JULY / AUGUST 2013
life (Cemex, Hewlett Packard).The vote reignited the spirit of 2010, andin the months following it we have seen aseries of divestment attempts across theUniversity of California. Although they hadsubmitted a bill every year since 2009, thisyear’s divestment hearings at UC-San Diegolasted three weeks.The process became extended when,during the original senate decision, senatorswho opposed divestment employed a strate-gy of extending discussion until the buildingwas forced to close at 2 am, so that the billcould not come to a vote.Other forms of pressure included asenator threatening to resign over thebill, and letters of opposition sent byRepresentatives Juan Vargas and SusanDavis, as well as the University’s mostprominent donor, Irwin Jacobs. Reflectingon the hearings, an SJP board member atUCSD noted that while her group’s earlierefforts were met with justifications of Israelistate policies as security necessities, morerecent opposition to divestment focusedon emotional issues and attempts to makedivestment appear opposed to peace orundermining a two-state solution.When the vote was finally taken, how-ever, the extensions had proven to onlyincrease the clarity of the issue, and UC SanDiego’s government voted for divestmentby a much larger margin than activists orig-inally hoped for. They were supported by16 student organizations, ranging from theMexican and Chicano Students Associationto Asian Pacific Student Alliance, the localchapter of the graduate union, the Black Student Union, and the Coalition of SouthAsian Peoples.In response to this tapestry of support,anti-divestment activists reached out forlocal government figures to send letters of opposition to student senators.Stanford, Riverside, Santa Barbara,Berkeley, Davis, and Santa Cruz alsolaunched divestment campaigns this spring.Week after week bills were being intro-duced, debated and voted on at schoolsacross California. The high rate of activismup and down the state has quickly educatedand mobilized large numbers of studentsand has given activists a new sense of whatis possible to achieve on campuses.Although Stanford’s bill was unsuccessful,it received enough support to attract hastyresponses from J-Street leader Jeremy Ben-Ami and prominent congressmen such asHouse Whip Eric Cantor and DemocraticCongressman Charles Rangel, who record-ed videos urging Stanford not to divest.Riverside’s bill originally passed, but weeksof pressure over the spring break resultedin the senate eventually rescinding the bill.At Santa Barbara, the process of orga-nizing around the bill produced a list of 30 endorsing groups and beautiful expres-sions of solidarity across struggles. Movingstatements were read by students of color,whose experiences of colonialism, displace-ment, imperialism and racism were knittogether in solidarity with the Palestiniancall for divestment.Support from the UCSB chapter of MEChA and a group of undocumentedstudents was so strong that an undocument-ed student was appointed to be the solespeaker in favor of the bill at one of its finalhearings. It was also reported that after theCampus Democrats voted to endorse thebill in their executive council, alumni issuedthreats to investigate and possibly strip thechapter of national membership.Other pressure tactics included theanti-divestment groups claiming to be “Pro-Palestine, Pro-Israel, Pro-Peace, and Anti-Divestment,” an attempt to delegitimize abill that at the core seeks to remove tuitionfunds from corporation-supported violence.The bill failed by a small margin on its firstvote, partially due to the influence of anti-di-vestment speakers who employed similartactics, but was re-introduced twice in May.At the first re-hearing, anti-divestmentsenators used procedural loopholes toremove it from the legislative agenda beforethe meeting officially started. At the sec-ond meeting, the bill earned 12 votes to11 against and 1 abstention. Although the12-11 result indicated a simple majority,anti-divestment senators argued that the billneeded a majority of the total senate body,and that 12 of 24 total senators failed topass that mark. The Internal Vice Presidentat first ruled in favor of divestment, butreversed her ruling after being shouted at byan anti-divestment senator until she cameto tears.Other aspects of hostility manifestedby anti-divestment activists included sexistspeech and threats to students, and a stu-dent who punched a wall during the finalhearing. While UCSB’s SJP began arrangingfor carpools to escort pro-Palestine stu-dents safely across campus, the administra-tion remained silent about the intense cli-mate of intimidation they faced. The bill nowstands in judicial council awaiting review of the final vote.
Building the Debate
At Davis, the bill was prevented fromcoming to a vote before the full senate,but the campaign itself has created stron-ger bonds among activists involved insocial struggles. Although UC Santa Cruz’sdivestment campaign fell a few votes shyof passage (the vote was 17-19-3), studentscelebrated the remarkable change in campusdiscourse, evidenced by the fact that thesenate’s pro-divestment caucus more thandoubled (from 7 to 17 votes) during thethree-week deliberation process.In all, losses in the student senate havenot deterred students from continuing tooffer bills, because as debates occur acrosscampuses the consensus for Palestinianhuman rights only continues to grow, andthe moral case for divestment becomesmore and more clear. Support from alliedcampus groups, international luminaries(such as Roger Waters, Alice Walker andAngela Davis), and Palestinian studentsand graduates in the Occupied PalestinianTerritory have also been major sources of encouragement for activists.At UC Berkeley, the re-introduction of a divestment bill carried additional symbolicweight. As at other schools, the years since2010 debate have been marked by increasedpressure against SJP activism and a doublingdown on the idea that Jewish students areuniformly “pro-Israel.”A second setback at Berkeley might haveput an indefinite halt to BDS efforts, but ina drawn out senate session that lasted until5am the next morning, Berkeley’s SJP andallied groups, along with several supportivesenators, made eloquent arguments andwithstood a series of tactics designed to dis-tract and confuse moderate senators.These tactics included attempting toinsert language into the bill that, if rejected,would make pro-Palestinian activists look unreasonable. One example was the attemptto insert language calling for a two-statesolution into the bill. Although “pro-Israel”senators hoped the rejection of this lan-guage would show moderates that BDSwas truly a one-state movement at its core,the language was voted down and did notachieve the intended result because a broadmajority of senators recognized how irrele-vant the statehood question is to the issueof Palestinian rights.Another strategy has been to introduceparallel bills calling for “positive investment,”which have also been seen as efforts toprovide centrist senators with a face-savingalternative to voting against divestment. Asthese efforts to delay and confuse issueswere exhausted, the wide array of pro-di-vestment student voices continued to holdmoral sway.As the Organization of African Studentswrote in the
, “The decision tosupport divestment is a result of our con-cerns about the continued marginalizationof Palestinians. As a people with a history of colonization, occupation and human rightsviolations, we can directly sympathize withthe Palestinian people. Some of us havedirectly experienced such marginalization,and others learned of them from parents orsecondary sources. Knowledge of this histo-ry makes us opposed to the mistreatmentof any group based on physical characteris-tics, ethnicity or creed.”