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Submission: USAC needs to make right choice by voting to divest

By Sarah Rahimi

Nov. 14, 2014 12:27 a.m.

Dear Undergraduate Students Association Council,

By now, you have had a chance to engage with Palestinian students and Students for Justice in Palestine members through individual meetings, teach-ins, Palestine Awareness Week activities and Monday’s divestment town hall meeting, which was attended by about 100 students.

You have learned about the ways in which the University of California community is currently invested in companies that systematically violate Palestinian human rights, and the urgent and serious effect of those violations on a community that extends to this campus and your classrooms.

You have asked questions and brought up suggestions for the upcoming USAC resolution concerning divestment. You have seen SJP work in good faith to address concerns and incorporate as much of the feedback as possible, including taking suggestions from students who are against divestment.

SJP’s divestment committee has worked hard to clear up myths about divestment, a tool that students in the past have used to promote social justice and equality. We’ve responded to every criticism of divestment that has come our way, and we have yet to hear a compelling reason to invest in corporations that make money from violence against any group of people.

SJP understands that not everyone shares all of our views on Israel-Palestine, so we have worked hard to structure our campaign so that students from across campus can support and accept it.

Usually, most debates in USAC are centered on just the facts and arguments, but we know this situation is different because of how deep sentiments can run on this issue. Not only is it tempting to avoid taking a stance because of those tensions but also because the decision to support social justice is often a daunting one. Indeed, councilmembers have routinely expressed to SJP members a concern about what supporting divestment, or even appearing “too political” in general, may mean for their friendships and future job prospects.

As student activists, we have faced the same worries about our jobs and futures, but we have come to the conclusion that supporting human rights trumps those concerns. There is a huge community of support on campus: Hundreds of students and dozens of student groups from all walks of life support divestment and will be there to support you, too.

And we are joining what we believe to be a growing shift in public opinion, in which support for Palestinian rights is a more commonly held stance.

As with many other social justice struggles in the past, a stance that may seem risky and radical today will likely be rather common tomorrow. For example, it was considered radical to be against South African apartheid at some point, yet it’s a commonly held stance now.

We don’t relish putting you in this position, but the fact is that you were elected to office at a time when this issue has risen to the forefront of campus politics. Throughout its history, USAC has served as the way for students to hold systems of power, especially the UC Board of Regents, accountable to student demands. Throughout our campus’s history, none of the divestment campaigns that are now described with pride started out as popular with the regents or administration. Some took more than 10 years to be put into effect, but they all involved student governments taking a stand for social justice.

Now that you’re in office, you have an important opportunity to do the right thing, to support human rights for all people and to make a decision that UC students for generations to come can be proud of.

Throughout our divestment campaign, we have seen that support for human rights can be a basis of unity among many students on campus. On Tuesday, you can put that into practice by calling on the regents to divest from companies that violate Palestinian human rights. It’s time to do what you know is right. Be brave. Take the vote you know that you will be proud of when Palestinians are free. Divest from the violence.

Rahimi is a fifth-year international development studies student and a member of Students for Justice in Palestine.

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