Shomik Mukherjee
Executive Managing Editor

For the third time in four school years, the organization Students for Justice in Palestine has sponsored a resolution calling for the Associated Students Senate to divest from companies that allegedly “profit from human rights violations” in Palestine and Israel, the student group announced Sunday on Facebook. The president of the University of California, Santa Barbara’s chapter of Students Supporting Israel criticized both the announcement and the resolution itself on Wednesday.

UCSB currently invests in companies like Hewlett-Packard, Raytheon, General Electric, Boeing, and others. These companies have also done business with the Israeli government in various capacities.

Continuing to invest in them makes UCSB a “complicit third-party” to “human rights abuses” of the Palestinian people, the resolution reads. If the A.S. Senate were to pass the resolution, the university would divest its holdings from the companies.

For years, senators at UCSB have tried — and failed — to pass divestment from companies that support the Israeli government. Resolutions similar to the latest one fell short of success in 2013, 2014, and 2015. A number of senator resignations during the 2015-16 school year forced SJP to reconsider trying another resolution, SJP member Anumita Kaur told The Bottom Line on Tuesday. This year, senators Unique Vance and Jonathan Lopez will bring divestment back to the table, and Kaur is confident it will be a success.

“We have more ‘yes’ votes from the get-go than we have ever had before,” Kaur said of the current Senate. Kaur, a fourth year sociology major, campaigned heavily in support of previous attempts to divest.  

She also said her organization aims to “divest to educate,” rather than “educate to divest.” What that means, she said, is that simply raising the topic allows more students to “sympathize with the struggle for Palestinian liberation.”

Divestment came closest to passing in 2015. After hours of deliberation and hearing dozens of speakers at a packed Girvetz Hall, the senate arrived at a 12-12-1 deadlock. Internal Vice President Angela Lau broke the tie with a “no” vote, bringing SJP’s hopes to an end.

Already, the latest resolution has drawn controversy after SJP posted an announcement Sunday night on its Facebook page, UCSB Divest. Sunday, Apr. 23 also marked the beginning of Yom HaShoah, Israel’s commemorative Holocaust Remembrance Day.

“It’s the one day out of the whole year that is specifically dedicated to remembering the atrocities of the Holocaust,” said Nate Erez, president of the UCSB chapter of Students Supporting Israel. Though he said he “doesn’t have reason to believe” SJP’s timing was deliberate, he did say the group should issue an apology regardless.

SJP issued a follow-up post Monday evening on Facebook, saying the scheduling decision was made to avoid interfering with students’ midterm exams and A.S. Elections. The group rejected the notion that the timing was anti-Semitic, calling the memorial day and divestment “separate issues.”

“Whether intentional or not, to me, it doesn’t matter,” Erez told The Bottom Line on Wednesday. “It’s horrendously insensitive.” Erez, a fourth year economics and accounting major, said he would “love” the prospect of dialogue with SJP. He also said he welcomes the resolution itself, so he can publicly prove it is “intellectually dishonest.”

Divestment from Israel has already passed at a number of nearby universities, including every other undergraduate campus in the UC system. SJP member Kaur said Tuesday that UCSB’s relatively unique position on divestment speaks to the “lack of real choices” in the A.S. elections.

The movement behind divestment is “premised on love,” Kaur said. She hesitated to identify its detractors as the “opposition,” saying anti-divestment advocates misunderstand the movement’s basis in “humanity.”

Criticizing Israel is not an anti-Semitic gesture, Erez said. But the resolution, as well as the global Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement, is “unequivocally rooted in anti-Semitism,” he said. He alleged that the founders of the BDS movement want to deny the right of a Jewish state to exist in Palestine. Erez referred to a video in which BDS leader Omar Barghouti says no “rational Palestinian” would “ever accept a Jewish state in Palestine.”

“We have to criticize Israel,” Erez said, “but do it honestly. Don’t hold a double standard. This is a two-sided issue. Don’t make it seem like one side is innocent and the other is wrong.”

 


UPDATE:

April 27, 10:36 p.m.: An earlier version of this article included the sentence: “Erez said divestment from corporate American support of Israel is not an anti-Semitic gesture.” The line was included by mistake and the article has been updated for accuracy.

Shomik Mukherjee
Shomik Mukherjee has worked at The Bottom Line since the first week of his first year at UCSB. In his spare time, he enjoys telling people that. Mukherjee can be reached at news@bottomlineucsb.com.