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USAC divestment resolution draws concerns from Jewish student organizations

A resolution passed by the Undergraduate Students Association Council on March 2, which called on the University of California to divest from war, was met with concerns about its controversial language about Israel. (Daily Bruin file photo)

By Lindsay Turpin

March 13, 2021 12:20 p.m.

Jewish student organizations raised concerns about transparency and inclusion after the undergraduate student government passed a resolution containing controversial language about Israel.

The resolution, which was unanimously passed by the Undergraduate Students Association Council on March 2, called on the University of California to divest from businesses that contribute to military operations globally. The UC entrusts several investment funds – including the General Endowment Pool and UC Retirement Plan – to be managed by BlackRock, a firm that invests in the weapons manufacturing industry and corporations connected to alleged human rights violations.

The USAC resolution said that the strategy of divestment has been successful in the past to promote justice, including by divesting from the “ethnic cleansing in Palestine by the Israeli government.”

Jewish student organizations, including Bruins for Israel and some members of Hillel at UCLA, said that the language used was harsh and unfair to Israel.

“Unfortunately, the proponents of this resolution made it impossible for students to express their perspectives before a vote by concealing its explicit contents from the campus community,” a letter from Hillel and Bruins for Israel at UCLA read.

Aaron Ahdoot, the president of the Bruins for Israel Public Affairs Committee and a third-year biochemistry student, said the process for passing this resolution was undemocratic because the resolution’s title, “A Resolution Calling for the UC to Divest from War” did not make it known on the meeting’s agenda that Israel would be mentioned.

Emily Luong, the USAC internal vice president and a fourth-year communication student, said that USAC did not release any wording of the resolution beyond the title before the vote – which is customary for the meeting agenda.

Ahdoot said that this meant that students interested in contributing to the pre-vote discussion weren’t able to point out different perspectives from what was represented in the document.

“It’s important for them to be cognizant of the language that they’re voting on because right now it shows that every single one of the council members condones the language of the resolution,” Ahdoot said.

Forty-four students and alumni released a letter March 9 expressing their disappointment with the way Hillel leadership had responded to USAC’s resolution because they said it contained misinformation and did not reflect the beliefs of all of Hillel. Hillel’s response created a dichotomy of pro- and anti-Israel stances and ignored voices that advocated for a compromise, the letter said.

Sachi Cooper, the USAC Facilities commissioner and a student director in Hillel who also signed the letter, said the original Hillel response was only representative of pro-Israel students and did not speak for the variety of opinions that exist within Hillel.

“We’re all a part of the same community, but (the letter) was to show that there are diverse perspectives within the community when it comes to Israel,” Cooper said.

The letter from Hillel and Bruins of Israel said the resolution resembled previous attempts of divestment from Israel, such as USAC’s resolution in 2014. This strategy is part of a larger Palestinian-led movement called Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions, which seeks to restore Palestine’s territories that were lost in wars with Israel.

Ahdoot said the BDS movements are harmful because they do not lead to a path to peace or compromise and imply that Israel does not deserve its sovereignty.

Sapir Yona, a member of Students Supporting Israel at UCLA, said the anti-war premise of the resolution was contradictory to the damage that comes from divestment from Israel.

“Are we promoting terror or are we promoting peace?” said Yona, a fourth-year psychology student.

Shir Atias, an SSI member and a fourth-year psychology student, said she doesn’t feel safe at UCLA anymore because the resolution was hurtful to her community.

“I think the student government needs to make a small gesture to make sure that as a community we are safe,” Atias said.

Ahdoot said USAC needs to be more transparent to keep students informed about the specifics of what will be voted on in their meetings.

Aidan Arasasingham, USAC external vice president and a fourth-year global studies student, said he only realized that some of the language was controversial after the resolution passed.

USAC did not intend to hide the content of the resolution, said Justin Rodriguez, USAC general representative 2 and a third-year economics student who wrote the resolution.

Rodriguez said in a subsequent emailed statement that USAC has apologized for not being transparent to members of Hillel and other Jewish student organizations and agreed to make the language of proposed resolutions available earlier in future cases.

A number of student organizations, including Students for Justice in Palestine and the Student Labor Advocacy Project, attended the council meeting and supported the resolution.

The Student Labor Advocacy Project said in a public statement that it supported the resolution calling for divestment because funds invested in war and weapons could be better used for supporting students in need. It did not comment on the controversy with Hillel or mention Israel in the statement.

Students for Justice in Palestine said in a statement it sees the passage of the resolution as a success in the movement toward full divestment from Israel and added that divestment is important for stopping oppression and attacks on Palestinians.

USAC remains adamant that the UC should divest from war, imperialism and policing, Rodriguez said.

Rodriguez said that after the passage of this document, the next steps lie with student organizations and other student governments for continued activism and with the UC Board of Regents to redistribute UC money away from militarism.

Stett Holbrook, a UC Office of the President spokesperson, declined to comment on the resolution.

To ensure that resolutions are more transparent to the student body in the future, Luong said she proposed a new bylaw that would require the council to publish their full agenda – including all resolutions – by 7 p.m. two school days before the USAC meeting to allow students to be more aware of what the council is voting on. The bylaw amendments were passed at the Tuesday USAC meeting.

Arasasingham said that with such a delicate issue as Israeli-Palestinian relations, the council should be prudent and open to a variety of feedback. He said that this time did not allow for that dialogue, but he is sure the process will be more inclusive in the future.

“I’m very thankful for the open lines of communication and consultation in partnership between USAC and Hillel to make sure that we’re working together in a consultative manner,” Arasasingham said.

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