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Editorial: USAC should let students vote on divestment issue

By Editorial Board

Feb. 24, 2014 1:43 a.m.

The original headline accompanying this article contained information that was unclear and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for additional information.

Come Tuesday evening, the undergraduate student government faces the challenge of voting on a resolution with the potential to greatly divide the student body and alienate campus communities regardless of the outcome.

The resolution, which calls for UCLA’s divestment from five companies that violate Palestinian human rights through their ties with the Israeli military, is the second to come before council since last April. Like its predecessor, it has been surrounded by controversy, including full-blown social media campaigns and a tense, harmful dialogue on both sides.

While the moral core of the resolution is on point – the University of California should not invest in companies complicit in human rights abuse – the Undergraduate Students Association Council cannot in good faith pass judgment on such far-reaching issues and claim to speak for all students.

Instead of trying to come to a consensus about divestment at their meeting, the council should table the Resolution to Divest from Companies that Violate Palestinian Human Rights and help its authors put the question of divestment to the student body at large in the form of an advisory vote – a poll of student opinion – on the spring election ballot.

Whether the resolution is approved or struck down by the undergraduate population, an advisory vote would allow both camps to make their case to the public and for a more representative final decision.

A vote by USAC to approve the resolution would fail to represent the concerns of the Jewish and pro-Israel communities, while a vote to block the resolution would be seen as dismissive of the question of ethical investments and the pro-Palestine cause.

In the end, both these results would fail to represent the holistic view of the student body, the stated intent of USAC resolutions.

The board believes that the issues presented in the resolution are important for students and the campus community at large to consider. UC investments in companies that support the military occupation of the Palestinian West Bank and provide for the building of illegal Israeli settlements in the region are deeply problematic and contribute to a status quo that threatens the ongoing peace process.

However, it is vital that these issues are considered in a venue where representative decisions may emerge.

Specifically, the resolution calls for UCLA’s divestment from five companies – none of which are Israeli – that provide the Israeli military with equipment that is in turn used to occupy the West Bank and promote the Israeli settler movement, according to Students for Justice in Palestine, the authors of the resolution.

Unlike previous resolutions in this vein at UCLA, and unlike many that have been brought forward at other UC campuses, the language does not focus on the state of Israel or the Israel-Palestine conflict on a broad scale. Instead, it narrows in almost exclusively on individual companies and the UC’s responsibility to invest ethically.

But the resolution’s potential impact on campus climate is cause for serious concern.

The leaders of the Jewish and pro-Israel communities on campus feel threatened by the resolution’s perceived tie to the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, which they say aims to delegitimize Israel as a nation.

While the resolution does contain a clause denying that connection, the remarkably similar context of this document to ones pushed at other UC campuses that have condemned Israel in less ambiguous terms makes it hard to separate the two.

The only way to approach divestment without forcing the councilmembers to choose between alienating one community or the other is to put the question on the spring election ballot in the form of an advisory referendum.

Clarification: USAC should table the divestment resolution Tuesday and subsequently help draft an advisory referendum for students to vote on the issue.

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