More than 50 UC Santa Barbara students, faculty, alumni and community members attended the Associated Students 74th Senate weekly meeting on Nov. 8 to speak during the public forum segment in response to a bill listed on the agenda condemning militant group Hamas and antisemitism at UCSB.
The creation and discussion of the bill come in light of the continued siege of the Gaza Strip by the state of Israel following an Oct. 7 attack on Israel by militant group Hamas and subsequent attacks on Palestine by Israel.
The bill, titled “A Resolution to Condemn Hamas and Antisemitism at UC Santa Barbara,” calls for Associated Students (A.S.) to “unequivocally condemn Hamas” and “mourn all civilian loss of life in Israel and Gaza as a result of the ensuing war,” as well as “denounce the hateful rhetoric of pro-Hamas student groups as antisemitic, reprehensible, and morally despicable.” The bill authors did not specify what pro-Hamas student groups exist on campus.
There were 54 people signed up to speak at the meeting, but only 40 — the majority of which were undergraduate students — received an opportunity to share their thoughts.
Before entering the public forum segment of the meeting, A.S. Off-Campus Senator, Senate First President pro-tempore and second-year computer science major Ephraim Shalunov suggested that the Senate prioritize the voices of UCSB undergraduate students, since they are the primary body that the Senate represents. The Senate agreed to implement Shalunov’s suggestion for the duration of the meeting.
One of the first speakers of the evening was UCSB alumna Alia Sky, who served as the 2020-21 External Vice President for Statewide Affairs (EVPSA) and was previously a member of Students for Justice in Palestine. Sky spoke in dissent of the bill, arguing that instead of only condemning Hamas, the bill should call for a cease-fire by the Israeli government.
“I sit in front of you ashamed, appalled and disgusted by the resolution you are considering,” Sky said. “If you mourn the loss of all civilian life in Israel and Gaza then this resolution should be calling for an immediate cease-fire by the Israeli army.”
Fourth-year statistics and data science major and former A.S. Student Advocate General Kristen Wu also shared her opposition to the resolution, expressing concern with the vagueness of its language.
“The authors implore A.S. to denounce the hateful rhetoric of pro-Hamas student groups as antisemitic, reprehensible and morally despicable,” Wu said. “However, the authors fail to define what hateful rhetoric in favor of Hamas is constituted as, or even provide evidence to back the claims that pro-Hamas student groups exist on this campus.”
“This leaves a wide range of interpretations that give room to islamophobia, and allows others to conflate any support for Palestine or criticism of the State of Israel as antisemitic,” she continued.
Wu also argued that the resolution does not adequately acknowledge the suffering of the people of Palestine.
“The October 7 attacks are reprehensible. Hamas are terrorists — this is not a question,” she said. “However, this resolution does not acknowledge the unfathomable amount of human suffering experienced by Palestians committed by the state of Israel.”
A.S. Jewish Commission Chair Tom Hirshfeld spoke in support of the bill, arguing that the passing of a bill to condemn a terrorist organization should not be controversial.
“The fact that we are here justifying and arguing about a bill condemning Hamas — a terror organization — baffles me,” Hirshfeld said. “We have people on this campus telling me that that terror group … cannot be condemned. Why?”
“If you are pro-Palestine, I want to work with you. I want to talk to you. I need to know that you don’t stand for [Hamas],” he continued.
Various other students, including representatives of Santa Barbara Hillel, Chabad at UCSB and Students Supporting Israel, similarly expressed their support for the resolution.
After approximately three hours and 15 minutes, the Senate exited the public forum segment of the meeting. The Senate tabled the bill and will discuss it further at its Nov. 13 meeting.
In a Nov. 14 email to all A.S. Entities, A.S. Human Rights Board Co-Chairs Isabella Mendoza and Rebecca Hurtado Fairweather said the Human Rights Board plans to host a BCU Coalition meeting to hold a space in response to the bill.
The email said that the coalition meeting will take place at the A.S. annex from 2:30 to 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 1.
“We define a coalition as a united group of individuals who come together to discuss ongoing concerns that affect our institution and collaborate to create structures to maintain a democratic system,” the email read. “Many of the changes that have occurred within the Association have placed us in difficult positions and increased the workload of appointed members. These issues are difficult to tackle as an individual or committee, which is why this coalition is essential for us to thrive on all levels.”
A version of this article appeared on p. 1 of the Nov 16, 2023, print edition of the Daily Nexus.