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On Feb. 8, the University of California Student Association will vote on a resolution to divest from 11 companies that do business with Israel. The legislation was authored by Students for Justice in Palestine members across the country including Rahim Kurwa, a UCLA graduate student who has played a leading role in promoting similar campaigns within the Undergraduate Students Association Council here at UCLA.
By helping to write a resolution that would speak for every UC student, Kurwa has become a public figure subject to the same standards of transparency and ethics as any member of student government. Given the scrutiny pro-Israel student leaders have received for their affiliations, Kurwa’s own questionable connections to outside political interests, as well as to individuals and organizations that espouse homophobia, racism and genocide denial deserve equal examination. Earlier this year, Kurwa wrote that, “as efforts by off-campus groups to influence student politics grow, we must be more vigilant of threats to the integrity of our political process.” As someone who has repeatedly made accusations about off-campus groups influencing student politics, Kurwa should have had the integrity to disclose his own outside ties.
In 2014, Kurwa joined the leadership of the U.S. Campaign to End the Israeli Occupation. This is particularly relevant to student government because this same organization has published a handbook about orchestrating campus divestment against Israel. The handbook encourages students to contact university administrators as part of their campaign, but avoid revealing their full intentions during these interactions. And while the handbook states that divestment was “introduced in North America as a stepping stone toward a broad, comprehensive boycott of Israel,” it tells students to publicly claim that divestment only targets “Israel’s occupation.” Kurwa should explain why an off-campus group he helps lead is instructing activists to deceive university administrators and students.
Furthermore, Kurwa should have disclosed that outside interests are extremely involved in running campus divestment across America. In the spring of 2013, divestment lobby groups created the National Campus BDS Support Team to “streamline and enhance support for campus campaigns” by providing research, talking points, texts and professional legal reviews for student divestment resolutions. These off-campus organizations have a combined annual budget of at least $42 million. Kurwa is listed on Support Team materials as a contact for SJP chapters around the country.
Kurwa’s history is deeply concerning as well. In 2012, he was a member of the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) National Leadership, which organized SJP’s National Conference that year. One of the speakers was Khader Adnan, of the terrorist organization Palestinian Islamic Jihad. They were undeterred by the fact that Adnan had previously incited suicide bombings against Israelis. Kurwa even promoted Adnan’s speech at SJP’s National Conference on social media.
To stage their national conferences, Kurwa and SJP’s leadership use money from an off-campus organization called American Muslims for Palestine. This is deeply problematic, because AMP leaders and speakers have engaged in a variety of extremism and bigotry, including homophobia, support for terrorism and genocide denial. One of AMP’s past keynote speakers publicly defended the 9/11 attacks and another denies the fact that Sudan committed genocide against Africans in Darfur. AMP employees have led training sessions for SJP at UCLA and lobbied student governments across the UCs, including the UCSA.
The troubling associations do not end there. In December 2014, Kurwa flew to Spain to speak about Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions at an international conference. He shared a panel with Mahmoud Nawajaa, the general coordinator of the Palestinian BDS National Committee, despite the fact that Nawajaa publicly supports Hamas on social media. The BNC leads the BDS movement against Israel, and has been directly involved in campus divestment campaigns in California.
This is of particular concern because one of the leading groups in the BNC is the Council of National and Islamic Forces, a coalition that includes the racist terrorist organization Hamas. Kurwa should disclose the extent he coordinates with the leadership of the global BDS movement against Israel.
This resolution invokes human rights and social justice, and claims to “amplify” student voices. Yet Kurwa has worked with bigoted off-campus organizations to push a narrow political agenda on campus. This is extremely hypocritical and deeply offensive to students across the UC system. If we truly oppose injustice, and want to uphold ethics and transparency, we should start fully investigating who is behind anti-Israel divestment campaigns.
Rubin is a fourth-year human biology and society student and the former president of Hillel at UCLA.
Clarification: Kurwa was not the sole author of the resolution, but one of many Students for Justice in Palestine members who co-authored it.