USAC rejects resolution on divestment after long meeting
By Janet Nguyen
Feb. 26, 2014 11:09 p.m.
This post was updated at 10:37 p.m.
The undergraduate student government voted down a resolution early Wednesday morning calling for UCLA and the University of California to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.
The Undergraduate Students Association Council voted against the resolution with a 5-7-0 vote in a secret ballot. USAC moved to make the ballot secret after councilmembers raised concerns that their safety would be threatened by individuals who disagreed with their votes.
After a tie vote to use a secret ballot, USAC President John Joanino made the final decision to vote anonymously, despite protests from some councilmembers.
More than 500 people attended the meeting, which began Tuesday at 7 p.m. and lasted until 6:30 a.m. Wednesday. The public comment part of the meeting, where students expressed support or criticism for the resolution, lasted for nearly 9 hours, ending at about 4 a.m.
The resolution asked for divestment from Caterpillar, Cement Roadstone Holdings, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard and Cemex – companies that the resolution says contribute to human rights abuses against Palestinians.
Facilities Commissioner Armen Hadjimanoukian of the Bruins United slate, Community Service Commissioner Omar Arce, an independent councilmember, and General Representative Lizzy Naameh of the LET’S ACT! slate sponsored the resolution.
Arce said he and other councilmembers sponsored the resolution to demonstrate that slate politics did not interfere with the decision to bring it to table.
Joanino pushed for USAC to take a straw vote at the beginning of the council discussion to determine which USAC members would be willing to support the resolution.
During an initial straw vote, Hadjimanoukian, Financial Supports Commissioner Lauren Rogers, Academic Affairs Commissioner Darren Ramalho, Internal Vice President Avi Oved, General Representative Sunny Singh, Campus Events Commissioner Jessica Kim and General Representative Sam Haws voted against the resolution.
In a second straw vote later in the meeting, no councilmembers changed their vote. Student Wellness Commissioner Savannah Badalich, Naameh, External Vice President Maryssa Hall, Cultural Affairs Commissioner Jessica Trumble and Arce still said they would support the resolution.
Kim said she felt uncomfortable voting for the resolution because she thought it was divisive and she did not want to alienate the resolution’s opponents if there was a chance USAC could find a less polarizing solution to the issue.
“I would like to represent the entire study body in the most representative way as possible,” Kim said.
During the discussion, Hall told councilmembers she thinks they should take stances on issues even if they are controversial. She added that she did not think USAC was neutral in the debate, since UC funding, to which students contribute, is invested in companies specified in the resolution.
“As an elected official, I will continue to take stances and the right stances,” Hall said.
Hall said she thought councilmembers who did not feel knowledgeable about the issue should abstain from voting, something that is not common with this year’s council.
During the council meeting, officers discussed a resolution relating to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict that Oved authored and brought to table last quarter. Oved said he was wrong to bring the resolution to the council in the fall.
“No one came into the USAC meeting with the vulnerability to get a sense of what the other side was saying,” Oved said. “They came in with a defensive mentality. That’s not dialogue.”
Miriam Eshaghian, the president of Bruins for Israel and a fourth-year psychobiology student, said she thinks that the USAC meeting and the discussion about the resolution reflected a division in the UCLA student body.
She added that she thinks comments made at the meeting were anti-Semitic and anti-American and disrespectful of multiple campus communities.
“This resolution was not about human rights, it was political,” Eshaghian said.
Some councilmembers said they thought Students for Justice in Palestine should have included the input of Jewish student groups on campus, such as Bruins for Israel and Hillel at UCLA, in the drafting of the resolution.
“If this resolution is passed, then the Jewish community will feel marginalized,” Rogers said.
Rogers, Oved, Ramalho and Singh all said that they wanted students to look for a more inclusive solution to the issue and that the divestment resolution was not the right approach to the problem.
“I want to challenge the fact that this divestment resolution is the only means to change,” Oved said. “This can be a united front. This can.”
After councilmembers voted down the resolution, students chanted against the decision for a few minutes and then filed out of Ackerman Grand Ballroom.
Naameh exited the room with members of Students for Justice in Palestine before the meeting ended and Hall stood and put up her fist in solidarity with students who supported the resolution.
Arce, who spoke emotionally about the resolution after the meeting, said he was angry after the USAC vote because he was moved by its effect on students.
“(The resolution) was really close to students and to see them feel really silenced … I felt really powerless to help them work through that pain,” Arce said.
Dana Saifan, a fourth-year psychology student and the president of Students for Justice in Palestine, said she thinks Students for Justice in Palestine helped educate the UCLA community and build solidarity among some student groups by bringing forth the resolution, even if it did not pass.
“It’s shameful that USAC felt they had the right to make students continue to be complicit in violence against their families,” Saifan said.
She added that Students for Justice in Palestine will keep pushing for divestment, though the group does not have specific plans.
“(The issue is) not going away. It’s here,” she said.
Dozens of students said they were too disappointed with the vote to comment on it to the Daily Bruin as they walked out of the meeting, while others said they thought councilmembers made a just decision.
Contributing reports by Amanda Schallert, Bruin senior staff.