This past Sunday morning, students from across the UC campuses gathered at UCLA’s Tom Bradley International Hall for the University of California Student Association’s divestment hearing. Two resolutions called for the UC Regents to divest from American companies which some argue profit from alleged human rights violations in the Gaza Strip and West Bank, as well as from several governments — including the U.S.
The considerable turnout of pro-Israel students included buses of AEPi students from several UC campuses who made an appearance to voice their opinions and support the anti-BDS campaign. Students began assembling at De Neve Turnaround at 9:30 a.m., where they received flyers with several applicable chants and bright yellow shirts with the slogan “UCSA does not represent us” and “UC Students Against BDS” in large, blue, block letters.
Upon entering the hearing, it quickly became evident that neither the UCSA board nor the Students for Justice in Palestine members were expecting such a huge attendance from pro-Israel students, as they began to murmur and take pictures. However, the pro-Israel students put on a united front, filling a majority of the seats in the room, with posters and flags in hand.
The meeting commenced soon thereafter and students from both sides began reciting speeches in front of fifteen seemingly apathetic UCSA board members and a large screen projecting an intimidating timer, counting down every second to the conclusion of public comments.
Among the anti-divestment speakers was second-year UCSB psychology student Niki Elyasi. She recanted a personal story of being threateningly questioned about her Star of David necklace — an experience that made her fear the streets of Isla Vista for the first time. “I felt absolutely appalled,”she explained, “not for my own safety, but also for the safety of those girls who have to go out and wear hijabs.” Elyasi firmly asserted her belief that no one should fear for their safety for religious reasons, nor any other identity-driven reason, whether it be race or appearance. She then pled for the UCSA board to act as leaders rather than followers: “Don’t be followers of these ideas that have been passed around of ‘peace’; don’t be followers of these breeding grounds for hatred; don’t be followers of these one-sided methods to achieve such a dangerous goal of taking down one country.”
UCLA’s Undergraduate Student Association president, Avinoam Baral, also spoke, delivering an invigorating and profoundly passionate speech: “This is the third time BDS has been brought up at UCLA in this sort of public forum in just one year, and this is the third time I had to put everything aside to prepare myself to defend my very identity. My first question to you all is: WHAT THE HELL ARE WE DOING?”
Baral then fiercely asserted: “I’m going to call it the way I see it and the way I feel it. UCSA Board of Directors, you can start rolling your eyes right now because I’m about to use the A-word: yes, I’m talking about anti-Semitism. I know what that means and I understand its historical context […] Let’s be clear, there’s nothing wrong with criticizing Israeli policy, but holding the Jewish state to a double standard is anti-Semitic.[…] UCSA, you do not represent us!”
Lastly, Avinoam addressed the pro-Israel crowd, paying no attention to the UCSA board chair repeatedly calling “time.” He pointed out that the UCSA representatives would vote based on how their coalitions wanted them to vote, regardless of what was said during the hearing, but that it does not mean that the UC Jewish communities do not matter.
The pro-Israel crowd responded to Baral’s speech with various chants, including “hey hey, ho ho, BDS has got to go” and “BDS is BS.” After several minutes of chanting, they began singing “Am Yisrael Chai,” Hebrew for “the nation of Israel lives,” as they were escorted out of the building and forced to take off their wristbands so that they could not re-enter.
Outside the Tom Bradley International Hall, the escorted students continued to chant, this time using loudspeakers, with the intention of being heard from inside the building. Baral passionately directed the crowd: “Let’s make something very clear: we are not weak. We were escorted out by security officers and we didn’t leave on our own accord. We are not weak, we are not afraid, we can stay here all freakin’ day.”
The students then proceeded to sing songs of patriotism and peace, such as the Hatikva (Israel’s national anthem), the “Star-Spangled Banner,” and War’s “Why Can’t We Be Friends?”
UC Berkeley student and student government senator Ori Herschmann stated: “It’s really sad that this had to come to the point of divestment coming over and over again. We have so many important and pertinent student issues that we should be talking about, but we’re discussing foreign policy. Like we’ve said a thousand times, this isn’t Model United Nations; this is a student government body that is supposed to be representing the student interests on a domestic policy.”
Heather Rosen, a third-year political science student and the UCLA USAC Financial Supports Commissioner, argued: “In a time of tuition conflict and students going hungry, I can’t believe that UCSA is wasting their valuable time discussing divestment. If their mission is to advocate for accessibility, affordability, and quality of the University of California system, how is spending time debating divisive global conflicts adhering to their goals? I’m proud of all those who came out to fight BDS.”
Third-year Neuroscience student and Bruins for Israel Vice President Omer Hit explained: “We showed that enough is enough. What happened at Davis last week [when an AEPi house was spray-painted with swastikas] shows the true vile nature of this whole movement and shows in what environment anti-Semitism can sprout […]We are done letting other communities define what we do and we are proud to be ourselves and that’s why we had such a huge showing.”
Ultimately, UCSA voted on both resolutions together and they both passed: 9 in favor, 1 against, 6 abstaining. The first resolution called for divestment from certain Israeli companies, while the second resolution called for UCs to divest from governments with alleged human rights violations, including Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Russia, Turkey, Sri Lanka, Mexico and even the U.S.
The partitioning of these supposed acts of human rights violations into two resolutions — one for Israel and one for other countries — raises many questions. Firstly, why single out Israel? Secondly, are proponents of the first bill including other violating countries in an effort to hide their true anti-Semitic sentiment? And lastly, where do these people expect the UCs to spend their dollars?
As Bruins for Israel President Eytan Davidovits bluntly stated, “Today, UCSA divested from the world, including America, proving how ridiculous they are.”
Rabbi Aaron Lerner of Hillel at UCLA, who was in attendance for the meeting, stated his belief that “it’s time to stop letting these tiny, unrepresentative, radicalized coalitions speak for you. The vast majority of students reject their ideology, reject divestment, and reject their use of student government to further their special-interest causes at the expense of the issues, which affect all students. […] Keep showing that you represent the majority, that you represent the UC, that you represent the student body.”