(20 November 2014)
On 18 November 2014, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) became the latest US university to vote to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestine.
UCLA’s chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) led the efforts. The vote passed by an enormous margin, with eight student senators voting for it, two abstaining, and two voting against.
Electronic Intifada‘s Nora Barrows-Friedman published an article about the development: “Costly pro-Israel PR campaign fails to stop UCLA divestment.”
Barrows-Friedman notes that UCLA is “the sixth of nine undergraduate campuses in the UC system within the last two years to pass a resolution calling for divestment from firms that profit from the Israeli occupation.”
The resolution formally demands that UCLA “withdraw investments in securities, endowments, mutual funds, and other monetary instruments with holdings” in 11 US-based companies that are in some way involved in Israel’s illegal occupation, including:
- Cement Roadstone Holdings,
- General Dynamics,
- General Electric,
- Lockheed Martin,
- Northrop Grumman,
- Raytheon, and
- United Technologies.
Over 30 student groups supported the divestment measure. These are those groups (note, almost every community of UCLA students was in favor):
(“Bruins” refers to UCLA students. The school’s sports teams are known as the Bruins.)
This is intersectionality.
Palestinian poet and activist Remi Kanazi’s tweet described the widespread, diverse support for divestment more pithily than any other:
Sophia Armen, a California-based organizer with feminist anti-war organization CODEPINK who was involved in the divestment efforts wrote the following:
Let it be known. Young people are challenging oppression, racism and apartheid everywhere.
Let it be known that youth are making the connections that power says we for can’t have with each other and connecting our struggles.
Let it be known UCLA divestment is historic, but only thanks to the sweat of so many folks, and the organizers who came before them. Nothing ever came out of thin air.
Let it be known this is only the beginning.
Armen told me they were all “so tired.” This is understandable, given the forms of repression UCLA SJP encountered. Barrows-Friedman writes:
Failure of PR firm
As support for Palestinian rights and the campaign for boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) against Israel becomes more mainstream across US campuses, anti-Palestinian groups are scrambling to develop expensive strategies to combat divestment initiatives and shut down educational events on Palestine.
Working from a series of leaked emails, Kane reported that PR firm 30 Point — which has close ties to right-wing Israel advocacy organizations in Washington — advised Hillel to “minimize coverage” of BDS campaigns.
UCLA Hillel’s Rabbi Aaron Lerner told a 30 Point staffer that Hillel would work to “isolate” SJP on campus, and attempt to paint the group as “unrepresentative, a groups [sic] of isolated graduate students, part of Nationwide Agenda [sic] that has nothing to do with Student Life at UCLA and is an issue which our student government shouldn’t even be considering.”
In addition, it was revealed over the summer that a wealthy anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic real estate agent in the Los Angeles area, Adam Milstein, donated to a UCLA political party ostensibly to cultivate pro-Israel interests in the student government. The donations were reportedly funneled through UCLA’s Hillel chapter and sparked a UC system-wide investigation by a student government committee.
An Israel-aligned UCLA student who received Milstein’s donations, Avi Oved, was confirmed in July as a UC student regent representative over the objections of students.
Intimidation and threats
Student Palestine solidarity organizers at UCLA have been under attack not only by on-campus Israel-aligned organizations such as Hillel, but from the University of California and even the Los Angeles political legislature as well.
Earlier this year, UCLA students introduced a non-binding ethics pledge — which asks candidates of the student government not to participate in all-expense-paid trips from outside political organizations with histories of discrimination and promotion of bigotry, such as the Israel lobby group AIPAC — and were immediately condemned by the Los Angeles City Council which accused the statement of being “a tactic of intimidation and harassment.” The city council recommended that students who sign the ethics pledge be turned over to law enforcement and threatened with other legal consequences.
The ethics pledge followed revelations that a UCLA student government representative, Sunny Singh, went on an all-expense-paid junket to Israel in 2013, sponsored and organized by the anti-Palestinian and Islamophobic group the Anti-Defamation League (ADL).
Singh became an outspoken opponent of campus divestment efforts, and in February of this year, helped vote down an initial divestment resolution introduced by SJP and a myriad of other student groups.
Gene Block, UCLA’s chancellor, condemned the ethics pledge and stated that students behind it were embracing “hostility” and had “sought to delegitimize educational trips.”
In September, The Electronic Intifada reported that the ADL is urging a renewed crackdown on Palestine solidarity activism on US campuses, in line with other anti-Palestinian groups who regularly threaten university administrations with legal action and encourage administrative punishment of SJP groups.
UCLA activists are ecstatic. And rightfully so. They have struggled hard for justice, and won. They have helped to strengthen the BDS movement, the principal form of solidarity in which Palestinians have asked Americans to engage. They have helped to make history.