Campus Beat Reporter
The Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) campaign at the University of California, Santa Barbara failed Wednesday night when Associated Students senators voted 0-16-7 against a resolution urging UC Regents to divest from companies that do business with Israel. By the end, well into the early morning hours, the legitimacy of several of the resolution’s claims were called into question.
With 16 in opposition and seven abstaining, senators decided to vote by roll call – a significant change from the 65th Senate, which voted by secret ballot. Proxy Senator Luvia Solis and Off-Campus Senator Jonathan Lopez attempted to reinstate the secret ballot, arguing that their livelihoods could be endangered, but the Senate ultimately voted to go to a roll call vote in the interest of transparency and accountability, securing a 50 percent + 1 majority.
“A lot of students don’t feel that our futures are secure if we publicly go out for or against divestment,” said Lopez. “We feel that there are these sites that target pro-divestment literally ruin the lives of students and especially when you want to learn more about the issues by going to areas such as Israel or Palestine. You can’t go anymore after publicly going out against it.”
Over 100 students voiced their opinions at public forum, but Off-Campus Senator Izabella Kipnis was the first to suggest that the UC does not hold investments in Raytheon, Caterpillar, Motorola, or any other corporations listed in the resolution. Jordan directed A.S. Executive Director Marisela Marquez to verify the claim.
“Reviewing the UC Office of the President investments on June 30, 2016 — I’ve looked at the list of potential investments and the only I can find that the system has invested in is General Electric and many holdings,” said Marquez after conducting further research. “We have researched all of them that are listed in the “whereas’s”; if the system ever had investments in them, they don’t now.”
The UC has a collective share value of $13,254,000 in General Electric, according to the list of UC Retirement Plan Holdings.
For the better part of an hour, senators struggled to reach a conclusion due to issues of parliamentary procedure. Senators ran through a series of votes to determine how to vote on the resolution, followed by confusion regarding the approval percentage used. With the help of Marquez, Internal Vice President Natalie Jordan established that they had been using a 50 percent plus one approval.
“Peace for one minority should not and does not come at the cost of the peace and sovereignty of another,” said Off-Campus Senator Ashley Selki, who echoed the concerns of many Jewish students that the resolution had anti-Semitic tones. “This is only dividing the community and makes students feel unsafe.”
On-Campus Senator Unique Vance spoke otherwise. As first author of the resolution, Vance reminded senators that it was important to consider what the “definition of UCSB, our students, our faculty, our staff, want to be here and focus on the world society, particularly an approach to honesty, to human rights, equity, and equality.”
Fourth year sociology major Anumita Kaur and third year global studies major Edan Tessema student sponsored the bill. For Kaur, this was the second time she had sponsored a resolution to divest.
“These represent just few of the many constituents that are forced to fund their oppression as long as we are invested in these corporations,” said Kaur after playing the recorded testimonies of two anonymous Palestinian students. “However, I urge you to realize that these are not just a Palestinian issue. This is not just a Muslim issue. This is not just an Arab issue. This is a human issue.”
UCSB professor of communication Walid Afifi, wearing a keffiyeh scarf and a #supportgaza shirt, spoke in support of the resolution alongside over 100 students at public forum prior to the senate’s decision. He cited his own experience as a Palestinian and touched on the risks many students in support of the resolution have taken.
“One of the things I wanted to be here for, some of them certainly Palestinian, are very much taking a risk by being here at all because they may not be able to go home,” said Afifi.
Afifi and Executive Director of the Santa Barbara Hillel Rabbi Evan Goodman, who also addressed senators at the meeting, teach a seminar together that focuses on exposing and learning from both sides of the dialogue on the Israel/Palestine conflict.
“He gives his perspective on an issue,” said Goodman, who spoke to the importance of establishing dialogue and understanding within his class. “I give my perspective on an issue. And then we talk. We model that behavior for our class.”
Prior to the senate’s decision, tensions ran high. Both sides claimed the other had vandalized their property: a Student Artists for Israel sign spray painted and Students for Justice in Palestine’s wall broken in. Seven Jewish and Israel affiliated student groups together authored a statement of unity against BDS. Student sponsors Kaur and Tessema listed the endorsements of over a dozen student organizations.
“I was a little bit shocked about that,” said Jordan regarding Marquez’s statement about the UC list of investments, “that I need to still read all of the sources about that once again, but it’ll all be provided in the minutes for everyone if they have questions to take a look at.”
Jack Alegre, Shomik Mukherjee, and Lauren Marnel Shores contributed reporting.