USAC passes divestment resolution with 8-2-2 vote
More than 250 students attended the USAC meeting Tuesday night to voice their opinions to council regarding the divestment resolution. (Joseph Chan/Daily Bruin)
By Kendal Mitchell and Joseph Vescera
Nov. 18, 2014 11:46 p.m.
This post was updated on Nov. 20 at 5:22 p.m.
The undergraduate student government voted 8-2-2 at its meeting Tuesday night to pass a resolution that calls for the University of California to divest from American companies that some say profit from human rights violations in the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
About 250 students attended the Undergraduate Students Association Council meeting in the Ackerman Grand Ballroom, which lasted for more than four hours.
All public comments came from student supporters of the resolution and lasted about 90 minutes. When last year’s council voted on a similar resolution in February, public comment was heated and lasted more than nine hours during the nearly 12-hour-long meeting.
UCLA Chancellor Gene Block said in an emailed statement that the Board of Regents does not support divesting from companies that do business with Israel and that UCLA agrees with that stance.
Financial Supports Commissioner Heather Rosen and Academic Affairs Commissioner Allyson Bach voted against the resolution. Campus Events Commissioner Greg Kalfayan and Community Service Commissioner Cynthia Wong abstained from voting, saying they did not want to alienate students from their commissions.
Negeen Sadeghi-Movahed, USAC transfer student representative, was vocal about her support for the resolution throughout the night, saying she thought voting for the resolution was the morally right thing to do.
Some other councilmembers expressed concerns about the resolution being divisive. Rosen said she thinks the resolution unfairly targets Israel, and had asked for council to amend it to broaden it to all companies involved in human rights violations.
After the resolution was put to a vote, USAC President Avinoam Baral voiced his frustrations about not being able to voice his opinions against the resolution, especially because he is the only Israeli-born student sitting on council. USAC presidents typically do not vote unless there is a tie, and do not participate in discussions.
“I’m sorry I could not represent you how you wanted me to represent you,” Baral said to the Jewish and pro-Israel communities, in reference to the resolution.
Before the vote, some public commenters spoke about their personal connections to the issues outlined in the resolution.
Noor Habib El-Farra, a third-year geography and environmental studies student, said during public comment that nine of her family members died in the most recent conflict in the Gaza Strip this summer. She added that her uncle had cancer and died waiting at a checkpoint because it was difficult to receive proper medical care in the Gaza Strip.
“(The resolution) is just about seeing my family and not having to worry about them,” she said.
Multiple student groups signed onto the resolution as co-sponsors or endorsed its content, including the Afrikan Student Union, Armenian Student Association, MEChA de UCLA, Samahang Pilipino, Student Coalition Against Labor Exploitation, Queer Alliance and Bruin Feminists for Equality, among others. Many groups said their own communities have had experiences with discrimination and believe such experiences parallel what Palestinians are experiencing.
Representatives from Hillel at UCLA, Bruins for Israel and J Street U explained their opposition to the resolution in a 15-minute special presentation.
Eytan Davidovits, president of Bruins for Israel and a fourth-year economics student, said he thinks this resolution focuses on polarizing global issues and that USAC should instead look at issues that students on campus face.
At a press roundtable held prior to the USAC meeting, Tammy Rubin, a fourth-year human biology and society student and former president of Hillel at UCLA, said she thinks the divestment resolution does not accurately represent the views of the entire student body that the council represents.
Students against the resolution said that more than 2,000 people signed a petition put forward by Bruins for Israel stating their opposition to the resolution.
Students for Justice in Palestine made a separate special presentation arguing that council should divest from the companies listed in the resolution, including Boeing, Caterpillar and Hewlett-Packard, because they either contributed to the construction of settlements in the West Bank or provided weapons used in attacks on Palestinians in the Gaza Strip.
Ayesha Khan, a member of Students for Justice in Palestine and a fourth-year microbiology, immunology and molecular genetics student, said in a public comment that she sympathizes with Palestinians who have been displaced from their homes because her ancestors were displaced during the partition of India in 1947.
“No UCLA student should be forced to funnel their tuition to the killing of their own family,” said Khan.
Rauya Mhtar, a fourth-year philosophy student, said she thought Tuesday’s meeting was less tense and fostered a more civilized discussion on divestment than the meeting in February, when the council voted on a similar resolution.
“There was a lot more solidarity in the room and people seemed to focus much more on the humanitarian aspect of the issue this time around,” Mhtar said.
The council vote comes less than a week after Devin Murphy resigned from the presidency. On Friday, Baral, former internal vice president, became USAC president. The position of internal vice president was vacant at the time of the vote.