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Hundreds of students attended Wednesday night’s Associated Students Senate meeting to debate a resolution supporting divestment from companies accused of profiting from “the military occupation of Palestine.”
Talk of marginalization dominated the nine-hour discussion. Anti-divestment speakers argued that the proposed resolution would marginalize Jewish and Israeli students, while pro-divestment speakers insisted that the current investments have already subjected their community to marginalization. The exceptionally large student turnout forced the meeting to relocate to Corwin Pavilion in order to accommodate everyone, with a majority of the audience remaining at the meeting until adjournment at 5:00 a.m.
The resolution, titled “A Resolution to Divest From Companies that Profit From Apartheid,” targets seven university-affiliated corporations including Caterpillar, General Electric, Northrop Grumman, Hewlett Packard, Raytheon and Motorola for supporting Israeli military and economic control of Palestinian territories. It calls upon the Associated Students Investment Advisory Committee, the University of California treasury and the UC Regents to divest UC money from each of the companies mentioned in order to defend human rights.
Rabbi Evan Goodman, who co-teaches a course on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict with professor Walid Afifi and serves as the executive director of Santa Barbara Hillel, said the resolution might jeopardize the positive atmosphere that UCSB has created for its Jewish students.
“We as a community have become a place that is very positive for Jewish students. When a campus like UC Berkeley or UC Santa Cruz is now under federal investigation for anti-Jewish activities … we are the exception,” Goodman said. “We are the exception for Jewish students; we are the exception for Muslim students, and for students of all different backgrounds, so I want to keep it that way.”
Goodman said this resolution does not merely criticize the Israeli government, but instead attacks the state of Israel itself.
“There’s one tiny Jewish state in the entire world,” Goodman said. “That the resolution undercuts that — and not something that’s simply critical of the Israeli government — is something that’s antithetical to what I believe in. To single out Israel as an apartheid state — if you can’t understand how that would make a Jewish student feel marginalized, I am flabbergasted.”
Pro-divestment student and second-year political science major Anisha Ahuja countered the statement.
“As a student who believes in human rights, I believe that without passing this resolution we are marginalizing students,” Ahuja said.
Third-year Hani Tajsar, one of the student sponsors of the resolution and member of Students for Justice in Palestine, rejected the idea that divestment or critique of the government was an attack on the Jewish community.
“I find it very disheartening that I cannot attack the state of Israel without being called an anti-Semite,” Tajsar said.
Goodman’s co-professor Walid Afifi of the communication department also spoke at the meeting in favor of divestment. Afifi said the Israeli government has broken international laws and should be confronted.
“In the end, what I think we really need to pay attention to is that we have an occupation … which comes with a rule of law of what is required by the occupier,” Afifi said. “That rule of law has been violated repeatedly in extreme ways, in terms of human rights, in terms of international law.”
In response to claims that some of companies targeted by the resolution may in fact work to protect Israel, Afifi said he would still support divestment.
“If companies are both contributing to security and contributing to violations of international law … what I would argue is they should not receive our funding until they stop engaging in the activities that are explicitly violations of international law,” Afifi said.
Many students in favor of divestment stated that divesting from these companies would not be choosing one side of the conflict but would in fact be an act of neutrality. Some, like student Rosina Saeed, said they were not advising reinvestment in companies that support Palestinian forces, but rather that the resolution advises divestment from the conflict as a whole.
“By investing in this corporation, we have already taken a stance,” Saeed said. “We are not remaining neutral; we have picked a side.”
First-year economics major Jake Speyer argued that divestment would be counterproductive to any positive negotiation that could potentially take place.
“The situation in the Middle East is complicated, and divesting from American companies, simply because they build bulldozers, is not a step towards peace,” Speyer said. “We can be a model for negotiation on this campus … this resolution has already created a divide.”
Several students standing against divestment took issue with the idea that the Israeli government violates human rights or international law. Some cited the official position of the United States government as an ally to Israel, quoting and showing clips of President Obama giving his support to the nation. Others, like first-year biology major Guy Singer, drew on personal experience, citing certain memories from his childhood in Israel as an alternative to the image of the country as an oppressive regime.
“I remember walking to elementary school every single day with a gas mask in my backpack — gas masks required by the government — because there was a threat … I remember going to peace rallies with my mother, begging both sides to lay down arms … I remember the bomb shelters, I remember the sirens, I remember the explosions,” Singer said. “The picture I’d like to show today is a picture of Israel under attack.”
Third-year Liran Braude contested the resolution by recounting his own experiences as a soldier in the Israeli army.
“Israel is not comprised of only Jews … Jews and Arab Israelis, not only live together, but they are together in the workplace, and even in the home,” Braude said.
According to Speyer, Israel promotes freedom in various ways, rather than restricting it, including the country’s support for the LGBTQ community.
“In 2013, the independent watchdog organization Freedom House named Israel as the only free state in the Middle East … This is the Israel we want to share,” Speyer said. “Tel Aviv is the only place in the Middle East where you will find an annual gay pride parade.”
The majority of the meeting’s discourse remained civil. However, despite constant efforts by the A.S. senators to create a welcoming environment, one student left the building in tears, and there were instances of expletives being directed at speakers. Neither side of the debate seemed willing to concede their stance.
The Senate authors of the resolution — Miya Sommers and Genesis Herrera — urged their colleagues to table the resolution for one week in order to better understand every component of the issue. In the vote to table, 11 senators voted yes, 11 senators voted no, while one senator abstained, resulting in a tie. The vote then went to Internal Vice President Mayra Segovia, who agreed to table the resolution. Senators will therefore resume discussion on the resolution at next week’s meeting.