For the third consecutive year, the Associated Students Senate did not pass a resolution to divest from companies allegedly profiting from human rights violations in Israel-Palestine, voting 13-12-1 in a private vote not to pass the resolution.
During the nearly six-hour public comment period and in discussion afterward, individuals discussed the resolution in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. The issue of UC divestment from companies doing business with Israel has been a mainstay of UC student politics for the last several years. Joining other major universities such as Stanford, seven UC campuses including Berkeley, Davis, Irvine, Riverside, Los Angeles, San Diego and Santa Cruz, as well as the UC Student Association (UCSA), have passed resolutions urging the UC to withdraw its investments in several American companies allegedly profiting from selling arms and providing other services to Israel.
UC Santa Barbara and UC Merced are the last two campuses with undergraduate governments that have not yet passed similar resolutions. In 2010, when the first such resolutions began to appear on UC campuses, UC President at the time Mark Yudof and UC Regents Chair Russell Gould and Vice Chair Sherry Lansing published a statement maintaining that they would not bring forward a recommendation to withdraw investments from companies doing business with Israel, enforcing an earlier policy of not divesting from nations unless the United States government formally acknowledges those countries as committing genocide. However, supporters of the resolution argue passing it would serve as an important symbol of student solidarity with Palestine.
The reason why we are doing this is because in 2005 the Palestinian Civil Society sent out an international call for boycott, divestment and sanctions until the state of Israel abides by international law. – SJP member and Ph.D. candidate in the sociology department Jeremy Garza
This year’s resolution was sponsored by second-year communication major and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) member Anumita Kaur, who introduced it to Senate in the first week of Spring Quarter. This was the third attempt to pass such a resolution at UCSB, after previous versions failed two years in a row.
The resolution to “divest from companies profiting from human rights violations in Israel/Palestine,” specifically names Motorola, Raytheon, Northrop-Grumman, Caterpillar, Boeing, General Electric and Hewlett-Packard as companies the UC has holdings in that allegedly profit from human rights violations in Israel. The resolution cites figures reported the UC Office of the President (UCOP) for its general endowment pool (GEP) from December of 2011. UCOP-generated links to the supporting documentation from 2011 provided in the resolution no longer function.
According to UCOP’s 2012 reporting of its GEP holdings, the most recent figures made available, the UC does not maintain any of its holdings in the aforementioned corporations except for Hewlett-Packard (HP) and General Electric Capital Corporation (GE Capital), the financial services unit of the General Electric conglomerate. Figures published in the same year for holdings maintained by UCOP for the UC Retirement Plan (UCRP) apparatus follow nearly identical trends, with holdings in HP, GE, and GE Capital. Links provided in the resolution for UCRP figures from 2011 also no longer work.
The resolution also directs the UCSB Foundation, the university’s fundraising apparatus, to divest its holdings in the aforementioned companies. According to its 2013-14 Annual Report of Private Giving, the foundation received donations of undisclosed amounts on behalf of the university from almost every company mentioned in the resolution. Of the Foundation’s roughly $77 million dollar fundraising amount reached in the 2013-14 fiscal year, about $15 million came from corporations according to the report.
Jeremy Garza, an SJP member and Ph.D. candidate in the sociology department, said SJP pursued passage of the resolution in response to a worldwide call for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) issued by the Palestinian Civil Society.
“The reason why we are doing this is because in 2005 the Palestinian Civil Society sent out an international call for boycott, divestment and sanctions until the state of Israel abides by international law,” Garza said. “Our advocacy as SJP is a direct response to that call.”
First-year physics major and SJP member Shahryar, who declined to state his last name, said after growing up in Dubai and seeing non-Western media discuss the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, he felt distressed knowing he had no choice in where his tuition money was going.
It targets the only Jewish state in the world. The BDS movement that it is founded upon is based in anti-Semitic values and rhetoric and the movement does not look for ways to make peace between two groups — it actually just detracts from that. – Student President of Hillel Sarah Tagger
“I feel uncomfortable being involved in something I really have no right to be so,” Shahryar said “When I learned how our tuition money was being spent on this issue I felt like it was something I hadn’t consented to, but its where a lot of the hard-earned money my parents had put so much time to send me here was going.”
Dianne Klein, director of media relations at UCOP, stated in an email that student tuition and fees are used to “educate students as part of the university’s core budget,” but also said tuition revenues are available for short-term investing.
