UCSA calls for divestment from bodies involved in alleged human rights violations
By Jeong Park
Feb. 8, 2015 2:55 p.m.
The original version of this article contained an error and has been changed. See the bottom of the article for more information.
This article has been updated at 4:28 p.m. on Feb. 11.
The University of California Student Association passed two resolutions Sunday calling for the University to divest from American companies that some say profit from alleged human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, as well as several governments including the U.S. that some say commit human rights violations.
The UCSA Board of Directors passed both resolutions by a 9-1-5 vote at its meeting at UCLA. UCSA advocates for UC students on various student-related issues and its board has representatives from 15 of 19 undergraduate and graduate student governments in the UC system, including UCLA’s undergraduate student government. Only external vice presidents from UC student government bodies can vote on resolutions.
The UC San Francisco Graduate and Professional Student Association was the only organization to vote against both resolutions.
The first resolution, which calls for divestment from some companies in Israel and was introduced in November by Students for Justice in Palestine members, had been tabled for months because board members wanted more time to talk with their constituents.
The second resolution calls for the UC to divest from foreign governments such as Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Russia, Turkey, Sri Lanka and Mexico, and the U.S., who some say have violated the right to “life, liberty, security of person, to education, to privacy, family (and) home, to own property and (not to) be arbitrarily deprived of property.”
Rebecca Ora, external vice president of UC Santa Cruz Graduate Student Association proposed the resolution. Ora said she proposed the resolution because she thinks human rights violations are evident in many countries and she views the resolution as a compromise for some pro-Israel students who said they think the first resolution holds Israel to an unfair standard.
The resolution argued that most of the countries listed have engaged in brutality against protesters and repression of ethnic minorities. The U.S. was included on the list for its drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, and for its disproportionate imprisonment of certain racial and ethnic minorities.
The UC has said it will divest from a foreign government only if the U.S. declares that a government has committed genocide. The UC Board of Regents and UCLA have also specified that they will not support divestment from companies that do business in Israel.
Board members generally voiced support of the resolutions during the meeting.
Iman Sylvain, external vice president of the UC Berkeley Graduate Assembly, urged students not to call the resolution anti-Semitic.
“Don’t make a blanket statement that this is hate-based,” Sylvain said.
Sara Lone, legislative liaison for the UC Irvine Associated Graduate Students, said she supports the resolution but is worried if UCSA can accurately represent students on other issues that may come on the table.
“We are getting more diverse and we will have a lot of moral justice issues on our table,” Lone said. “I’m not sure if we can represent all of the constituents.”
A contentious 90-minute public comment session took place before the votes, with more than 30 students from many UC campuses speaking.
A pro-Israel crowd of about 75 led a chant against the resolution calling for the divestment from certain American companies in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Many in the pro-Israel group said they think the resolution is an inappropriate issue to focus on during a time when students are facing a potential tuition hike.
“What you are doing is putting a wedge between two communities that should be sitting here and talking,” said Ori Herschmann, a senator for Associated Students of UC Berkeley.
The chant came after USAC President Avinoam Baral spoke against the resolution. The crowd, holding American and Israeli flags as well as signs that said “Divestment incites hate,” stormed out of the building after the chant and held a rally outside for about 30 minutes.
In his public comment, Baral said he thinks the resolution singles out Israel and is anti-Semitic.
“UCSA, you do not represent us,” Baral said.
A crowd of about the same size attended the meeting in support of the resolution.
Amal Ali, a student of UC Riverside and a former president of its Students for Justice in Palestine, said she thinks UCSA gave a voice to students who might otherwise lack power.
“You represent your campuses,” Ali said to UCSA board members. “We don’t have a voice, but you can.”
USAC passed a similar resolution in support of divestment from the American companies in November, after voting one down the previous school year.
After UC Davis’ student government passed a similar resolution on Jan. 29, six of nine undergraduate student governments in the UC have passed similar resolutions.
Correction: Pro-Israel students at the meeting held Israeli flags, not Jewish flags.