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Student group alleges conflict of interest in two USAC councilmembers’ votes

By amanda schallert

April 29, 2014 2:22 p.m.

Members of Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA are officially challenging the legitimacy of two undergraduate student government councilmembers’ votes on a controversial divestment resolution brought to council last quarter.

Students for Justice in Palestine submitted a petition to the Undergraduate Students Association Council Judicial Board at the end of last week, claiming that USAC General Representative Sunny Singh and USAC Financial Supports Commissioner Lauren Rogers engaged in a conflict of interest by voting on a resolution that called for UCLA and the University of California to withdraw investments from companies that profit from the Israeli occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.

Students for Justice in Palestine brought the resolution to council along with numerous other student groups, but councilmembers voted it down 5-7-0 using a secret ballot. In the discussion at the council table, both Singh and Rogers appeared to be against the resolution.

The Judicial Board released a statement Monday night saying that it plans to review the case.

The petition asserts that Singh’s vote constituted a conflict of interest because during the summer he went on a free trip to Israel paid for by the Anti-Defamation League, a pro-Israel lobbying group that aims to stop anti-Semitism.

Students for Justice in Palestine also filed the complaint against Rogers because she went on a free trip to Israel over winter break with Project Interchange, which is part of the American Jewish Committee and aims to increase individuals’ understanding of Israel.

 

Both the Anti-Defamation League and the American Jewish Committee have released statements showing support for anti-divestment campaigns.

“Whether their intention (for the trips) was for education or something else, the fact remains that the organizations themselves have anti-divestment agendas,” said Dana Saifan, the president of Students for Justice in Palestine and a fourth-year psychology student.

Rogers and Singh have said they did not receive any financial or monetary benefits for their votes and were not obligated to vote in any way because of the trips. They added that they viewed the trips as educational opportunities and did not use any of their office resources to go on the trip.

But members of Students for Justice in Palestine said they think Singh and Rogers were provided the trips and benefits as a result of their council positions because the organizations listed that students in leadership positions should apply to go on the trips.

At past meetings, the conflict-of-interest issue was brought up, but no formal actions were taken.

Students for Justice in Palestine didn’t think councilmembers were taking their concerns seriously, so they wanted the Judicial Board, an objective third party, to step in and evaluate the case, Saifan said.

The USAC bylaws state that a conflict of interest arises when councilmembers have any “unauthorized financial interest or obligation which might cause divided loyalty or even the appearance of divided loyalty.”

Councilmembers are supposed to refrain from voting and disclose all information if such a situation arises.

The Judicial Board intends to decide whether Singh and Rogers engaged in a conflict of interest, whether their trips affected their votes and whether their votes were legitimate.

The Judicial Board plans to hold a closed preliminary hearing for the case Thursday evening.

Compiled by Amanda Schallert, Bruin senior staff.

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