The Daily Bruin ran two op-eds Friday in the run-up to the landmark University of California Student Association vote in favor of divesting UC funds from companies enabling Israel’s occupation of the Palestinian territories. One op-ed made a clear, reasoned case for why the UCSA should support this initiative. The other was an attack on me, one of the hundreds of students around the state working on divestment. Reading the articles side by side was an odd experience, and I think it is important to think about why rather than addressing the issue of divestment, the author, Tammy Rubin, chose to attack me instead.
I want to suggest four reasons why the anti-divestment subset of the pro-Israel community has resorted to personal attacks.
First, they can’t offer a coherent, persuasive case for why we should reject the Palestinian call for Boycotts, Divestment and Sanctions, the movement to end American and international support for the Israeli government until it grants the Palestinians basic rights under the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights and international law. If they could, it would be a much better strategy than trying to tear down members of Students for Justice in Palestine.
Second, it was recently revealed that members of pro-Israel groups conspired with off-campus donors to fund free trips to Israel for elected students and finance the Bruins United party in student elections. In response, they have become desperate to show that the pro-Palestine community does the same thing. This is laughable. The costs associated with winning a divestment campaign are minimal. Like most groups, we apply for UCLA student group funding to help purchase T-shirts, fliers, posters, snacks and the like. Our strength doesn’t come from buying elections or giving student leaders a paid vacation, it comes from having the facts on our side.
Third, attacks like the one made against me suggest that anti-divestment students are unwilling to face new political realities. To see what I mean, put yourself in the shoes of an anti-divestment student. If in fact divestment is a popular mass movement supported by everyday students, then you need to confront and adjust to this reality, either by coming up with more persuasive arguments against divestment, or by moving toward the mainstream. But if you can delude yourself into thinking that the entire divestment movement is orchestrated by scary extremists lurking in the shadows, then you don’t have to confront the issues on their merits at all. All you have to do is expose Palestinians and their supporters for the “Hamas-supporting anti-Semitic multimillionaire terrorist sympathizers” that they really are, and people will stop supporting divestment.
But that’s just not the case. I’m not the scary monster that Rubin would portray me to be, and neither is anyone else in SJP. When I was an undergraduate at UCLA, I was mostly involved in the anti-sweatshop and fair trade campaigns. Today as a doctoral student in sociology, I study the consequences of the federal government’s transition from public housing to voucher programs. I have won prestigious fellowships and have been recognized for excellence in teaching. Outside of my work in SJP, I have advocated for admissions reforms and increased diversity in faculty hiring. Most people in SJP, including Palestinians and women of color who are much more vital to the organization than I am, are the same – everyday students who dedicate time to supporting the Palestinian people. The anti-divestment community must come to terms with this fact and realize that Israel’s violence is what is shocking and outraging us into becoming activists.
Fourth, I believe Rubin’s effort to smear me is actually an effort to intimidate you, the reader. The underlying message of her article was that if you speak out too loudly or work too hard, Rubin or another anti-Palestinian activist will smear you just like she tried to smear me. Harassment and vilification of activists happens on many issues, from opposing sexual violence to campaigning against tuition hikes to even just being a racial or ethnic minority, undocumented or not perfectly conforming to gender binaries. But I’m not going to be intimidated and neither should you. I’ve received a tremendous outpouring of support from my students, colleagues and faculty, and despite Rubin’s attack, I’m not worried that my advocacy for Palestinian rights will diminish my ability to get a job or have a successful, fulfilling life. As our movements grow and become stronger, the effects of these attacks will only continue to diminish. The students united will never be defeated.
Kurwa is a doctoral student in sociology and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine.