In a 13-hour debate that lasted past dawn on Thursday morning, students, community members, university staff and faculty members and even police officers attended the Associated Students Senate meeting Wednesday night, which resulted in a vote against divesting from companies targeted in the resolution titled “A Resolution to Divest from Companies that Profit from Apartheid.”
At the meeting, which took place at Corwin Pavilion, more than 80 speakers presented at the meeting’s Public Forum, while many more sat in solidarity in the audience. Several attendees spoke both in opposition and in support of the resolution, which requested that A.S. divest from companies, such as Hewlett-Packard, that “profit” from the “military occupation of Palestine.” The meeting also included resolutions aiming to condemn “Islamophobic hate speech” on campus.
In regards to the resolution entitled “A Resolution to Divest from Companies that Profit from Apartheid,” 11 senators voted against the resolution and 10 senators voted in support of it, while one senator abstained. The resolution, therefore, did not achieve the required two-thirds majority, and was not passed. The meeting adjourned at 7:55 a.m., after over 13 hours of deliberation.
The aisle dividing the chairs into two seating sections at Corwin Pavilion marked a clear boundary between each side of the debate, with pro-divestment advocates on the left and anti-divestment advocates on the right. Participants demonstrated incredible passion throughout the entire meeting, as evidenced by the multiple instances of tense voices and tears.
Off-campus Senator Taryn Sanders preceded the debate with an appeal to the audience to remain respectful of the different perspectives.
“I hope that we can … realize that there are passions on both sides of, in particular, the divestment issue — pro and con — and to address people in that way,” Sanders said. “Know that you’re not the only one that has passion about this. You’re not the only one that has an interest in this subject. In fact, there is another side to it, and to please see things from that side, and to address people in a mature way.”
The meeting first began at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday, marking the second meeting that included discussion of the divestment resolution. As the issue had already been discussed in much depth at last week’s meeting, speakers had the opportunity to reflect upon last week’s discussion and respond to some of the previous arguments. Adeel Lakhani, External Co-Chair at UCSB Academic Affairs Board, urged senators to be critical of the information being presented, such as when some speakers said Israel was not the only country in the region violating human rights.
This second meeting also attracted many community members from outside of UCSB. The Santa Barbara chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace presented multiple speakers who, although personally identifying as Jewish, supported the divestment resolution. Rand Clark of Jewish Voice for Peace said being of the Jewish faith does not necessarily mean one is supportive of the Israeli government.
“To be Jewish does not automatically make one a blind supporter of Israel — right or wrong,” Clark said. “A vote in favor of divestment says nothing about one’s attitude towards Jews … A little bit of discomfort is a small price to pay on the path to justice.”
Anti-divestment speakers, however, vehemently denied that the divestment resolution would be a step toward justice. UCSB student Jonathan Lebo insisted the legislation would not encourage a peaceful solution.
“The bill before you tonight is not about fostering peace,” Lebo said. “It will do nothing to end the centuries-old conflict between Jews and their Arab neighbors. The real [impact] of this bill is to deny the people of Israel the right to their homeland … The charges against Israel make no mention of the dire circumstances Israel faces.”
Many anti-divestment speakers also questioned if Israel is actually breaking international law or committing human rights violations, as the resolution suggests.
Furthermore, speakers representing both sides of the issue spoke about the effects the resolution would have on campus climate. Some anti-divestment speakers argued the divestment resolution was divisive and would hurt the general climate of UCSB, while some pro-divestment speakers argued it would actually unify the campus, as shown by the numerous student groups in support of its passage.
Sabreen Shalabi of UC Irvine, who authored a similar resolution that passed unanimously at UCI, not only insisted campus climate at her school had not changed after passing the resolution, but also said past issues of similar importance have always faced such strong resistance.
“The passing of the divestment resolution did not cause our campus to deteriorate in any way,” Shalabi said. “No issue is going to be agreed upon unanimously. No issue has ever been agreed upon unanimously … senators here today, sitting around, having this power to vote, this privilege to vote. Would you have voted for civil rights? Would you have voted to divest in Apartheid South Africa? That is the kind of decision that you are making today.”
Despite such claims, many Jewish students said they felt campus climate had already changed. UCSB student Nathan Koreie felt so strongly about the degradation of the campus climate that he announced his official withdrawal from the university.
“I was intimidated while in the A.S. Senate office. A student was spit on while on her way to class. Someone let the air out of my bike tires while at the A.S. Senate office, and a friend of mine was even denied service at the book store, all for opposing this resolution,” Koreie said. “As of this morning … I withdrew from UCSB … I genuinely feel like I have been left with no other choice.”
First-hand accounts of life in Israel contradicted each other over whether or not Israel did engage in apartheid practices. Mohamed Hafez, a UCSB alumnus who spent time working for peace in the West Bank, insisted that citizens had different rights based on race. On the other hand, UCSB student Guy Singer, who lived in Israel for 11 years, insisted that Arab Israelis were not discriminated against, as there are Arab Israelis in positions of power and even Arab Israelis who are celebrities.
Both parties called into question the reliability of sources being used for factual evidence, asserting bias within the sources. The integrity of many institutions was debated — including the United Nations, Amnesty International, the American government and others.
At one point, the use of Miss Israel 2013’s African heritage to show Israel’s commitment to diversity elicited intensely critical responses. On-campus Senator Navkiran Kaur strongly opposed this example, explaining it to be offensive and an objectification of women of color.
“I do not appreciate a woman of color’s body being objectified, or hyper-sexualized or tokenized in this space,” Kaur said.
In some final presentations regarding the resolution, both sides issued their opinions on the word apartheid itself. Anti-divestment representative Liran Braude, who has both lived in South Africa during apartheid and then in Israel as a soldier, disagreed with the word’s place in the legislation.
“To compare [South Africa and Israel] is an insult of the highest order — not only to Jews and Israelis, but mostly to the black South Africans that actually suffered of apartheid,” Braude said.
Hani Tajsar, student sponsor and representative of the pro-divestment stance, denied that naming Israel an apartheid state equated it to South Africa.
“Apartheid does not mean that Israel is acting in the same way as South Africa,” Tajsar said. “South Africa and Israel have only one similarity: both were born out of imperialism and colonialism … As students at this university, we have a complicit involvement in the occupation of Palestine through our investments in these companies.”
Katlen Abuata, Tajsar’s co-sponsor, added her own personal appeal to argument for divestment.
“I do not want to pay into a system that has removed my father from his homeland,” Abuata said.
Deliberation within the senate revisited many of the arguments that had already been introduced. Senators read different definitions of apartheid and debated whether or not voting on the bill was an act of neutrality and whether or not it would have tangible results in the Middle East.
The student legislators also discussed the role of the investments in enabling human rights violations, and whether or not it was acceptable for student money to be funneled toward that cause. There was also debate over the intentions of the pro-Palestinian Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement and its connection with the resolution. After the deliberation, which included a long discussion on whether the resolution needed a simple majority or a two-thirds majority, the senators decided to cast a secret vote, which resulted in a defeat of the proposed resolution.