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Submission: Context is crucial in USAC resolutions

By Avi Oved

Feb. 24, 2014 12:00 a.m.

The Undergraduate Students Association Council is predictable. Every year, the same issues arise in a slightly new form, with the same back-and-forth petty slate politics, the same anxious and politically charged underclassmen that want the taste of council experience and the same strong momentum that withers away as the year comes to a close and elections are in sight.

Council resolutions are just as repetitive. Almost every year, without fail, a form of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement materializes on University of California campuses. These bills fluctuate in form but remain united in their desire to divest from Israel. These resolutions tear apart student government meetings as hundreds of students protest until the early morning when a decision is made.

Hoping to preempt the repetitive nature of this conversation, I authored a resolution in fall quarter titled “A Resolution in Support of Positive Steps Towards an Israeli-Palestinian Peace” in the hopes of reshaping the conversation regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict in a more positive, forward-thinking light that would lay the foundation for a better campus climate.

During public comment at the USAC meeting where that resolution was introduced, individuals spoke passionately for three hours against this resolution as they criticized not only the language (which was remedied by numerous amendments) but the fact that the situation I was hoping to tackle doesn’t exist “in a vacuum.”

Even though I thought my resolution took a neutral approach, I realized later that it did not do justice to either side of the debate.

My attempt to mediate such a contentious conversation, no matter how well-intentioned, backfired. After hours of removing every piece of divisive language, all that was left was a short call to recognize the inalienable rights of both Israelis and Palestinians. The resolution was voted down because regardless of my intention or even the text, it was the perception that mattered. In retrospect, I realize it was my mistake to bring forward that resolution.

My failed resolution defined my tenure as Internal Vice President, my relationships with council members and students and my time in USAC. It quite literally changed everything for me. Even as I acknowledge my mistake, that it is never worth it to put people through such emotional volatility, I appreciate what I’ve learned throughout that experience: namely, that USAC is not the appropriate or responsible forum to take one-sided stances regarding the Israel-Palestine conflict.

When I read the divestment resolution that USAC will vote on tomorrow, the language sounded appealing – even neutral. But just as I was told for hours in the fall, resolutions do not exist in a vacuum. That is why I’m frustrated that USAC is being pressured to vote only on the language that essentially holds my resolution to a double standard.

The context for this resolution is particularly hurtful for Jewish and Israeli-American students like myself.

This divestment resolution is an extension of the Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement, championed by Omar Barghouti who said himself at UCLA that the call to BDS would not stop until the end of Zionism (the movement that supports the right for the Jewish people to their own homeland). I will not support divestment because it’s directly linked to a bigoted movement that aims to delegitimize the state of Israel and seeks the removal of the only Jewish homeland in the world.

As an Israeli-American, divesting from these companies means divesting from the safety measures that are keeping my family in Israel safe.

I have been asked by supporters of this resolution to only consider it as it stands. What I find problematic about this request is that it ignores the negative implications the resolution will have on the communities it affects. Who are the 13 members of the council to take a position on divestment that purports to represent all communities on campus, including the Israeli and pro-Israel ones?

People are entitled to their own opinions and we shouldn’t dare belittle their perception of what campus climate means to them. The issue with both sides of the conflict on this campus is an inability to listen to one another and participate in dialogue. What all sides need is to learn not only to hear, but to listen. There’s a difference.

My resolution didn’t pass because of the larger implications it had for the pro-Palestinian community on campus. This resolution shouldn’t pass because of the larger implications BDS has not only for the Pro-Israel and Jewish communities but for the entire student body.

My final message for both sides of this issue is to focus on what is best for your school rather than on personally tearing down individuals and their beliefs. Regardless of which side you support, if you let the desire to “win” supersede your basic humanity, you have already lost.

Oved is a third-year economics student and the USAC Internal Vice President.

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