2013-2014 was an exciting year for Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA! Our Fall quarter was initially meant to focus on our annual Palestine Awareness Week, but early on, our plans changed when USAC Internal Vice President Avi Oved secretly brought to the table “A Resolution in Support of Positive Steps Towards an Israeli-Palestinian Peace.” This resolution superficially appeared to promote peace and dialogue, but actually contained language that would prohibit UCLA from supporting divestment from the companies involved in maintaining the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. With just a few days notice, SJP was able to mobilize hundreds of students from all backgrounds to become aware of this cynical and dishonest resolution and defeat it with a vote of 5-7-0.
Weeks later, SJP held a successful Palestine Awareness Week, hosting speakers such as Lila Sharif & John Halaka, Palestinian-American poet Tahani Salah, students from across the UC speaking on divestment, and a celebration of Palestinian culture and resistance. We also presented our mock Apartheid wall on campus during the week and held a solidarity event with IDEAS, the student group representing undocumented students at UCLA.
Using the momentum of a busy Fall quarter, SJP was set to focus on its campaign to divest from companies that profit from violence against the Palestinian people. Winter quarter launched with events featuring Omar Barghouti, Robin D.G. Kelley, Dream Hampton, Jasiri X, and Sohail Daulatzai. To educate the campus on divestment, we hosted public teach-ins and office hours week after week, met with council members, and presented to student groups across campus. Our work culminated on the evening of February 25, 2014, when “A Resolution to Divest from Companies that Violate Palestinian Human Rights” was brought to the USAC table. For 12 hours, over 500 students were gathered in Ackerman Grand Ballroom to present their case. The solidarity seen throughout the night was beautiful, as 19 organizations officially endorsed the resolution and members of even more communities spoke on the need to support the Palestinian people. After 12 hours of debate, USAC voted down the resolution 7-5-0, but the campaign was nothing short of a success. We educated countless students, shifted the discourse around Palestine on campus, and witnessed the formation of a UCLA chapter of Jewish Voice for Peace through divestment. Following the vote, we organized a cross-community Second Class Bruins campaign to re-assert our position that we will not be silenced on our campus.
Our organizing didn’t stop there. Spring quarter, SJP shifted focus to accountability of USAC council members. We filed a conflict of interest case with the Judicial Board against two council members, Sunny Singh and Lauren Rogers, who took paid trips to Israel by anti-divestment groups prior to their February vote. Though the Judicial Board ultimately voted in favor of the two council members, it is important to note that their understanding of conflict of interest is very limited, in that they define conflict of interest only as receiving monetary benefit following a vote (and discount the possibility of monetary benefits influencing council members before a vote). We stand firm in our belief that USAC bylaws should be revised to expand and clarify the definition of a conflict of interest.
Meanwhile, members of Jewish Voice for Peace at UCLA and other student groups, including the Armenian Student Association and Afrikan Student Union, asked all candidates running for office in USAC elections to sign an ethics pledge promising to not go on paid trips by lobby groups with discriminatory agendas if elected to office. Of the current council members, all but one (Internal Vice President Avinoam Baral) either gave a written or verbal pledge to not go on such trips, demonstrating how significantly opinions have shifted on the issues of lobbying (particularly by groups with discriminatory agendas) and outside influence on student government.
Aside from these campaigns of accountability, SJP also hosted several large events Spring Quarter. We had David Sheen speak on African refugees in Israel, Ali Abunimah on the battle for justice in Palestine, and Angela Davis and Asli Bali on Palestine and student power. (see the videos of the events here: http://www.sjpbruins.com/videos.html). Our End of the Year Banquet celebrated all of our successes of the school year and gave us the necessary energy to continue our beautiful struggle for justice for Palestine.
This summer, unlike most, has been nearly as intense as the academic year. Early on, La City Council Member Bob Blumenfield introduced a City Council Resolution denouncing the ethics pledge and recommending the intervention of the university and law enforcement. The bill was stalled in committee and we have not had an update as to its resolution all year.
Also this summer, emails surfaced that document the Bruins United party’s solicitation of funding from off-campus political actors, namely Adam Milstein, a major AIPAC donor with a record of hateful statements made against Arabs, Palestinians, and Muslims. The emails show that the Bruins United party, despite claiming to be open to divestment during the school year, was actually deeply invested in preventing divestment from passing from the very start (which indicates that it deliberately misled the campus), and shows that anti-divestment forces see disrupting student democracy as the only way to stop the increasingly popular movement.
Finally, Gaza. We watched in horror as 50 days of death and destruction rained down upon the people of Gaza. Over 2,100 people were killed, the vast majority of whom are civilians, and a shocking proportion children. these deaths and killings affected members of the UCLA community with ties to Gaza, and we participated in 7 city-wide demonstrations and organized a campus vigil in response. In 2009, after Operation Cast Lead, SJP asked the student government to pass a resolution condemning the violence and moving towards peace. Today, our statements in support of international law and human rights feel hollow without action, and we demand that our university stop financially contributing to this violence through its investments in companies that provide weapons to Israel. After witnessing this violence for over one and a half months, we are recommitted and rededicated to raise the issue of divestment to our campus and show students how important and pressing this matter is.
Thank you for such an amazing year!
2013-2014 SJP-UCLA Board