Today, Dec. 4, the union representing graduate student workers (United Auto Workers 2865) at the University of California will vote to join the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in response to calls for solidarity from Palestinian labor unions. After years of continued violence and failed diplomacy, the tactics of the BDS movement offer us a grassroots, non-violent way to work to end over 60 years of suffering. BDS is a Palestinian-led, global movement to put pressure on Israel to comply with international law and respect for Palestinian rights, including the right to equality, freedom of movement and freedom from torture. It follows the path of other successful, peaceful boycott tactics, like those used to fight apartheid in South Africa. The vote today calls upon the University of California and UAW to divest from companies that profit from the violation of Palestinian rights, as well as calling on the U.S. government to end military aid to Israel.
This issue is important to me not only because I’m Jewish, but also because prior to starting grad school at UCSB, I lived in Israel for four years. During this time I worked for a peace-building organization that brought Israeli and Palestinian youth together, and today this work continues to be the focus of my dissertation research. I love speaking Hebrew, I’m proud to be Jewish, and I’m excited to return to Israel next month to conduct my fieldwork. However, none of this blinds me from understanding that the occupation and Israel’s treatment of Palestinians is a grave and outrageous injustice.
For over 40 years Palestinians have been living under a brutal occupation, where Israel denies them their most basic human rights.
During my time living in Jerusalem, I witnessed a six-year-old Palestinian girl crying next to the ruins of her demolished home after it was destroyed by Israeli bulldozers. In the West Bank, I saw an elderly Palestinian man humiliated by Israeli soldiers with M-16s as they told him take off his clothes off in the middle of the street. I saw nonviolent demonstrators arrested for protesting in their own lands. I saw Palestinian workers waiting for hours at checkpoints. I saw segregated schools and segregated roads — roads that I, a foreigner, could drive on, but the Palestinians whose families had lived there all their lives could not.
I reached a breaking point this summer, when over 2,000 people in Gaza were slaughtered. As images of murdered children and demolished neighborhoods poured in, I decided then to devote myself to BDS, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. I came to this decision after years of studying this conflict and working on the ground for peace in Israel/Palestine, because I believe that BDS is the most effective, non-violent tool we as students have to help put an end to the bloodshed and injustice. Peace negotiations have repeatedly failed, military operations continue to fuel the cycle of violence and no peace-building soccer camp can undo 60 years of oppression, murder and violence.
We have a historic opportunity here at UCSB to contribute to a just peace and to be on the right side of history. Voicing our solidarity with oppressed people should not be controversial or divisive. It is our obligation as students and workers to stand with those who are enduring a level of suffering that we cannot even imagine.
Those who say BDS is anti-Semitic or unfair to Israel are off the mark. Supporting BDS is not an attack against Jews or Judaism. Quite the opposite, my support for BDS represents the fullest expression of the Jewish values I was raised on: values of justice, equality and solidarity with those who are oppressed. The ballot proposal does not target individual Israelis. While our specific union vote includes a voluntary, non-binding pledge supporting an academic boycott, the pledge is individual and will have no effect on content taught in classrooms or hiring decisions. A majority of UC undergraduate assemblies have already voted to join the BDS movement, most recently at UCLA. Voting will take place on Dec. 4 from 9:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m., and is open to all UCSB graduate students. I hope you will join me in standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people by voting yes today.
Emily Schneider is a graduate student in the sociology department at UCSB.