UC Davis passes divestment resolution, years of work continues
This op-ed was co-written by Yazan Amro and Evan Sandlin. Yazan is a grad student studying Physiology at Case Western Reserve University and also an undergrad University of California at Davis Alum and Evan is a Political Science Grad student at UC Davis.
On Thursday night, the University of California at Davis joined the growing list of UC campuses that have passed resolutions calling for divestment from corporations profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine. With 8 yes votes, 2 no votes, and 2 abstentions, the student senate at UC Davis formally recommended the UC Regents to withdraw all investments in Veolia Environment, Raytheon, Caterpillar Inc., and G4S.
The passing of the resolution at UC Davis means that seven out of nine UC student governments have now voted in favor of urging the UC Regents to divest. Earlier this year UAW 2865, the UC graduate student union, passed a similar resolution that called on both the UAW and the UC to divest from Israeli occupation. These events signal an important turning point in the call for Boycott Divest and Sanction (BDS) and demonstrate that the moral argument for divestment, at least among university students, has shifted.
The adoption of the BDS resolution at UC Davis was the culmination of a three-year effort by the UC Davis branch of Students for Justice in Palestine as well as other dedicated pro-Palestinian students, and typifies the kind of trajectory that BDS battles have taken. The first divestment campaign at UC Davis was introduced in Spring of 2013 and never made it to the Senate table because the resolution was rejected in commission hearings. The following year, the resolution passed a majority of the commissions and was seen at the senate table but resulted in a 5-5-2 tie. However, the Associated Students, University of California at Davis Vice President’s abstaining vote failed to break the tie and ended in a 5-5-3 failure.
The time spent between each successive campaign was marked by extensive coalition building and educating the campus community. Over the past two years, student organizers immersed themselves in campus politics to better represent the voice of marginalized students. This paved the way for open discussion of the Palestinian narrative in the context of larger campus-wide progressive student movements. From UC tuition hike protests, to Black Lives Matter and Ayotzinapa campaigns, the rising consciousness among UC Davis students became an essential aspect of campus culture. The BDS campaign became an opportunity for progressive student activists to mobilize and demand institutional transparency and accountability. The success of BDS at UC Davis is a testament to the strength of coalition building that transcends identity lines, and unites a socially conscious student body in the fight for justice.
The Palestinian narrative has also resonated with the larger campus community because it is simple and compelling: The UC system is investing in companies that assist Israel in violating international law and the human rights of the Palestinian people. This narrative has only been reinforced further after the brutal 2014 summer massacre in Gaza, which even the most apathetic have trouble stomaching. In contrast, the pro-Israeli narrative is complicated. Zionists must explain images of Palestinian suffering while at the same time attempting to absolve Israel of responsibility. Furthermore, even if one accedes to the story of “complication” and “two-sides,” the logic for monetary neutrality still holds. Thus, Zionist students must also make the case why one “side” should be supported over the other. In this they have failed miserably. As a result they have had to resort to the usual mix of conflating anti-Zionism with anti-Semitism and simply lying about the facts on the ground. This was the approach taken at the UC Davis Senate meeting during the divestment vote, where Aggies for Israel President, Julia Reifkind, implicitly compared pro-BDS students to Nazis and then claimed the bill was factually incorrect, all while walking out without offering a single correction or amendment.
Like the movement to divest from South African apartheid, the effort to divest from Israeli occupation and colonization has been spearheaded and embraced by young university students. While student governments continue to adopt BDS, there is a larger battle looming. Pro-BDS students must eventually take these initiatives and place them before university administrators that are oftentimes hostile. At UC Davis, Chancellor Linda Katehi, who visited Israel in 2012 and has been friendly with the Anti-Defamation League, issued an immediate condemnation of the recently passed BDS resolution and claimed that it was “not supported” by the University, by which she means the UC administration.
Divestment operates within a human rights framework to expose the hypocrisy of institutions such as the UC system, that profess to uphold itself to the “highest ethical standards,” while their unethical investments contributing to apartheid are in clear contradiction of these standards. UC Davis students have joined the growing list of universities committed to holding Israel and its supporters accountable to international law and Palestinian rights. More pressure will be needed on the UC Regents to make divestment an actuality. Nonetheless, this victory is a beautiful step in the long road of eradicating apartheid and systemic oppression of the Palestinian people.