“Tuition dollars are not spent the minute they arrive,” Klein said. “All cash positions, in keeping with sound business practices, are swept every day for investment in STIP — which stands for the Short Term Investment Pool.”
The STIP is a cash investment pool established by the Board of Regents available for use in bond-type investments lasting under 13 months to all UC groups including retirement and endowments.
According to the UC’s 2014-15 budget for current operations, payouts from the UC Regents’ GEP, most of which are typically restricted for specific use by the contributing organization, are used to support a range of activities, including endowed faculty chairs, student financial aid and research.
Tuition and fees, according to the budget, account for $3.52 billion in UC revenue in the 2012-2013 fiscal year and “support the University’s core operating budget and student financial aid” enterprises, which amounts to half the university’s core budget funding.
“Tuition … provides general support for the University’s operating budget, including costs related to general campus and health sciences faculty and instructional support, libraries and other academic support, student services, institutional support, and operation and maintenance of plants,” the budget states. “Tuition revenue is also used to provide student financial support.”
While SJP maintains the university uses tuition money for its investments, the group has not provided figures on the amount of tuition money invested in the companies named in the resolution and has not responded to requests to do so.
Shahryar said because the UC Regents have the power to decide how UC tuition money is invested, that makes them a complicit third-party in human rights violations perpetrated in other parts of the world.
“The UC regents are able to decide where a certain amount of money is invested into corporations and some corporations which they have invested into … propagate the human rights violations going on in Gaza and the West Bank,” Shahryar said. “It’s literally the tuition money we pay [that] is going toward these violations, through these investments, which then propagate these violations literally on the other side of the world and we need to speak up about that because otherwise we have no right to be outraged by it.”
The divestment resolution creates a framework that alienates Jewish students at UCSB, in part because it establishes a clear link to the BDS movement,” Moreh said. “Moreover, the attempt to draw parallels between Israel and South Africa under apartheid is ignorant and offensive on many levels. – A.S. Senator Michelle Moreh
According to Shahryar, charges describing the BDS movement as anti-Semitic are inaccurate characterizations of the movement itself.
“The fact is about the divestment movement, is that it’s critiquing the policies of the Israeli government. It in no way attacks Jewish or Israeli people specifically; it’s similar to how the American government was criticized for its Jim Crow laws,” Shahryar said. “It in no way targets a group of people; it targets an institution.”
Garza said the ability to critique nation states should not be conflated with attacks on certain ethnic groups or nationalities.
“We think we should always have the ability to critique nation states and governments and their policies and that should not be conflated with attacks on individual peoples,” Garza said.
According to Garza the resolution is ultimately meant to have more of a symbolic impact.
“We also hope that this impact is the last in a domino effect, if you will,” he said. “We also want to recognize that with this resolution passing, it’s not gonna be an immediate effect. It’s more symbolic than anything else and we also recognize that these types of campaigns take decades.”
First-year financial mathematics and statistics major Alejandro Stawsky said he was opposed to the resolution due to its sole emphasis on human rights violations committed by Israel.
“If the senate passes the current divestment resolution, they will not only have supported a one-sided resolution that completely ignores Palestinian violations, but they will also have given the message to the world that UCSB students support this, which I know many do not,” Stawsky said.
Stawsky said the divestment resolution and the campaign associated with it invariably marginalizes the Jewish community.
“I believe the resolution definitely alienates the Israeli community, and through it, the Jewish community,” Stawsky said. “As a student who studied in Israel and whose family lives there, I could not help but feel attacked and singled out as I walked past the divestment wall in the Arbor.”
Stawsky said both Israel and Palestine have committed human rights violations and debating about which side has done worse only exacerbates tensions.
“Both sides committed inhumane actions and debating on who committed more or which side was worse only starts a cycle of hatred that will result in more violence and greater separation between peoples,” Stawsky said. “For every point made against the Israeli government there are at least two points to be made against the Palestinian government.”
A.S. Senator and third-year student Michelle Moreh said the divestment resolution’s reference to similarities between South Africa under apartheid and the state of Israel today are outlandish and unfairly target the Jewish community on campus.
“The divestment resolution creates a framework that alienates Jewish students at UCSB, in part because it establishes a clear link to the BDS movement,” Moreh said. “Moreover, the attempt to draw parallels between Israel and South Africa under apartheid is ignorant and offensive on many levels.”
Moreh said expressing opposition to the resolution doesn’t equate to support for denying Palestinians of basic human rights and that the resolution advocated for ending the Jewish state.
“Rejecting this resolution does not mean opposing the rights of Palestinians; it means refusing to accept an agenda, promoted by this resolution; that the only way in which UCSB students can support Palestinians is by tearing down Jews and Israel, and by ultimately making the Jewish people stateless,” Moreh said.
Moreh said a more productive resolution would be one that would address concerns of both Palestinians and Israelis.
“In order to constructively address the hardships that both Palestinians and Israelis face, a significantly better alternative would be to write an entirely new resolution based on mutual recognition and respect,” Moreh said.
Third-year anthropology and global studies double major and Student President of Hillel Sarah Tagger said the resolution seeks to “undermine the self-determination of Jewish people in the region.”
“It targets the only Jewish state in the world,” Tagger said. “The BDS movement that it is founded upon is based in anti-Semitic values and rhetoric and the movement does not look for ways to make peace between two groups — it actually just detracts from that.”
Tagger said evidence that divestment encourages anti-Semitism can be seen on other campuses that have passed divestment resolutions.
“At UC Davis, the night after divestment was passed, the AD Phi woke up to swastikas spray-painted on their house,” she said.
At a meeting on April 1, the A.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution to condemn anti-Semitism. Tagger said the anti-Semitism resolution was an important measure to take prior to the debate on the divestment resolution that had “been a long time coming.”
“We’ve been working and striving towards coming up with something that we can bring up to Senate to showcase all the anti-Semitism that happens on campus that people don’t know about,” Tagger said. “I actually had a lot of people at the meeting tell me, ‘oh I didn’t realize so much anti-Semitism was occurring on campus.’”
Tagger said she wants people to be more attuned to the Jewish community’s interpretation of divestment and its impact on them.
“I just think it’s important for people to know that if our community sees this resolution as anti-Semitic that we should be listened to,” she said.
Executive Director for Santa Barbara Hillel Rabbi Evan Goodman said there was a stark contrast between the anti-divestment camp and divestment proponents.
“The premise of BDS is, one of their tenants is anti-normalization. They actively do not want to have discussions with people with a different opinion, they actively do not want to have discussions with people who support Israel’s right to exist in safe and secure boundaries as a Jewish State,” Goodman said. “We’re the opposite of that and we want to have discussions.”
Goodman also said he did not believe claims from members of SJP and A.S. Senators that the divestment resolution was unrelated to Judaism.
“When people say ‘Well, it’s not about being Jewish,’ it is about being Jewish and ultimately it’s so destructive to the multi-ethnic fabric of our campus communities, it’s a horrible, horrible situation and it’s not doing anyone any good on any of our campuses,” he said.
Goodman said he had received numerous calls from concerned parents of Jewish students asking about the divestment resolution.
“They’re hearing from their kids on campus how terribly upset they are,” Goodman said. “Many of these people are not people that have had any Israel activism before; they’re Jewish. So again this goes against anyone who says it’s not about being Jewish. From a Jewish perspective it’s absolutely about being Jewish.”
Middle Eastern studies professor Adam Sabra said the conflict stems in part from the growth of nationalism in Europe over one hundred years ago. Sabra said the rise of anti-semitism in Europe alongside nationalism facilitated interest among European Jews to establish a Jewish state for themselves, with the Palestine region considered a primary option. Sabra also said the decline of the Ottoman Empire and rise of Arab nationalism in the late 19th century also facilitated interest in an Arab state in what by 1922 was the British-controlled “Mandate of Palestine.”
“The conflicts between the Zionist movement and the Palestinian nationalist movement really goes back to the late 19th century, early 20th century,” Sabra said. “A key moment in this was the Balfour Declaration of 1917. Britain was at war with the Ottoman Empire and ultimately captured Palestine … and in response to request from British Jews who were supporters of the Zionist movement, the British issued a statement saying there should be a Jewish national home in Palestine, they didn’t say state.”
This Balfour Declaration specifically stated the government of the United Kingdom did not wish to see inequality perpetuated in the region.
“His Majesty’s government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object,” the declaration reads. “It being clearly understood that nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine, or the rights and political status enjoyed by Jews in any other country.”
According to Sabra, tension grew between Arab communities and Jewish communities in the post-World War I international situation.
“This started a situation that grew worse after the end of the war,” Sabra said. “A lot of immigration by Jews from Europe to Palestine was being pushed by flight from … persecution. At the same time, the Palestinian Arabs also were saying the possibility that they would have some kind of Arab state … this led increasingly to intercommunal tension.”
