By Kaleb Herman Adney
It was my understanding upon entry into the University of California, Los Angeles that Bruins upheld the “highest standards of excellence and integrity” while making “ethical choices” that “respect the dignity of others” as asserted by Gene D. Block, the UCLA chancellor. These values are hypothetical and they ignore the reality at our university: our integrity is conditional and the dignity of others is subjective.
The University of California is not upholding any standard of integrity in its blatant disregard for the dignity and human rights of Palestinians. Our university invests in companies that contribute to systemic discrimination and violence against Palestinians. These companies include Caterpillar, Cement Roadstone Holdings (CRH), Cemex, General Electric, and Hewlett-Packard. UCLA has not made a stance against the dehumanizing behavior of these companies and has, therefore, become implicit in their actions.
Caterpillar, for one, has ignored reports by Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International about its violation of Palestinian dignity in providing the equipment, including heavy-duty tractors and bulldozers, used to demolish homes, water storage units, agricultural lands, and refugee camps in the West Bank and in Gaza. Destroying homes and residential property, as well as upholding segregation, are commonplace activities for Caterpillar.
Cement Roadstone Holdings and Cemex have both contributed to the construction of the separation barrier, a wall that reaches twenty-five feet high in some places. CRH and Cemex provide concrete and aggregate materials that the Israeli government has used in its construction of this wall, which separates family members from one another, farmers from their land, and children from their schools. These two companies have also upheld the construction of illegal settlements and military checkpoints dividing residential areas.
Hewlett-Packard has been an integral part of the checkpoint system in the West Bank. HP provides the technology for the Basel System, a complex network used in checkpoints, 85% of which are in the Palestinian West Bank not on the Israeli border, to collect and store information about Palestinians. This system prevents people from moving freely between their places of work, schools, orchards, and homes. One of my acquaintances in Ramallah, for example, is separated from his family in Jerusalem by these checkpoints and is unable to legally spend evenings with his wife and children.
General Electric is a company that provides parts for A64 Apache helicopters, which the Israeli Defense Forces have used to indiscriminately attack citizens in Gaza. The United Methodist Church, along with human rights groups such as Amnesty International, have condemned GE for its contribution to violence in the Occupied Territories.
Each of these companies contributes directly to violations of Palestinian rights and benefits economically from violence against Palestinians. These companies are not neutral; they are invested in the oppression of people. To be clear, they make money off of this situation. When we students allow the university to invest in companies that behave this way we allow laissez faire economics to subjugate our ethical will.
Divestment is not a term for any student on campus to fear. It is a tactic by which we reclaim our political agency, as shown most recently by the “Resolution to Divest Undergraduate Students Association Council and UC Los Angeles Finances from Corporations Profiting from the Prison Industrial Complex”, which passed unanimously on February 4. It is us as students taking responsibility for what we are invested in and benefit from. It is us saying that these companies don’t live up to our standards as a university, and should not be in our endowment and retirement funds until they do live up to those standards.
Right now, UCLA is invested in these companies and thereby we are taking a stance against Palestinians’ freedom to move and live safely. The ethical choice that would respect the dignity of others is to not invest in these companies. To stand on the right side of history we should condemn the oppression of Palestinians. We need to divest.
Defeating the Anti-BDS bill: Op-Ed in the Daily Bruin on the exclusion of Palestinians and the irrelevance of "positive investments"
Submission: USAC bill fails to consider Palestinian view
Original at the Daily Bruin
This week the Undergraduate Students Association Council Internal Vice President Avi Oved is expected to present a bill to USAC that claims to seriously engage the Israeli-Palestinian impasse but instead fails to address several major questions.
First, the bill claims to know what Palestinians want and argues that investing in Palestinian businesses, as opposed to divesting from Israeli corporations directly engaged in ongoing human rights violations, will contribute to peace. We wonder how the authors came to this conclusion, as prominent Palestinian businessmen directly contradict the idea that investment alone can solve the problems that come with occupation.
As Zahi Khouri, the CEO of the Coca-Cola franchise in the West Bank and Gaza, told a congress of United Methodist delegates in 2012: “It may shock you, but whenever there is a viable project identified in Palestine, we can raise the funds … We don’t need your financial help, your charity. What we need is to be able to operate freely.”
Do the authors of this bill know something that Khouri doesn’t? What gives them the authority to speak on behalf of Palestinians?
Second, the bill claims that divestment is divisive, but it doesn’t explain how ending our financial ties to companies engaged in harmful behavior hurts anyone. Instead, divestment is a perfectly legitimate strategy that has been and continues to be employed for a wide range of causes.
Would this bill, which vaguely refers to “divestment resolutions at other UC campuses,” rule out divestment from companies profiting from the California prison system? Was divestment against South Africa’s regime of racism divisive? Is it divisive to divest from fossil fuels?
Even when it comes to divesting from corporations directly profiting from the illegal occupation of Palestinian territory, divestment campaigns are directed toward companies, not communities, and so can’t be divisive.
How does ending our investments in companies that violate human rights, in Palestine or anywhere else, harm anyone on campus? On the other hand, many Palestinian students at UCLA and on other campuses have expressed great discomfort with the fact that their tuition dollars are being funneled into companies that are harming their own families in Palestine.
It seems ill-advised for USAC to claim that divestment is harmful to students without offering any proof of its claims.
Finally, although the bill claims an interest in promoting dialogue among students from various organizations, this spirit is contradicted by the hypocritical behavior of its authors, who failed to make any effort to engage in the conversations they claim to be promoting.
If they are so concerned with fostering collaboration, why did they choose not to reach out to any pro-Palestinian groups or Palestinian students on campus to learn about what Palestinians and their supporters want? Shouldn’t a bill that claims to support community discussion actually engage the community it is speaking on behalf of?
We believe the reason for our exclusion is that if we had been included in writing such a bill, it would be dramatically different in content. It would call for the basic preconditions that must exist before any investment program can be successful – namely a lifting of the conditions of military control and unequal laws that deny Palestinians autonomy and equality.
As the World Bank noted in 2012, “Israeli restrictions on access to natural resources and markets” are among the major impediments to growth in the Palestinian private sector.Unfortunately, the authors of this bill focus on investments alone while turning a blind eye to the reasons that the Palestinian economy has been so crippled.
Instead of passing a bill that raises more questions than it provides answers to, USAC should engage in a serious investigation of the university’s investment policies that gives every student group an equal chance to be heard.
Rahim Kurwa is a graduate student in sociology and the vice president of Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA. Omar Zahzah is a graduate student in comparative literature and the programming director of the organization.
On October 22nd, the UCLA Undergraduate Students Association Council voted to defeat a resolution that threatened the ability for students to pursue divestment from companies tied to the Israeli occupation. The resolution, entitled “A Resolution In Support of Positive Steps Towards an Israeli-Palestinian Peace" framed divestment as a source of tension on campus, while also calling for "positive investment" in a basket of companies loosely affiliated with both Israelis and Palestinians. . During the effort to defeat this bill, we received solidarity statements from around the world, explaining the futility of the bill's "positive investment" clauses and the importance of divestment as a non-violent response to the occupation. For more, please see our press release. Here is a statement sent by DeeJay Pepito, the Associated Students of the University of California President at UC Berkeley: