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Submission: Resolution supports divestment, not BDS as a whole

By Agatha E. Palma

Feb. 24, 2014 11:37 p.m.

Since the beginning of this school year, Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA has been working tirelessly to raise campus awareness about the need for divestment (withdrawing our university’s investments) from companies that profit off the occupation of Palestine, and about the urgency of this issue to our entire campus community. Our University’s investments make us all individually complicit in the ongoing and systematic oppression of Palestinians. We can demand an end to our complicity with a call for divestment.

The message that we have brought to the UCLA community is straightforward and ethically sound: human rights abuses against Palestinians have been thoroughly documented, they are wrong and we have an obligation as students not to financially support them. Calling for divestment means that we value the human rights of Palestinians as much as we do those of any other group, and SJP thus finds no reason why any student should oppose it.

There are many misconceptions about what our divestment resolution calls for. We are not asking the University of California Board of Regents to divest from Israel, nor from Israeli people. Rather, we are asking the UC regents to withdraw their multi-million dollar investments from five companies – Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, Cemex, Cement Roadstone Holidings and General Electric – none of which, incidentally, are Israeli. These companies are complicit in and profit from violence against Palestinians and the violations of their basic human rights.

Such violations include the bulldozing of Palestinian homes and farms for the construction of illegal Jewish-only settlements, the restriction of Palestinians’ freedom of movement in their own territory and horrendous attacks on Palestinians that have caused thousands of deaths. Supporting Palestinian human rights does not mean we are taking anything away from anyone else. Students can be pro-Israel and pro-divestment, since supporting divestment simply means we do not wish to invest in violence against any community.

Our campaign has been entirely transparent, with the goal of educating our student body and council members about what divestment is and isn’t. We’ve organized three divestment teach-ins and two film screenings, have held SJP office hours every week and have met with dozens of organizations on campus, including those which openly oppose divestment.

Despite the simplicity and transparency of our campaign, some students still oppose our resolution because they insist it endorses a larger Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. While SJP strongly supports BDS as a non-violent mechanism to promote equality, human rights and international law, we recognize that there are a range of opinions (and misconceptions) about this movement. Thus, we are only asking the Undergraduate Students Association Council to endorse divestment from five specific companies. Our divestment resolution, which neither calls for boycotts nor sanctions, should not be seen as necessarily a manifestation of the BDS movement as a whole. It is divestment, the “D” in BDS, and nothing else.

When members of the pro-Israel Jewish community asked us to add language to the bill making this completely clear, we accepted their request and did so. We added a clause to our resolution which notes that voting for divestment is not an endorsement of any movement or organization, not even SJP. Our resolution should be considered on its own merits, and on its language alone. Requesting that the regents divest from Caterpillar, Cemex, CRH, Hewlett-Packard and General Electric does not mean, for example, that USAC is endorsing the academic boycott of Israel, or any other part of BDS not included in our resolution. That the entirety of our bill requests divestment from five companies means that our only motives are to divest from those five companies. We trust that councilmembers will recognize this, and we look forward to them voting on the resolution accordingly Tuesday.

Throughout the entirety of our campaign, we have witnessed an astounding and growing amount of support and solidarity from UCLA students from all walks of life. Palestinian, Israeli and Jewish students, as well as students from nearly every other background imaginable, have come together to support this campaign and stand up for Palestinian rights. Our resolution was written to empower Palestinians struggling for freedom, and people around the world, including Jewish people in Israel, who work to end the occupation. Students for Justice in Palestine firmly believes that human rights is a universal principle, and that our councilmembers will acknowledge that these rights belong to the Palestinian people as well.

Palma is a graduate student in anthropology and a board member of Students for Justice in Palestine.

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