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.
It always amazes me how dominant discourses frame political acts of resistance as accusations of the very institutions they seek to fight against.
Divestment is a reactionary tool to gain agency not used by those in power, but by those who are systematically disadvantaged. The term investment implies that one must have the agency and ability to determine where one's money is going to. Divestment is a crucial tool that momentarily shifts power relations among those who have the ability to control discourses and those who these discourse abject.
Campus climate is indicative of regimes of oppression that operate in a broader institutional framework, in which education systems are only parts of the machinery of a broader regime. When we equate calls for divestment and Pro Palestinian activism to causal effects of campus climate, acts of discrimination become trivialized to be associated to critiques of states and systems. Last spring quarter, an Asian American interest fraternity Lamda Theta Delta issued a video in which Blackface was performed which circulated throughout national news. Campus discourses quickly shift from critically assessing the racist video, to policing Black students’ reactions to the video. This is a prime example of historical oppression and American culture that produces Black bodies a non-human and abject in which our contemporary pop culture is founded on.
Campus climate is not acts of political resistance. Divestment seeks to humanize those persons rendered invisible by refusing to invest in the systems that seeks to erase their resistance and survival. As students of conscience, we have a social responsibility to critique systems in the United States, as well as transnationally. U.S. ideologies globally configure local politics. As students at a U.S. institution it is not our role to determine the best solution for the Palestinians and Israelis or even suggest state solutions. It should be those who live the everyday struggle under apartheid to choose what human rights look like. Thus it is our role to fight for the removal of U.S. investments in local conflicts, for the U.S. has committed an innumerable amount crimes nationally and globally whose effects can never fully be be accounted for.
ASUCI Executive Vice President
Defeating the anti-BDS bill: Letter from Stanford Students for Palestinian Equal Rights on divestment and the campus
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 Stanford Students for Palestinian Equal Rights on their divestment campaign and its positive effects on campus discourse.
To our peers at the University of California - Los Angeles,
We write to you from Stanford University, where just months ago our campus was asking similar questions to the ones you are now. We write to you to say that discussing divestment from the military occupation of Palestine has not destroyed our campus climate or relations. In fact, divestment turned out to be one of the most unifying topics our campus has recently addressed. Support for divestment generated the highest and most diverse turnout for any topic our senate had addressed. Over 75 students from virtually every community on campus came to our student union and lined the entire length from the entrance of the building, up two flights of stairs, all the way our Senate meeting room, which you can see in this video:
The bill before you calls for dialogue but has the opposite effect of promoting conversations. We encourage you to recognize that political action and divestment is one form of dialogue--in this case between students concerned with justice, a people living under an illegal military occupation, and an occupying state that refuses to listen to anyone--including international law, the United Nations and its close ally, the United States. With many of our own members having been in Palestine this summer, we can say without a doubt that investing money in Palestine will not erase the effects of living under military occupation. While money is important for the safety and security of a people, social responsibility and the freedom to live without external control or fear are paramount. People can have all the money and all the respect in the world from their peers. But if the government of these respectful peers continues to build walls around them, raid their homes at night, and detain their children, something needs to change.
We hope that you can understand that this occupation is not something that money can fix. Ending the occupation of Palestine and its people is the largest positive step we can take towards peace.
Yours in justice,
Stanford Students for Palestinian Equal Rights