Senate Resolution #17 encouraged UC to divest from Israeli companies
Senate Resolution #17, passed by the ASUCD Senate in 2015, was ruled unconstitutional by the Judicial Council for violating Article II, Section 2 and the Student Bill of Rights of the ASUCD Constitution. The decision was unanimous.
The resolution, a part of the larger Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, urged the UC to divest from “corporations that aid in the Israeli occupation of Palestine and illegal settlements in Palestinian territories.”
The case was brought forward by former ASUCD Judicial Council Chair and former Interim Senator Sydney Hack and former Senator Daniella Aloni. The Judicial Council declared the resolution unconstitutional, as Section 2 of the Constitution states that ASUCD must promote student welfare, and the council found that the resolution “caters to the welfare of a group of students […] at the expense of the welfare of other students.”
The second justification pointed to language in the Student Bill of Rights that prohibits discrimination based on national origin, ethnicity or political belief. The Judicial Council found the resolution to be in conflict with anti-discrimination language, explaining that the resolution “has led to the discrimination and harassment of students whose ethnicity, national origin or political beliefs are in opposition to the content of the Resolution.”
Amid what Aloni called an increase in anti-Zionist and anti-Semitic rhetoric on campus, she and Hack brought the case before the council.
“While this resolution may have been passed in 2015, it still has created a toxic environment for students on campus,” Aloni said via email. “There were rumors of another Senate Resolution similar to this one being passed by the current ASUCD Senate Table and we decided it was best to go on the ‘offense’ rather than wait for another wave of antisemitic incidents to take place.”
Aloni said that actions intended to sanction Israel, such as academic boycotts, negatively impact Israeli students because the students may feel isolated and discriminated against.
“This academic boycott also prevents American students in the U.S. from attending Universities in Israel,” Aloni said. “These boycotts lead to discrimination against students from Israel, and from the United States.”
Hack expanded on this issue, stating that any boycotts of Israel “can negatively affect Israeli students in that they may have invested interest in the companies being boycotted.”
Hack also said that boycotts affect all students, because they result in limited cooperation between the U.S. government and the governments that have been sanctioned.
ASUCD President Justin Hurst, on the other hand, argued that there is a difference between sanctions against a government and sanctions against the people in a nation.
“My understanding of the resolution is that it was specifically targeted against the actions of the Israeli government, not the individuals of Israel,” Hurst said. “Another comparison is with the importance of similar legislation of the U.S. government during apartheid in South Africa. The point of it was to change the government’s actions — it had nothing to do with the people of the country.”
ASUCD Vice President Shreya Deshpande echoed Hurst’s argument by emphasizing the fact that there is “no mention of the word Judaism or Zionism.” Deshpande expressed concerns that declaring SR #17 unconstitutional will stop discussions that students need to have about the Arab-Israeli conflict.
Deshpande argued that the resolution did not detract from the welfare of a portion of the student body, because the resolution specifically mentions ways the UC could divest from companies that fund the Israeli military.
Judicial Council Chair Aria Aghalarpour, however, said that the council agreed that the resolution was harmful to a certain group of students based on the arguments of the plaintiffs, Hack and Aloni.
“Throughout the hearing, what the petitioners were arguing [regarded] how this bill affected them and their group,” Aghalarpour said. “As a council, we believe their argument is true.”
Hurst expressed concerns that the outcome of the case would have a chilling effect, a
term used to indicate that a decision on one case may yield broader implications.
“Defining and limiting what resolutions can be effectively limits what ASUCD can do with a resolution,” Hurst said.
Hurst also emphasized that a resolution is nothing more than an opinion.
“In the bylaws, and to an extent, the constitution, a resolution is defined as the expressed opinion of the Senate,” Hurst said. “By silencing an opinion, essentially, it’s a violation of free speech.”
Deshpande also voiced concerns that Aloni and Hack brought the case to the Judicial Council on behalf of the American Israel Public Affairs Commission (AIPAC), a political organization dedicated to lobbying for pro-Israel policies.
“I think it’s very concerning that the folks that were contesting it are advocating on behalf of a larger political organization,” Deshpande said. “That conflicts with the responsibility of ASUCD to promote the welfare of students as a whole, which I think this resolution did speak to in a lot of ways.”
Hurst mentioned “The Lobby,” a documentary by Al Jazeera which is an investigative report that focuses on UC Davis and SR #17 in particular, according to Hurst.
Deshpande elaborated on the content of the documentary, saying that it shows how AIPAC has representatives on college campuses around the country who essentially lobby on behalf of the organization.
“It’s very concerning, because AIPAC has had ties with the US government in infiltration of cyber security systems and things like that,” Deshpande said. “The documentary is very disturbing and it highlights a lot of the reality that does go on not just on our campus but on multiple campuses and it talks about how especially the manipulation of the media occurs.”
This manipulation includes phrasing that attempts to “frame Palestinians and supporters of ending the genocide in Palestine,” according to Deshpande.
Deshpande also noted that a resolution which passed to support sanctions on Turkey this year has not been contested, arguing that there was a particular subjective motivation behind the Judicial Council’s decision to rule SR #17 unconstitutional.
Asked whether her former position as Judicial Council chair contributed to a ruling in her favor, Hack said she did not believe it did.
“The Judicial Council works to preserve the Constitution of the Association,” Hack said via email. “Our success was due entirely to the constitutional strength of our argument. This is apparent in that the decision was handed down unanimously.”
Devo Leichter, a former Judicial Council member and a fourth-year political science major, said that while he agreed with the outcome of the case, he viewed the justifications for the decision as being problematic.
Leichter viewed the rationale that the resolution negatively affects the welfare of a group of students as weak, emphasizing several instances where ASUCD can help a “certain portion of the student population through the allocation of funds or just in general.”
Deshpande also described the first justification as problematic for similar reasons, because the same issues do not affect all students in the same ways.
“When there are disproportionately certain students that are targeted, there should be disproportionately resolutions addressing that specifically,” Deshpande said.
The second argument which relies on the anti-discrimination language in the Student Bill of Rights is also problematic, according to Leichter, because it is within ASUCD’s jurisdiction to affirm or reject a certain set of ideas.
“They’ve done that before with denouncing the hateful posters that were anti-Semitic,” Leichter said.
Leichter, however, still agreed with the outcome of the case, arguing that SR #17 did not affect student welfare in the general sense.
“While certain resolutions, like the one in question, are important for students and relevant for a portion of the student body, I really want to see that proof of an immediate, direct impact on the student body in general,” Leichter said. “I think a lot of resolutions, including the one in question, while they’re very important, they don’t have that same immediate salient impact.”
Although Leichter sees issues in constant resolutions without immediate impacts on the student body, Hurst believes that limiting the Senate’s ability to make resolutions limits advocacy and makes it less likely for senators and commissioners to draft legislation to bring to the table.
“If anyone can go and use the same grounds to strike down any resolution, then what’s the point?” Hurst asked.
Deshpande was also concerned with the limitations potentially imposed on the Senate as a result of the Judicial Council’s ruling.
“According to the same rules that ruled [the resolution] unconstitutional, the only issues that we can really focus on are tuition increases or parking fee increases, and it’s something that won’t be representative or promoting the welfare of all students,” Deshpande said. “These issues affect all students, but there are more pertinent issues that certain students feel targeted or shoved aside because of. It does effectively limit our ability to advocate for them to the best of our ability.”
Written by: Sabrina Habchi — firstname.lastname@example.org