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Jewish Journal

BDS widely debated in SoCal campus halls

by Jared Sichel

April 30, 2014 | 10:59 am

The movement on Southern California campuses to pressure university administrators to divest from Israeli companies and many non-Israeli businesses that contract with Israel’s government scored a victory on April 23 with a resolution at University of California, Riverside.

Two similar resolutions related to the the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement brought up for votes at student organizations on the same evening failed at UC Santa Barbara and San Diego State University. However, the 8-to-7 vote in favor of BDS at UC Riverside marked another small victory for the growing college movement, which is supported on many campuses nationwide by branches of the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP).

The recent triple vote is just the latest in a series of diplomatic actions taken by the pro-Palestine movement in the halls of local student governments.

In November 2012, UC Irvine’s student government unanimously passed a divestment resolution. A few months later, in March 2013, UC San Diego’s governing student body passed a divestment resolution. In the same month, a similar resolution was passed, and then overturned, at UC Riverside. UC Berkeley also passed a divestment measure in April 2013.

“It’s thriving here,” said Ben Morag, a sophomore and the president of Highlanders for Israel, a UC Riverside pro-Israel group that campaigned against the measure. “We have a very well-respected SJP. Their whole aim is to spread the BDS movement.”

[Related: Should we fear BDS?]

Although UC Riverside’s SJP failed to pass a similar BDS resolution in February, with six members voting for and seven against, Tina Matar, the campus’ SJP vice president, said the group brought back the resolution after amending some of the language and stating that passing the bill would “not marginalize or hurt students on campus,” namely Jewish and pro-Israel students.

“There is no way at all this should harm any student on campus,” Matar told the Journal in a phone interview. “This bill specifically is only for companies.”

Morag said that the debate lasted until midnight and that for every one student who showed up to oppose the divestment resolution, about 13 students came to support it. He estimated that close to 150 students attended.

“On our campus there are very few Jews who are active in the Israel debate,” Morag said. “There’s a very strong Muslim Student Association on campus.”

Although none of the resolutions brought to votes at the three campuses will likely have any tangible effect—the UC system has a policy that would make divestment from Israel highly unlikely—Roz Rothstein, founder and CEO of the pro-Israel organization StandWithUs, said she is concerned more with the very nature of these debates than the outcomes of the votes.

“It’s not so much the vote itself. It’s that it’s a dreadful series of hours and hours and hours of listening to half-truths and misrepresentations of the State of Israel,” Rothstein said.

Although SJP’s divestment resolution failed at UC Santa Barbara, with eight student senators voting for and 16 voting against, Sarah Tagger, a campus coordinator for Gauchos for Israel, said the nine-hour debate lasted until 4 a.m. and drew between 100 and 150 students

“A lot of the claims in this resolution were very biased,” Tagger said. “It contains a lot of misleading claims about Israel,” such as, she said, SJP’s assertion to the student government that Israel stole indigenous Palestinian land. 

“[That] erases the ties that Jews have had for 3,000 years to the land,” Tagger said, adding that she fully expects SJP on Santa Barbara’s campus to again try to pass a divestment resolution next year.

At San Diego State, where SJP’s divestment resolution failed with only three members voting for and 16 voting against, SJP co-chair Nadir Bouhmouch said that although he expected the student government to defeat the resolution, it was still worthwhile to bring it up for debate.

“Honestly, we didn’t expect it to [pass],” Bouhmouch said. “We went into [it] with that knowledge.

Asked whether he expects SJP to bring the divestment vote to the student government next year, he replied, “There are a lot of young determined leaders that are very determined to do it.”

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