Opinion: UCLA must stop repressing pro-Palestinian counter-narratives
UCLA must show its support for the Palestinian community by embracing Palestinian voices and divesting from the production of weapons used in Israeli strikes. Inclusivity will be nothing more than an empty promise if no action is taken. (Antonio Martinez/Daily Bruin)
By Firyal Bawab
June 22, 2021 2:36 p.m.
This post was updated June 27 at 9:08 p.m.
“All this gnawing at the existence of the colonized tends to make of life something resembling an incomplete death.” – Frantz Fanon, A Dying Colonialism.
Like many others, my family still has the keys to homes we lost during the initial mass exodus of Palestinians, the Nakba, over 70 years ago. From my father’s side, our house stands abandoned in Jerusalem. From my mother’s side, their family village in Yaffa, the Abu Kishk village, was terrorized into fleeing and then destroyed by the Israeli occupying forces. In its place looms a fenced-in military-hardware manufacturing complex.
Loved ones in occupied Palestine live under constant threat. My friend in Bir Zeit, Ramallah, tells me that every time he steps out of his house, he is afraid he will not return to it.
Though they’ve lived in East Jerusalem for generations and are protected under international law, Palestinian families are being forcibly removed to make way for illegal settlements, a settler colonial process that began in 1948.
These are not evictions – this is dispossession.
The University of California’s investment portfolio supports this dispossession and violence. The UC owns $140 billion in assets that are managed by BlackRock, the world’s largest investor in weapons manufacturing. According to CodePink, the investment management company supplies Israel jets and missiles to perpetuate reported war crimes upon Palestinians by investing in weapon manufacturing giants Boeing and Lockheed Martin. BlackRock advances the war industry. UCLA profits from it.
Student tuition should not support Israel’s oppression of Palestinians. UCLA must divest from all weapon manufacturing immediately.
Israel’s draconian legal system systematically erases indigenous Palestinians and normalizes occupation, the very definition of a settler colonial state. Between 1947 and 1949, the regime expelled at least 750,000 Palestinians and destroyed over 500 Palestinian villages. Today, over 6 million Palestinians live in a global diaspora.
Israel is a Zionist state, a nationalist-political project that – according to the Institute for Middle East Understanding – establishes itself at the cost of debilitating Palestinians in every sense of the word.
“The movement, I think, has robbed so many Palestinian families of autonomy and their own self-determination,” said Rachel Burnett, a second-year psychology student and member of Hillel, a Jewish student organization on campus.
The U.S. sanctions Israeli violence. It sends billions in military aid and blocked numerous United Nations investigations into reported Israeli war crimes. Like its nation, the UC does not end its support of Israel at finances alone.
In 2016, the UC regents attempted to denounce anti-Zionism discussion – a move to delegitimize criticism of Israel. The following year, 10 UC Chancellors issued a joint statement condemning Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions against Israel, a Palestinian-led movement pressuring Israel to end apartheid.
The UC Academic Council, the faculty-driven governing body of the Academic Senate that handles non-legislative matters, stated that the regents and chancellors violated shared governance processes by trying to establish an academic norm. This norm is one that is pro-Zionism, pro-apartheid and pro-settler colonialism.
On May 15, thousands of people in the U.S. attended Nakba 73 protests to mark the anniversary of “the catastrophe.” Tens of thousands across North America rallied to affirm their commitment to Palestinians’ struggle for justice, return and liberation.
“We walked all the way across Wilshire,” said Mariam Mahmoud, a fourth-year economics and public affairs student who attended the protest in Los Angeles. “Everywhere you look, it’s Palestinian flags. I think some people said it was 20,000 people, and I believe that, if not more.”
In the face of overwhelming pro-Palestinian solidarity, Chancellor Gene Block’s silence is violent. The university’s silence was so deafening that prominent UCLA faculty wrote an open letter condemning Block for ignoring anti-Palestinian violence.
The Office of the Dean of Students did design a “letter of care” to Palestinian students, but the letter itself reads superficially, and it was a weeks-late show of compassion, out of the public gaze.
Large expressions of solidarity are welcomed when Palestinian advocacy has been bullied for so long across the UC. Take, for instance, the David Horowitz posters incident, in which flyers labeling students and faculty as terrorists and murderers were plastered across campus. Or the wrongful smearing of guest lecturer Rabab Abdulhadi, whom UCLA investigated for hate speech. The UC Academic Senate later determined that the professor who invited Abdulhadi was well within her right to do so, but the university never apologized for its accusations.
It’s not just UCLA that perpetuates anti-Palestinian ideology – it’s our elected leaders. In 2018, the LA City Council unanimously voted to stop Students for Justice in Palestine’s national conference from being held at UCLA. It proceeded anyway thanks to the First Amendment, but organizers faced over-policing and immense backlash.
Saliem Shehadeh, a member of Graduate Students for Justice in Palestine and doctoral student in anthropology at UCLA, said politicians condemned UCLA for hosting the conference.
“(They were) relying on the same, Islamaphobic, orientalist, anti-Palestinian, anti-Arab tropes of essentially equating SJP with terrorist organizations and that they should not be a part of the collegial experience,” Shehadeh said.
In a Los Angeles Times op-ed, Block unfairly antagonized SJP, which by extension antagonized pro-Palestinian advocacy.
“I have fundamental disagreements with SJP, which has called for boycott against and divestment in Israel, actions that stigmatize that nation,” Block wrote. “The attempt to ostracize Israeli thinkers, and to declare off-limits even discussion with Israeli academics runs contrary to the values of inclusion, debate and discussion that are crucial to any university.”
The chancellor did not adhere to bare expectations of inclusivity when he violated the scope of his office by antagonizing SJP and condemning BDS. But inclusivity is crucial when the status quo forces Palestinians to sit with their oppressors and argue repeatedly for their own basic human rights and liberation.
“The general tactic is to build this web of acceptability of the repression,” said an SJP board member who asked to remain anonymous for personal security. “If they can smear us and associate us with terrorism, with hate, with racism, with violence, with all of these aspects, it is suddenly okay – the repression we face in response to it.”
The UC may still laud itself as neutral, but neutrality ignores structural underpinnings of domination and portrays systematic violations as arbitrary. Neutrality sides with dominant narratives, with the status quos of imperialism. Not with the oppressed.
UCLA spokesperson Ricardo Vazquez said the school is committed to academic freedom for all in an emailed statement. He did not directly comment on divestment when asked.
UCLA needs to stop repressing pro-Palestinian counter-narratives that speak out against imperialism. UCLA must decolonize political bias within its administration and funding system. It can start with divesting and refusing donations from actors that endorse Israel’s terrorist military regime, the IOF and settler colonial violence.