After a Multi-Year Campaign, SJP Passes Divestment
During Fall 2014 quarter SJP UCLA held Palestine Awareness Week, an annual tradition. This time around, however, the decision was made to incorporate PAW into our next divestment campaign. In addition to a screening of the film “Roadmap to Apartheid” on the first night, there was also a panel featuring Sherene Seikalay and Nasser Barghouti on the moral imperative to support BDS, of which divestment is one component. These events, coupled with the daily presence of the mock wall that includes facts about what Palestinians experience under blockade, occupation and legal discrimination, and which also focused on the effects of the 2014 Israeli attacks on Gaza, allowed for us to utilize diverse and creative ways to educate the general student body about the importance of supporting divestment in particular, and BDS more broadly.
Following PAW, we continued our divestment campaign. In an attempt to increase transparency and reach more students from across the political spectrum, we both held a town hall where students were able to come and voice their concerns and make requests about what would be included on our divestment resolution, and created an online forum where additional feedback could be provided. These efforts, as well as the years of work put in by members of SJP in years past, were vindicated when, by an 8-2 vote, USAC passed “Resolution Calling for the UC Regents to Divest from Corporations Violating Palestinian Human Rights” on November 18th, at that time making UCLA the 6th UC to pass a resolution calling for divestment (Since then, UC Davis has become the 7th UC to pass divestment). The overwhelming show of support from the students who came out to provide public comment as well as the fact that 32 student organizations endorsed our resolution and 15 co-sponsored it as equal partners was a definitive blow to the tired myth of divestment being “divisive.” It’s impossible to even count how many students contributed to divestment's success in some way - through educating their peers, sharing information, attending the town hall, talking to council members, presenting to student groups, and so on. Tellingly, groups opposed to divestment failed to make a case against the substance of the resolution itself, resorting instead to attacking the process and organizations supporting this cause.
This victory culminated years of campaigning that began in earnest in 2012. Long thought to be one of the most difficult UCs for the Palestine solidarity movement, the resounding and bi-partisan victory was one of the most impressive indicator of how significantly public opinion has shifted in support of Palestinian freedom.
Divestment Momentum Continues at UCLA and Statewide
Nevertheless, divestment is only one aspect of SJP’s work. It is in this spirit that, in January of Winter quarter, we hosted a report back with former Afrikan Student Union Chairperson Kamilah Moore. Moore spoke about her recent trip to Palestine with the Interfaith Peace Builders, highlighting both the need for intersectional solidarity with the Palestinian struggle as well as the necessity of remaining attuned to the facts on the ground.
Difficult Moments during Winter Quarter
Following the discovery of the malicious and inflammatory posters circulated by David Horowitz on university campuses across the nation, SJP-UCLA felt it was necessary to have a community check-in and collectively collaborate with our fellow students on appropriate strategies to combat these types of occurrences. We held a Town Hall on Thursday, February 26th around the theme of “Confronting Islamophobic and Anti-Palestinian Hate Speech.” As described in a subsequent Daily Bruin article, the event provided a forum for individuals from a diverse array of backgrounds and political affiliations to collectively dialogue about the damage that can be caused by dehumanizing depictions and associations of particular groups regardless of political stances. One of the attendees secretly took notes for Horowitz’s website, which were posted only a few short days after the event. On April 16th, new posters in Horowitz’s anti-SJP campaign were again sighted at UCLA.
Furthermore, despite SJP’s lack of involvement with the incident, the offensive interview of then-potential JBoard appointee Rachel Beyda was often blamed on SJP and Palestine solidarity activism, to the extent that we were forced to issue formal statements affirming both our lack of involvement with Beyda’s interview and why our opposition to it is morally consistent with the tenets of BDS. Meanwhile, USAC members who were involved in the interview published their own apology, and on Tuesday, March 10th, USAC unanimously passed a resolution authored by UCLA Hillel and Avinoam Baral entitled “A Resolution Condemning Anti-Semitism” with no modifications, despite the fact that the resolution might be seen as conflating criticism of Israeli actions and policy with anti-Jewish bigotry. On a positive note, the authors of the resolution assured the public and voting council members that they did not consider the resolution to affect issues of Palestine activism such as divestment.
Continued Activism and Education Throughout the Spring
During week 5 of the Spring quarter, following a General Body meeting about SJP elections, we had a talk by Israeli peace activist Miko Peled; titled “Beyond Zionism: Hope in Peace for Palestine,” the presentation was a frank assessment of the untenability of the status quo regarding Israel/Palestine, and the subsequent need for a radical reformulation of state policy and international involvement.
After this came SJP’s “Nakba Week:” the first event of its kind put on by SJP UCLA, “Nakba Week” featured both a teach-in about the current situation of Palestinian refugees that emphasized the necessity of Israel respecting the Right of Return, in addition to a panel of Palestinian UCLA students discussing their families’ experiences of displacement, as well as reflecting on being a Palestinian in the diaspora and what the Nakba means to them. With Nakba week, SJP UCLA sought to bring a new dimension to its work, allowing for more of a focus on the plight of the Palestinians outside of the occupied territories. It is our hope that the conversations we began on these issues will continue to be explored in the following year.
On the campus front, SJP UCLA must remain attuned to the need to balance BDS efforts with solidarity work with other communities, as well as conversations and events about the Palestinian experience, including outside the occupied territories. And, of course, all of this will need to transpire in the face of opposition from anti-Palestinian groups and administrators. But if the past year is to be any indication of what’s to come, all of us, board, active, and general members, will no doubt rise to the occasion.