The movement to stop the University of California system from investing in corporations that violate Palestinian human rights reached an important milestone on May 28. After hours of public comment and senate deliberation, the student government at the UC Santa Cruz voted by a 22-14 margin to endorse divestment. Five of the nine undergraduate UC campuses have endorsed divestment, all within the last two years, while three of the four remaining schools – including UCLA – have had extremely close votes.
The movement’s success at a majority of UC campuses within two years is a historic accomplishment and indicates several important trends.
First, there is a wide and growing consensus that the prolonged military occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem and Gaza Strip is unacceptable. More and more people understand that this occupation violates the basic human rights we take for granted – the right to move freely in one’s own country, the right to access education, the right not to be arbitrarily arrested and so on.
Second, students throughout the UC system are beginning to see that the UC’s investments in Caterpillar, CEMEX, Cement Roadstone Holdings, General Electric and Hewlett-Packard are directly and on a daily basis contributing to the violation of these basic rights. Asking the UC to divest from these companies is morally and logically congruous with other student campaigns asking for divestment from the fossil fuel industry and private prisons.
Third, UC students are coming to the conclusion that there is no credible progressive alternative to divestment. Unfortunately, the efforts of U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry to broker a settlement between the Israeli government and the Palestinian Authority have failed. In a blockbuster interview with an Israeli paper, members of Kerry’s own staff publicly blamed the collapse of the talks on the Israeli government’s continued settlement construction, stating, “There are a lot of reasons for the peace effort’s failure, but people in Israel shouldn’t ignore the bitter truth – the primary sabotage came from the settlements.” Shortly after the talks broke down, Kerry himself warned that Israel was quickly becoming an apartheid state – a conclusion that many others, including Israeli leaders, have already reached. Thus, it is clear that so long as we as a UC community continue to invest in the companies that build and expand these settlements, we are making a negative contribution to the cause of peace.
Despite the vote at UCLA having failed by a narrow margin, there is much evidence that public opinion is shifting greatly. Student organizations from a wide spectrum of the campus have endorsed divestment from companies that violate Palestinian human rights. The Daily Bruin editorial board wrote that “the moral core of the resolution is on point – the University of California should not invest in companies complicit in human rights abuse.” The paper was joined in stronger terms by powerful articles in newsmagazines La Gente, Al-Talib and Fem.
This spirit is being echoed nationally as well. During his recent commencement address at the University of Pennsylvania, singer John Legend appealed to students to adopt a universal conception of love, one in which “we see a young Palestinian kid not as a future security threat or demographic challenge, but as a future father, mother and lover.” We cannot do that while investing in structures of violence that diminish these futures. Although UCLA has not yet divested from these forms of violence, Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA is determined to keep trying until we are successful.
The status quo is unacceptable, and UCLA students and faculty of conscience must rise to the occasion and call for an end to our financial complicity in the oppression of the Palestinian people. It’s time to follow the example set by the majority of schools in the UC system. It’s time to be on the right side of history.
Kurwa is a graduate student in sociology and a member of SJP. Zahzah is a graduate student in comparative literature and the president of SJP.