On Tuesday, Nov. 18, the Undergraduate Student Association Council — the governing body of UCLA’s undergraduate population — voted to approve a resolution calling on the UC to divest from companies that allegedly profit from the violation of Palestinian human rights. The council passed the resolution overwhelmingly, with eight members affirming the vote, two opposing, and two abstaining.
With such strong support in favor of divestment, many pro-Israel community members, including some students and administrative leaders of Jewish organizations on campus (anonymous per their requests to remain as such), have questioned whether the anti-divestment response was sufficient.
The answer to this question can be expressed in a simple four (or five) words: yes, it was (absolutely) sufficient. In fact, the response plan was thoughtfully developed, precisely planned and competently executed. At its core, the plan involved rejecting the legitimacy of a divestment resolution in and of itself by remaining absent from the hearing, in which the council voted on it. Instead of attending the hearing, students who opposed the resolution convened at the Alpha Epsilon Pi fraternity house, spending their time productively by discussing ways they could strengthen the communities in which they are involved.
According to Tammy Rubin, Hillel president emeritus and one of the student leaders at the forefront of the fight against this year’s divestment bill, students invested a collective 4,000 hours combating divestment last year. This year, anti-divestment leaders determined that the copious time and effort spent fighting the resolution could be better spent discussing matters with those who hold different perspectives, working with organizations promoting peace such as Other Voice, or even tutoring underprivileged children. All of these positive actions would benefit the greater community by promoting understanding, cooperation, unity and compassion. Vociferously fighting divestment, on the contrary, enhances the polarization its proponents cause, and helps nobody.
Indeed, instead of flooding the USAC hearing with a myriad of tear-filled, emotional pleas to reject the resolution, students sent Rubin, Eytan Davidovits, Omer Hit and Gil Bar-Or to make a strong and unified case on their behalf. Davidovits and Hit are president and external vice president of Bruins for Israel, respectively, and Gil Bar-Or is president of J-Street UCLA.
Before their presentation at the hearing, Hit told Ha’Am that last year’s hearing made it difficult for the pro-Israel community to completely voice its opinion due to the two-minute limit imposed on public speeches made to council. Speakers repeated talking points already mentioned, or were cut off before they could develop a persuasive argument. According to Hit, these conditions resulted in a messy case against divestment, and even the stronger points that were made were likely to be forgotten by council members, who listened to hours upon hours of speeches. Therefore, the approach employed this year allowed council to better assimilate the arguments against divestment by hearing a concise and cogent case from some of the best speakers the anti-BDS community had to offer.
At this year’s hearing, the aforementioned representatives presented a statement signed by nearly 2,000 UCLA undergraduates that called for the council to redirect its focus toward student-related issues rather than wasting its time with a geopolitical issue whose scope falls outside the domain of a student government body. The statement was a part of the greater #StudentsFirst campaign which directed its supporters to change their profile pictures and update their Facebook statuses to highlight the needs of UCLA students from USAC. Students called on USAC to remedy issues like the dearth of Counseling and Psychological Services counselors and the unsanitary public bathrooms around campus.
Evidently, USAC did not give due consideration to the anti-BDS efforts, but that in no way reflected any flaws or insufficiency by the anti-BDS approach. Considering the fact that some of the representatives seemed to have decided their votes before the hearing ever began, the pleas made by the anti-BDS representatives for USAC to reconsider the legitimacy of BDS as a whole was almost bound to fail. According to the Daily Bruin, Negeen Sadeghi-Mohaved (transfer representative and lead sponsor of the resolution) was voted into office by 1,803 students, yet it seems that a statement signed by about the same amount of students calling on the council to, at the very least, thoughtfully consider its role, did not influence her decision-making process.
Ultimately, the anti-BDS response cannot be culpable for the obstinance of council members and their failure to consider the voices of Jewish and pro-Israel students they profess to represent. Those who led the response cannot not be blamed for trying to spare students from exposure to what Rubin referred to as the “hate speech and bullying” that students were subjected to during last year’s divestment resolution. Rather, they should be applauded for trying to benefit both the Jewish and Bruin communities by asking students to invest their time in creating positive change, and most significantly, they should be applauded for refusing to allow BDS to define Jewish life at UCLA.