Majority of USAC candidates sign joint ethics statement
By amanda schallert
May 6, 2014 1:08 a.m.
The original version of this article contained information that was unclear and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for additional information.
The majority of candidates running for undergraduate student government officer positions this week have promised to not go on free or sponsored trips with certain pro-Israel lobbying organizations and non-student centered external groups if they are elected.
All candidates running with the FIRED UP! and LET’S ACT! slates and none running with Bruins United have signed the Joint Statement on Undergraduate Students Association Council Ethics, which asks for councilmembers to refrain from taking free or sponsored trips with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, or AIPAC, the Anti-Defamation League or Hasbara Fellowships.
The statement permits councilmembers to collaborate with certain student-run organizations, namely the University of California Students Association and U.S. Students Association.
Members of Jewish Voice for Peace, the Armenian Students’ Association and Students for Justice in Palestine drafted the statement last week, said Gabriel Levine, a fifth-year math and economics student and a board member for Jewish Voice for Peace.
Members of the Muslim Students Association, the Afrikan Student Union and Samahang Pilipino also expressed support for the statement, Levine said.
Multiple Bruins United councilmembers have gone on trips with the Anti-Defamation League or attended AIPAC conferences this year, sparking concern from some student group leaders who viewed councilmembers’ affiliations as conflicts of interest.
Councilmembers’ involvement with pro-Israel Jewish groups were largely brought to the spotlight and questioned because USAC voted on a controversial resolution in February that called for UCLA and the University of California to divest from companies that profit from the Israeli military’s occupation of Gaza and the West Bank.
Members of the Armenian Students’ Association and Students for Justice in Palestine were strong supporters of the resolution, which failed to pass after an almost 12-hour-long meeting.
Jewish Voice for Peace formed after the divestment resolution meeting and also supports divestment.
Four Bruins United councilmembers who were vocally against the resolution had gone on free or sponsored trips to Israel or attended AIPAC conferences.
The USAC bylaws say that a conflict of interest occurs when a USAC member receives “improper benefits because of their elected position. These benefits could include money or other gifts and advantages, according to USAC administrative representatives.
Elected members of USAC are prohibited from having an “unauthorized financial interest or obligation which might cause divided loyalty,” and the bylaws advise that USAC members avoid the perception of conflicts of interest.
Some councilmembers and USAC candidates said they do not think the USAC bylaws prohibit affiliations with outside groups.
Avinoam Baral, the Bruins United candidate for internal vice president and the current chief of staff for the Internal Vice President’s office, said he did not sign on to the statement because he thinks that councilmembers should have the freedom to associate with different organizations and to educate themselves about different topics through trips as long as they are not violating the USAC bylaws or constitution.
Baral said he went on a trip to Israel covered by Hasbara Fellowships during winter quarter as an educational experience.
Sunny Singh, the Bruins United candidate for president and a current general representative, said he did not sign the statement because he thinks that councilmembers should be held to the USAC bylaws and the USAC constitution and allowed to take advantage of educational resources.
Singh, who went on a free trip to Israel with the Anti-Defamation League over the summer, and current Financial Supports Commissioner Lauren Rogers are currently part of a Judicial Board case meant to review their votes on the divestment resolution. Members of Students for Justice in Palestine filed the Judicial Board complaint against Singh and Rogers, who went on a free trip to Israel during winter break with Project Interchange, which is part of the American Jewish Committee.
Singh and Rogers have said their actions did not constitute a conflict of interest because they did not receive financial benefits for their votes on the divestment resolution and are not obligated to act in any way because of the trips.
Still, Singh said he would not go on another trip with a pro-Israel organization if elected because he does not want to alienate any students. He added that he did not know that his trip with the Anti-Defamation League would spark backlash and concern from students this year.
“I want to make sure that I can be accessible and approachable to all students,” Singh said.
In addition to Bruins United members, independent candidates did not sign onto the statement.
Greg Kalfayan, the independent candidate for Campus Events commissioner, said he does not anticipate going on a trip with any organization mentioned in the statement, but he did not want to sign onto a blanket statement that would stop him from affiliating with external groups.
Other independent candidates could not be reached for comment.
Terrell Morris, a first-year English student, said he thinks councilmembers have a right to go on trips with external organizations to learn about different issues they want to pursue.
Julie Escobar, a fourth-year human biology and society student, said she thinks an all-expense-paid trip only presents one side of the issue.
“Unless they devote the same time and energy looking at the other side, then it’s not the same,” she added.
The deadline to sign the statement was 5 p.m. Monday, Levine said.
Contributing reports by Kendal Mitchell, Bruin contributor.
Clarification: The previous version of the article included unclear information on the groups included under the Joint Statement on USAC Ethics as well as an unclear description of what USAC administrative representatives said constituted a conflict of interest.