After 11 hours of discussion between Wednesday night and Thursday morning, the Associated Students Senate voted against the divestment resolution on the table. The 72nd Senate elected to use a secret ballot and saw 13 noes, 12 yeses and zero abstentions.
The resolution called on the University of California Board of Regents to divest from companies that profit off of alleged human rights violations by the Israeli government against Palestinians. This is the seventh time since 2013 that a divestment resolution failed to pass, making UC Santa Barbara the only undergraduate UC campus to not pass a resolution on divestment. The Senate will not meet again until Fall Quarter 2021.
Unlike in previous years, this year’s resolution — named “A Resolution to Divest from Corporations Violating Palestinian Human Rights” — called upon the UC Regents, not just UC Santa Barbara, to divest from companies including Boeing, Caterpillar, General Dynamics, General Electric, Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman and Raytheon.
In 2013, 2014, 2015, 2017 and 2019, the Senate did not reach the threshold needed to pass a divestment resolution. In 2018, senators did not vote on the resolution at all after failing to come to a conclusion on whether the resolution would be positional — requiring a two-thirds majority to pass — or directional, thereby requiring a 50% +1 majority vote to pass.
This year’s resolution was authored by On-Campus Senator Jessy Gonzalez and seconded by Transfer Senator Hannah Lee. It was student-sponsored by former External Vice President for Statewide Affairs Alia Sky and Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) member Dylan Kupsh. Kupsh also sponsored the 2019 divestment resolution.
Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs Margaret Klawunn and Assistant Vice Chancellor and Dean of Student Life Katya Armistead both spoke prior to public forum, instructing students to remain civil and respectful during the night’s proceedings.
Over 100 community members, faculty and students signed up to speak at public forum last night, but only 83 actually spoke with generally equal amounts of support for and against divestment. The meeting began at 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday and ended at 6:45 a.m. on Thursday, with a six-hour public forum.
Student speakers from anti-divestment groups like Students Supporting Israel, along with pro-divestment groups like SJP, urged their supporters and members to speak at the meeting.
The first person to speak on the resolution was Sherene Seikaly, a professor in the UCSB Department of History specializing in the modern Middle East. Seikaly spoke in favor of the resolution, talking about her personal experiences as a Palestinian woman.
“I am both the child of and a scholar of what Palestinians call our ongoing Nakba, or catastrophe. That catastrophe has denied us from 1948 to this day our political rights. It has attempted to deny us peoplehood,” Seikaly said. “I am here to applaud you for wrestling with the call from Palestinian civil society organizations to divest from Israel as a form of nonviolent civil disobedience.”
Rabbi Evan Goodman, executive director of Santa Barbara Hillel, spoke against the resolution during public forum, stating that Jewish UCSB students have repeatedly told him that the resolution makes them feel unsafe.
Goodman said it’s “antisemitic when the resolution attempts to divest from the only Jewish nation-state in the entire world.”
Goodman added that the affected community should be able to define what is considered hateful, and therefore it is in the power of the Jewish community to define antisemitism as it relates to divestment.
Throughout public forum and Senate discussion, Internal Vice President (IVP) Bee Schaefer issued several warnings against senators for making inappropriate comments, engaging in inappropriate behavior or asking leading questions. She also removed one public forum speaker from the Zoom call after they used offensive language. After the vote, External Vice President of Statewide Affairs Esme Quintero-Cubillan reprimanded several senators for eye-rolling and mouthing inappropriate phrases during the meeting.
Former Associated Students (A.S.) President Lea Toubian, who served as a proxy for Senator Avital Rutenburg during the vote, spoke against the resolution, taking issue with the specific nature of the resolution. According to Toubian, she is generally supportive of divestment initiatives, but she said by singling out Israel when looking at who to divest from, the resolution becomes antisemitic.
“I agree with the intent of this [resolution] and I don’t think we should be invested in companies that commit human rights violations anywhere, but this [resolution] singles out Israel and singles out the Jewish state,” Toubian said. “Holding [Israel] to a double standard is inherently antisemitic.”
Toubian’s successor and current A.S. President Yuval Cohen spoke against the resolution as well, saying she was “afraid this resolution will ostracize these communities on campus at a time when we should be uniting.”
The resolution was directional, meaning that if it passed, it would have “direct[ed] the UC Regents to withdraw investments in securities, endowments, mutual funds and other monetary instruments with holdings in any of the aforementioned companies or subsidiaries thereof.”
UCSB’s A.S. Senate could not have enforced the resolution on the larger UC system, as it only has control over its own campus funds and investments.
Midway through public forum, A.S. Attorney General Tyler Barth challenged the directional nature of the resolution. Barth believed the language of the resolution to be both positional and directional, suggesting that because of the purported mistake, the resolution should be tabled. Despite Barth’s suggestion, the Senate proceeded with the resolution.
After public comment concluded at approximately 3:05 a.m., Sky spoke alongside Kupsh about the history of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict for an hour, during their allotted time as student sponsors. Sky also spoke to her personal identity and experiences as a Jewish person at UCSB.
“I speak as someone who has experienced antisemitism, and I speak as someone who has also experienced harassment for daring to be a Jew who criticized Israel … I have been labelled antisemitic myself, when confronted with my Jewish identity, labelled a self-hating Jew, a traitor, an impostor,” Sky said.
“To quote Professor Seikaly, ‘To equate the opposition of Zionism with antisemitism is to deny the history of both,’” Sky said. “Not only is it to deny collective history, it is to deny me as a person, as I sit in this Zoom room here before you saying I am Jewish and anti-Zionist.”
Throughout the night, a few public commenters, as well as Kupsh, said they had a similar experience to Sky’s, including being blacklisted by Jewish student organizations and national organizations like Canary Mission, which documents people and groups it considers to be anti-Israeli or antisemitic.
Following Sky and Kupsh’s testimony, Senator Cesar Castillo motioned to table the resolution indefinitely. The motion went to a vote and was tied at 12-12; IVP Schaefer broke the tie by voting against tabling it indefinitely. The resolution then moved to a secret ballot vote motioned by Senator Luisa Ramirez, in which a 12-13 vote against the resolution made the 2021 divestment attempt the seventh one in UCSB A.S. Senate history to fail.
“This is not the end,” Sky said to the Nexus after the resolution failed to pass.