Sabra also said the establishment of the state of Israel led to further tension among Arabs and Jews in the Middle East.
“I don’t think the Palestinians had a problem with Jews as such being citizens in their state; Jews were citizens in other Arab states in much larger numbers in those days,” Sabra said. “That changed after the foundation of the state of Israel in the Arab-Israeli wars. … It wasn’t the presence of Jews that was the issue, it was the attempt to shift the demographic mix and to establish specifically a Jewish state that the Arabs felt they would have no place in this and would be second-class citizens.”
Sabra said the 1948 Arab-Israeli War involved mass emigration of 90 percent, or roughly 700,000 people according to the United Nations Conciliation Commission for Palestine, of the Arab population in Palestine.
“There is debate about how this actually took place, but it’s pretty clear that in some places they were actually driven out, other places they fled the fighting,” Sabra said. “The Israelis made the clear decision not to allow them to ever come back. These are the people who became the Palestinian refugees.”
At the same time, according to Sabra, the Israelis granted Jews all over the world the right to come to Israel, called the right of return.
“You can see this as a matter of providing Jews a last refuge, but it was also effectively a matter of demographic policy, because without the Jewish population elsewhere, they would not be able to build a Jewish state,” Sabra said. “If they allowed the Arab citizens … to return home, they also would not get a Jewish state. So Israel was founded basically on ethnic cleansing. There’s really not much doubt about that.”
The A.S. resolution articulated support for a right of return for Palestinian refugees to the modern state of Israel, which Tagger said is anti-Semitic.
“If they were all to return to the Jewish state it would extinguish the Jewish state as we know it and Jews would become the minority in their homeland,” Tagger said. “The right of return is as something that is part of the BDS movement [and] is in the larger framework of anti-Semitism by telling Jews they can’t be where they have historically been as an indigenous people for 3,000 years.”
Modern Middle East history professor Sherene Seikaly said the Israel-Palestine conflict is primarily centered on territory.
“The conflict in Israel-Palestine is a conflict over land; it isn’t a 2,000 year old conflict, it isn’t some struggle from time immemorial,” Seikaly said. “For centuries, people of multiple faiths in the Arab World and under Ottoman and before that under Islam lived and co-existed … until the 12th century, 90 percent of the world’s Jewish population lived under Arab and Muslim rule.”
Seikaly also said it is only with the rise of Zionism and Arab nationalism that the categories of “Arab and Jew” become mutually exclusive, a product of “contemporary nationalism.”
“I think nationalism promises everybody equality,” Seikaly said. “But the way that it promises everybody equality is that we all have to be the same in a sense … There is a way historically throughout many examples that the nation state has necessitated exclusionary and violent practices.”
Seikaly said such practices occurring alongside the formation of nation-states are difficult at embracing difference.
“Is it inevitable that nationalism is violent or … is there a way that one could have a nation state that wouldn’t be violent? I don’t know,” Seikaly said. “I think a process that is built on the foundation that there is some kind of natural ‘link’ between all of a certain group of people … I feel like that kind of project is going to be very difficult to be embracing difference.”
Sabra said the founding of Israel was based in part off the denial of certain rights, including equal access to education and housing; to others as a matter of policy.
“When they talk about founding a Jewish state, it was not to found a state necessarily that was Jewish religion-predominated, it was to found a state which was by and for Jews which offered Jews a different set of rights than offered others,” Sabra said. “It’s a policy. Israel is a Jewish state and therefore Jews have different rights than other people.”
According to Sabra, adherence to such policy is not unified among all constituencies in Israel.
“There’s always been this tension in Israel between more liberal tendencies that wanna say, ‘Well, okay we’re not gonna go back and reverse the conflict but at least the people who are still here should be equal citizens,’” Sabra said. “But increasingly that’s not the case anymore.”
According to Sabra, the Likud Party, the current ruling party of the Israeli legislature, the Knesset, wish to pass a law defining Israel constitutionally as a Jewish state to prevent the Israeli Supreme Court from finding non-Jewish citizens are entitled to legal equality.
“The direction of politics these days is away from any kind of equality … it’s an ethnocracy,” he said. “It would be like if we said, ‘Well, America is a white state and black people can live here; they shouldn’t expect to go to the same schools, they shouldn’t expect to live in the same neighborhoods, they shouldn’t expect equality in the courts. We don’t owe that to them.’”