example, when then-External Vice President Lana Habib El-Farra brought forward a resolution that sought to divest from unethical companies and mentioned the Israel-Palestine conflict – without explicitly suggesting a link between the two – the Jewish community on campus reacted negatively. The head of Bruins for Israel at the time said he felt “almost marginalized.”

Dialogue, for the pro-Palestinian community, requires divestment. The pro-Israel community rejects divestment. And on, and on, and on.

Resolutions signify consensus. As it stands, none exist. Until the situation changes on the ground in the Middle East, any talk of a USAC resolution addressing Israel-Palestine will be inherently circular.

Email Arom at [email protected] or tweet him @Eitan_Arom. Send general comments to [email protected] or tweet us @DBOpinion.

Correction: Lana Habib El-Farra was last year’s External Vice President.

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  • Prospy

    The resolution was about a dialogue. About talking. Saying that you’re not willing to have a dialogue unless one party gives up something as huge as divestment is the same as holding the conversation hostage… it sounds more and more like the SJP are acting like the Tea Party in the government shutdown. How are we to achieve peace if there isn’t even a willingness to come to the table and TALK, not negotiate?

    • mxm123

      Endless “Dialogue” cannot happen when one side is subject to active harm….continuous settlements. Such “Dialogue” sounds and is deceitful because it only serves as a mechanism to push the issue under the rug.

      It would’ve be like Afrikaners asking for dialogue while busy practicing and enforcing apartheid

      • Prospy

        This is double sided. Don’t be so short sighted to assume that the only side that is being harmed ever is the Palestinian side… the constant threat of terror and the open acknowledgement for the destruction of the state of Israel constitutes active harm to the Israeli side. Making an analogy to apartheid is completely ignorant, seeing as Arab Israelis have more civil and human rights than any other country in the middle east.

        Dialogue is meant to NOT push the issue under the rug. The very nature of dialogue is bring these issues up and to discuss them in a rational and respectful space. Calling it deceitful and discrediting it is obstructive to the peace process. Please address this, mxm123.

        • mxm123

          Yes. It is apartheid. That u omit Palestinians in your talking points about “civil and human rights” proves that.

          Seizing Palestinian land is the actual destruction of the Palestinian state. Israeli politicians like Naftali Bennett have openly called for it, while the state of Israel has actually practiced. So much for a state that portrays itself “Just like America”.

          What does building settlements have to do with fighting terrorism? Nothing. However it does show that Israel talks only about terrorism (and now Iran) while busy building settlements. And we are somehow supposed to believe that its’ not open deceit to use terrorism as a straw man whenever the issue of settlements come up.
          During apartheid, Reagan classified Mandela as a terrorist. Was a good way to avoid discussion of apartheid. No ?

          There are other countries that have frozen areas of land while the civil process of dispute resolution happened. In those case one can see that there is actually a true desire for reconciliation. You cannot claim the cake is for the proverbial bride while u are busy eating it.

          • Prospy

            You’re characterizing an entire democratic and diverse state’s view and values on one side of the spectrum. Naftali Bennett is just as dangerous to Israeli society as he is to Palestinian society, and there is open discourse and much protest against him. That’s like saying because of Ted Cruz and the Tea Party’s views, the US as a whole is an openly homophobic and fiscally ultra-conserative. That’s not fair to the Democrats and even the moderate Republicans.

            Not once did I argue FOR the settlements. My argument was that the opposition to the resolution based on the one-sided clause is completely invalid because the Israeli side is also in being actively harmed. Settlements are bad, yes, but so is terrorism. Calling it a straw man obstructs peace because it marginalizes a valid threat that the Israeli side is conscious of.

            Part of the dialogue that is happening within Israel’s society is exactly that. The political party Meretz is vehemently opposed to settlements and has 6 seats in Knesset, and is growing, with a projected 12 seats next election. The extremists such as Lieberman and Deri are slowly losing power.

            But your viewpoint, and the place that you’re coming from, is a place that marginalizes the work of those progressives in Israeli society and groups a multitude of differing views under one. There are Israeli Jews who have a true desire for reconciliation (Truer than yours, I would argue, because it’s their children that are being sent to war!). How are they supposed to have a voice when people like you actively aim to obstruct dialogue and shoot down resolutions like these?

          • mxm123

            What diverse state ? Again, when and where do the Palestinians vote or have their voice legally heard. Quit trying to sidestep the fact that millions of Palestinians are kept stateless and voiceless.

            Ted Cruz and Naftali Bennett. Ted Cruzs’ proposal affects ALL Americans. Naftali Bennets’ proposals target the continued and complete disenfranchisement of Palestinians. If you are a Jewish Israel, Bennetts proposals regarding ethnic cleansing affects you nada. Big difference. And Ted Cruz is a member of the govt.

            If you are so much for dialogue, such dialogue should first happen between Jewish organizations. The wall of silence when it comes to Palestinians rights and the invective when organizations like JStreet bring it up points to the unwillingness to have a dialogue. Terms like “self hating Jew” weren’t coined by Palestinians. Asking for dialogue when u never cared for one until it becomes a talking point sounds deceitful.

            There were settlements before Hamas. You won’t answer as to what settlements have to do with fighting terrorism ? Why ?

            Progressives like Maretz are so tiny, that everyone knows the ultra conservatives are the tail that wags the dog. While the rest of Israelis see no harm and just take additional settlements as a non factor in their lives. There is no such dialogue within Israeli society that actively stops settlements. Settlement happened before Oslo, during Oslo and after Oslo. During Labor and during Conservative govts. Why ? Cause there was no price to pay.

            Finally your “dialogues”, if they are sincere need to happen within Jewish Organizations like AIPAC, your Hillels. Then you would have more credibility when u propose a “dialogue” .

  • Ross

    A manufactured peace process hasn’t worked for decades between these two. The only road to peace is a decisive, total war until one side gives up. The sooner that happens, the sooner we’ll have real, lasting peace.