The door unlatches, gracing the influx of more than 200 jigsaws, soon to frame the nearing puzzle. A gentle gust peels through the hermetic air, breathing its ethereality across the chairs, and rattling the languor of a formerly empty Town Hall. A truly elegant milieu licks the corneas of many intentful eyes, as they readily await the spectacle that was long overdue. Divestment. In every direction, bodies hastily segue the rows for a seat, thawing their way into a realm brimming with diversity and respect. Polite exchanges, laughs, smiles: each worked to craft the mellifluous sound of one word. Change. And it would happen.
On November 3rd, SJP announced that they will bring the divestment resolution to council Week 7. In the two weeks before the hearing, SJP hosted their annual Palestine Awareness Week to reiterate the history of and occupation in Palestine, multiple events to educate students on why divestment is necessary, and asked for feedback on the bill. In order to garner a resolution in which every one agreed upon before bringing it to the council members, SJP opened up an online forum for anyone to post what they wanted to add to the resolution. Additionally, they held an open town hall to work on the context of the resolution. Over 80 submissions of feedback were submitted and about a hundred people came to this event to give their input on certain clauses and phrases that they believed should or should not be included. During the council’s discussion on the bill on Tuesday, in retaliation to a statement that SJP’s formation of the resolution was not transparent enough, General Representative Fabienne Roth said she attended and gave a lot of feedback to adjust the bill in which she felt was right.
Anti-divestment students had announced that they would boycott the USAC meeting, in an attempt to delegitimize the conversation. Natalie Charney, the student board president for Hillel at UCLA told the Jewish Journal, “we didn’t subject Jewish students, pro-Israel students, to the hate that is in this room.” This is following reports that showed a relationship between Hillel at UCLA and the PR firm 30 Point Strategies, in which the latter advised Hillel to “minimize coverage” of what they called a “potential BDS loss.”
Former Hillel at UCLA president, Tammy Rubin, Bruins for Israel president, Eytan Davidovits, J-Street president, Gil Bar-Or, and Bruins for Israel vice president, Omer Hit, claiming to speak on behalf of the Jewish community, gave a 15 minute special presentation to Council, outlining why they’re opposed to this bill. They said they were not consulted in the drafting of the language and feel marginalized because they say the bill singles out Israel. Jacob Manheim, president of Jewish Voice for Peace, said, “While Bruins for Israel and Hillel continually attempted to portray the Jewish community as holding one monolithic view against divestment and misrepresented many Jews on campus, it was really encouraging that we were able to speak out and tell council that there is nothing anti-Semitic about supporting equal rights for Palestinians,” adding that, “I think in the end it became clear to council that no Palestinian student should have to choose between attending UCLA and funding the oppression of their communities back in Palestine.”
Furthermore, BFI, Hillel and J-Street representatives presented Council with over 2,000 signatures of what they claimed to be students who were opposed to divestment. However, Cultural Affairs Commissioner Irmary Garcia raised concerns regarding the way in which these signatures were collected, stating that many were simply told, “sign this petition if you want the university to put students first.”
During the hearing, Financial Support Commissioner Heather Rosen claimed that the resolution is singling out the country of Israel, to which the sponsors of the resolution said that divestment has been used several times as a tool focusing on places like Sudan and South Africa as well as on industries like the fossil fuel industry and the prison industrial complex. Although former Internal Vice President Avinoam Baral, who assumed presidency after Devin Murphy stepped down, served largely in a moderating capacity as chair and president of the council, he shared his stance later on. After reminding the audience not to cheer and to be respectful to those in the room that disagree with them, he took the time between the motion to vote was seconded and the actual vote took place to share his personal opinions on the resolution. He said that as an Israeli citizen, he is the only one at the council table affected by the resolution and that “Israel is the only good thing to have happened to the Middle East,” adding that “it sucks to be president because you don’t get to voice your opinion.”
Divestment may have passed, but the Students for Justice in Palestine do not end their efforts here. SJP was created as a movement to bring about social activism and change, and in the process of this divestment campaign, thirty communities have come together and shared their unbelievable amount of support. As stated in the press release, “the organization sees this vote as laying a principled foundation from which students from myriad backgrounds can continue to educate and organize in support of not just Palestinian rights but all causes of social justice. “