At the Jan. 29 ASUCD senate meeting, Senate Resolution (SR) No. 9 passed with an 8-2-2 vote. The text of SR No. 9 calls for the University of California (UC) Board of Regents to divest from “corporations that aid in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and illegal settlements in Palestinian territories, violating both international humanitarian law and international human rights.” ASUCD voted down a similar resolution this past May and in 2013.
With the passing vote, ASUCD formally recommends the UC Regents to divest from American companies Caterpillar Inc., G4S PLC, Veolia Environment and Raytheon.
Over 550 UC Davis students, staff and faculty members attended the senate meeting, which was called to order at 8:57 p.m. in 123 Sciences Lecture Hall.
“We support the First Amendment right of freedom of speech,” said Associate Vice Chancellor of Student Affairs Milton Lang. “We want to give the senate and the students the freedom to conduct this meeting in a way they think is productive, but doing so in a way that really supports our Principles of Community.”
Supporters of the bill claim that by not divesting from the specified corporations, the university is failing to acknowledge human rights violations and genocide of the Palestinian people.
“I have been waiting for this for a very long time, because of the suppression of the Palestinian identity on our campus, and I think it’s really cool that students know that their student government is finally going to acknowledge the social movement of the campus,” said ASUCD President Armando Figueroa, who openly supports the resolution. “I think it’s empowering for a lot of students who are used to not being listened to, who are used to being swept under the rug.”
Last year, ASUCD Vice President Maxwell Kappes abstained from a similar divestment resolution, leading to a 5-5-3 failing vote. The polarized opinions of the executive office on the issue have led some to question to functionality of the team.
“We’re representative of the campus,” Figueroa said. “There are two constituencies represented here. We work well together, despite how polarizing the issue is. We are now in our 11th month, going strong, being very successful. Ultimately, our opposing views have benefitted the association more so than any past exec where everyone has agreed. I’m proud of our work.”
On the anti-divestment side of the matter, students voiced concerns about the divisiveness of the bill, claiming that metaphorically tearing down Israel is not the same thing as advocating for Palestine.
“I have been on this campus for four years, and have seen what divestment has done to this campus, to my community and … to ASUCD,” said fourth-year mechanical engineering major and former Aggies For Israel (AFI) President Danny Eliahu. “I have had my voice be neglected for a long time, as has our entire community. We decided as a community that we didn’t want to legitimize the conversation this evening, because we don’t believe in this dialogue. We don’t think it comes from a genuine place. It comes from a place of hate.“
At approximately 9:10 p.m., after introduction speeches from both supporting and opposing sides of the bill, AFI President Julia Reifkind called upon the anti-divestment crowd to participate in a walk-out of the meeting, causing most of those opposed to the bill – about a third of the attendees – to leave.
“Our key message is that we didn’t want to legitimize this process or this resolution or this conversation this evening, and we felt that our presence would legitimize it,” Eliahu said.
As around 200 of those against the resolution exited the building in silence, many supporters of the bill clapped in celebration.
“Personally, I was not expecting [the walk-out] at all,” said third-year human development major and Muslim Student Association President Rangeena Salim. “It was a shocking movement. If that was their way of expressing how they felt, then that’s what they chose to do. We chose to stay, explain our side of the narrative, sit through the vote and see it through.”
Following the walk-out, discussion regarding SR No. 9 continued until the meeting adjourned at 10:07 p.m.
“It’s a beautiful moment, and it’s been a beautiful experience,” Salim said. “I see one amazing side to it — we have all united and will continue to be a united force on campus and force for change. I hope it’s a time for all of our communities to heal. I think there were so many beautiful people in this room, and I only see positive energy coming out of this.”
Senators Nicholas Sanchez, Anabiah Syed, Casey Nguyen, Reem Fatayerji, Azka Fayyaz, Roman Rivilis and Robyn Huey voted in favor of the resolution. Senators Artem Senchev and Eugenia Chung voted against it, and senator Alex Lee abstained. Senator Amelia Helland was not present.
UC Davis joins UC Berkeley, UCLA, UC San Diego and UC Riverside as UC schools passing similar resolutions through their student governments.
“I think it’s really significant because it really does give voice to all these minority groups on campus,” Salim said. “This isn’t a Palestinian issue. This is an issue of human rights and the opportunity for so many marginalized groups on campus to rise together and stand up for something that is happening in our world.”
Reifkind said that the direct outcome of the senate meeting does not change her feelings toward the issue.
“Ultimately the victory is ours, because our community is going to continue to celebrate Israel on campus and support each other,” Reifkind said. “This doesn’t really affect us; we are walking out to continue doing that.”
In addition to the individual UC campus votes, the UC Student Association Board (UCSA), consisting of student representatives from each UC campus, will consider the divestment resolution at a meeting held at UCLA on Feb. 7 and 8.
UCSA previously saw the legislation in November but tabled the discussion due to having inadequate time to properly take the resolution to its respective student associations. If passed next weekend, the measure would further recommended the UC Regents to divest from funds specified in its text.
Photo by Jian Gelvezon