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Bruins in Paris

USAC votes to delay controversial resolution about divestment

By hong chen

April 12, 2013 1:41 a.m.

The undergraduate student government voted at its meeting Tuesday to indefinitely table a controversial resolution that calls on UCLA to analyze its assets and pull its finances from companies that violate human and labor rights.

The resolution, which backers say is meant to take a moral stance, asks UCLA to divest its holdings from “socially irresponsible companies” that are involved with workers’ or human rights violations, or threaten environmental sustainability.

The original language of the resolution sparked debate over what its opponents called “vague language” and the use of the word “divestment” – a term which has been tied to the withdrawal of financial support from companies that support Israel and its national policies in the Middle East.

At the Tuesday meeting, which drew more than 100 students, opponents of the resolution focused on one particular clause that cited a student demonstration at UCLA against the “2008-09 Israeli offensive on Gaza” as an example of “(the UCLA community’s) commitment to justice and equality.” They said the clause implied that the proposal was actually about divestment from Israel, not about ethical investments, and said this language was offensive to members of the Jewish community.

Other UC undergraduate student councils, including ones at UC Berkeley, UC San Diego and UC Riverside, have recently dealt with resolutions that, unlike UCLA’s, ask the UC to divest specifically from Israel. UC Santa Barbara’s undergraduate student government voted 10-11-1 Thursday morning to reject a resolution calling for divestment from companies supporting Israel after a 14-hour senate meeting.

At UCLA, because of the concerns raised, the Undergraduate Students Association Council decided to take out the clause during its meeting. USAC unanimously decided to indefinitely table the resolution for future amendments at an undetermined date.

External Vice President Lana El-Farra – who helped draft the resolution with members of Queer Alliance, Students for Justice in Palestine, Muslim Students Association, Pakistani Student Association, Afrikan Student Union and MEChA de UCLA – said the core of the resolution is not about divestment from Israel but about standing for human and labor rights.

“The intent of the resolution was not to cause controversy, but to call for ethical investments from the university,” El-Farra said.

El-Farra was also one of the original sponsors of the resolution, along with Anees Hasnain, community service commissioner, and Taylor Mason, cultural affairs commissioner. Mason was not present at Tuesday’s meeting.

During the public comment portion of the meeting, several students accused El-Farra of breaking her promise to represent all students by supporting it.

Jonathan Gilbert, a fourth-year political science student and president of Bruins for Israel, said El-Farra did not ask for his or his organization’s opinions in the original drafting of the resolution and that the proposal only represents one side of a complicated issue.

“Our opinions were not asked for and we did not know about it until (after the resolution was written),” Gilbert said. “That’s being pushed to the side and almost being marginalized.”

Dana Saifan, a third-year psychology student and president of Students for Justice in Palestine, said in an interview after the meeting that she thinks the resolution is grounded in basic human rights and reflects UCLA’s True Bruin values.

Saifan said she was happy the council is at least trying to address the issue of ethical investments and she thinks the resolution is only about those investments, not Israel or Palestine.

USAC President David Bocarsly said the council’s decision to table the resolution indefinitely was wise given the divisiveness it caused among students.

“We need to have a longer, more meaningful conversation about ethical investments without talking about Israel and Palestine,” Bocarsly said.

The council also plans to host a forum on ethical investments before discussing the resolution again, El-Farra said. The forum is tentatively set for Thursday at 5 p.m., she said.

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