Wednesday, July 17

Submission: Lobbyists, politicians must not meddle in campus debates


The original version of this article contained information that was unclear and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for more information.

Earlier this year, UCLA students asked student government members not to take lobbying trips hosted by bigoted and discriminatory groups. In a strange intervention into campus politics, this summer Los Angeles City Council member Bob Blumenfield proposed a resolution denouncing this pledge. At a time when we are flooded with other problems, it is curious that Blumenfield has asked the City Council to spend its energy meddling in what appears to be a settled issue.

Why would a city councilmember get involved in a campus debate about lobbying trips? Perhaps because several lobby groups that advocate for the Israeli government offer free lobbying trips to students, and those groups – such as the American Israel Public Affairs Committee and the Anti-Defamation League – have records that many communities consider bigoted. Since these groups use lobbying trips to build support for Israeli policies, scrutiny of their behavior might undermine their effectiveness and raise concerns for Blumenfield, a supporter of Israeli policies and former board member of the Anti-Defamation League.

But these trips don’t just cause problems when their providers have offensive and discriminatory political positions. They also raise serious questions about the health of campus democracy. Take the examples of conflict of interest and campaign finance:

Last year, two student government leaders received free trips to Israel that included a week of free meals, meetings with pro-Israel politicians and military figures, nightlife experiences, beach trips and shopping. The trips, which many consider to be propaganda disguised as education, are worth roughly $7,000, about half a year’s tuition for in-state students and certainly unaffordable for most. Upon return, one student was encouraged to apply what he learned through his campus position. All councilmembers received a letter from the trip provider asking them to vote against divestment, but it likely had a stronger effect on one of the councilmembers who had been given the financial benefits provided earlier. These revelations damaged public confidence in USAC’s integrity, because many students believe that financial gifts from political lobbies have a corrupting influence on politicians and might sway how they vote on issues.

More recently, The Daily Californian published an email from former USAC councilmember Avi Oved, revealing that anti-Palestinian activist and Islamophobe Adam Milstein helped fund the Bruins United slate through Hillel at UCLA in campus elections. Although the emails showed that Avi Oved and Avinoam Baral were involved in 2013, we do not know whether Milstein funded the most recent elections in spring 2014, whether he will continue to fund elections or who else in the slate was involved. What is clear, however, is the political goal of this relationship. The emails published by The Daily Californian show Milstein and others worrying that because the movement to divest from companies that violate Palestinian rights was gaining broad support, the only way to stop a resolution was by using off-campus funding to ensure that anti-divestment candidates were elected to office. It should also be noted that in addition to influencing student elections, Milstein paid for lobbying trips for students at UCLA and across California.

Much like the destructive effect of political lobbies on national politics, this injection of money into campus politics is hampering the progressive movement and having a corrosive effect on the entire student democratic process. Milstein’s donations were directed to the campus’ relatively conservative party, giving it a financial advantage relative to others. The students that lost those elections represented a wide range of progressive organizations and social justice causes.

As efforts by off-campus groups to influence student politics grow, we must be more vigilant of threats to the integrity of our political process. In that light, Blumenfield’s proposed resolution appears even more inappropriate, because it will chill free speech and intimidate students who otherwise would feel free to critique and question the practices of their elected officials. Although Blumenfield’s proposals are unenforceable, unconstitutional and apparently unpopular with UCLA’s own administrators, it is not clear whether the City Council will respect the students, faculty and civil rights groups that have called for the resolution to be dropped.

Students must be allowed to consider the pressing political questions of our time without interference from lobbying groups or local politicians. Although they might seem petty at times, campus political debates have an important role in social change. UC student activists have been ahead of the nation on questions ranging from apartheid in South Africa to marriage equality, sexual assault prevention and prison divestment. Imagine if off-campus lobbies had stopped those movements too.

Rahim Kurwa is a graduate student in sociology and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA. Omar Zahzah is a graduate student in comparative literature and the president of SJP at UCLA.

Clarification: Only one USAC councilmember received financial benefits from the trip provider.

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  • PD
  • Vox

    This article is ridiculous, ill informed, and is simply a reiteration of the same tired arguments dredged up by SJP time and time again. If only the DB would stop publishing such drivel – shouldn’t editorials at least be timely and not simply relate to events that happened months ago?

    Because I have some time and this article needs some fact checking, I’ll start at the top.

    First, the article states that “UCLA students asked student government members not to take lobbying trips hosted by bigoted and discriminatory groups.” One such group that hosted an educational trip to Israel was the Anti Defamation League, a group whose mission is to fight bigotry and discrimination against all groups of people, including Muslims. The ADL has publicly opposed islamophobic groups and does in fact recognize the Armenian Genocide.

    Let’s talk about the “examples of conflict of interest and campaign finance.” At the hearing over the allegations of a “conflict of interest” related to educational trips to Israel, it was made clear that the trips present a relatively balanced view of the conflict, including meetings with senior Palestinian officials, a fact this article conveniently ignores. Of course students were encouraged to “apply what they learned.” Delegates to to any seminar or conference are encouraged to use the knowledge they have gained, otherwise, what would be the point of attending? Neither councilmember accused of having a conflict of interest received any financial benefit through the use of their office resources, votes, or position of power. One of the accused was even accepted into the trip before he even considered running for office!

    The editorial also claims that donations from Adam Milstein were directed to the “campus’ relatively conservative party,” another absurd claim. Never have slates been judged based on a conservative or liberal scale. Both slates care about social issues and making sure that students have the resources they need to succeed. The students who won the elections care just as much about a “wide range of progressive organizations and social justice causes” as the ones who lost, demonstrating that our campus democracy in fact remains vibrant.

    The resolution that the article claims is “unenforceable and unconstitutional” is in fact neither. Although the resolution calls for additional protections for students against harassment and intimidation, it does not propose any specific policies. The resolution simply denounces a pledge that would limit students’ freedom to pursue their education how they see fit, and seeks to protect them from cyberbullying and other means of intimidation. You can’t claim that policies that have yet to be drafted, much less considered or enacted, to be unconstitutional or intimidating.

    In short, think about what you read, think about the motives behind it, and never jump to conclusions.

    • Ro

      Vox, the Israeli lobby has stifled all debate in Congress when it comes to Israel’s actions, even in the Israeli Knesset there is more debate on the merits of Israeli policies than the US congress, unfortunately they are trying to do the same to college campus which is unacceptable. Majority of ADL’s issues now deal with protecting Israel instead of the local jewish issues and this fear mongering about Israel’s survival needs to stop, they can pretty much take care of themselves and wipe out the whole world with their weapons if they are threatened.

  • justastudent

    umm how can you say it is a debate when one side is totally shutting down, denouncing and criticizing the other side. A debate is defined as “: a discussion between people in which they express different opinions about something” . You shut down one side completely. When so many students are scared to voice their pro Israel views on campus, that my friend is when there is no “debate” rather intimidation. This article is so sad. A debate should respect both sides.

    • Ro

      Just a student, the Israeli lobby has stifled all debate in Congress when it comes to Israel’s actions, even in the Israeli Knesset there is more debate on the merits of Israeli policies than the US congress, unfortunately they are trying to do the same to college campus which is unacceptable. Majority of ADL’s issues now deal with protecting Israel instead of the local jewish issues and this fear mongering about Israel’s survival needs to stop, they can pretty much take care of themselves and wipe out the whole world with their weapons if they are threatened.

  • BradD99

    Approximately 80 percent of historic Palestine became Jordan. Around 1922.
    Jordan immediately ethnically cleansed “Palestinian” Jews out.
    Jews have been “Palestinians” for thousands of years. Since long before Islam existed.

    That’s where 80 percent of Palestine “went.”

    But Israel has Jews.
    So “Palestinians” only talk of what Jews have when they speak of “Palestine.”
    Yet hey leave out the 80 percent of Palestine that is now an Arab-Palestinian state.

    They just want Israel/Jews dead or gone.

    It’s all about erasing Israel.

    Which is why they demonize the world’s only tiny Jewish state for being a Jewish state, while openly accepting 20+ Arabs states and 50+ Muslim countries.

    Which is why “Palestinians” demonize Jewish nationalism (zionism), yet openly promote Arab nationalism, Muslim nationalism and Palestinian nationalism.

    Which is why Palestinians don’t mention that in Israel in 2016 there are over 1.5 million Arab citizens, while meanwhile Palestinians deem any Jew in the West Bank as “illegal” and why the Arab countries near Israel all have almost ZERO Jews left. Do the math, then figure out who is guilty of “ethnic cleansing.”

    Arab countries + Palestinians waged war against Israel, lost the war, and now in 2016 waste their lives writing dishonest editorials in college newspapers and harassing any Jew/Israeli who insists that peace is possible.

  • BradD99

    Why do hypocritical bigots who want the world’s only Jewish state erased from existence (the same people of course openly accept Arab states, Muslim states and Palestinian states) keep getting published in a well-known college newspaper?