By Jason Smith
I am disappointed that at last week’s Undergraduate Students Association Council meeting, many student council members were unwilling to pass a resolution supporting an ethical investment policy at UCLA. The USAC Resolution for Ethical Investments is in the interests of all students on campus and is based on widespread public support for policies favoring human rights, workers’ rights and environmental sustainability.
Rather than passing this resolution last Tuesday, the council chose to table it. When this resolution is reintroduced at the council, USAC members should choose to support its sponsors, External Vice President Lana Habib El-Farra, Cultural Affairs Commissioner Taylor Mason and Community Service Commissioner Anees Hasnain, in passing the resolution.
If this bill passes, it will empower students by enabling them to investigate and challenge university investments that affect their communities. A similar resolution passed by the undergraduate student government at UC Berkeley enabled students to better determine the university’s decision to invest in corporations that profit from prison systems, which disproportionately hurts communities of color.
An ethical investments resolution at UCLA could apply the same concept of deliberating divestment from companies with unethical practices.
Passing this resolution allows students to question where our investments are going. For instance, such a resolution would encourage the UCLA community to think critically about divesting from companies who benefit from exploiting undocumented workers. If it is found that our university has financial ties to companies involved in deportations or who profit from deportations, students who are affected by this issue are empowered to question these investments and call for an immediate stop.
But this is just one example of many possible positive steps toward a better commitment to ethical investments. It will allow us to remove our funds from major environmental polluters as well as corporations that mistreat workers, strengthening past efforts at responsible practices such as the Alta Gracia and Fair Trade coffee campaigns.
We know that it is possible or even likely that our university is invested in companies whose practices fail to match our principles. It is our responsibility to scrutinize our investments to make sure that our tuition does not support those activities. To do any less would be failing to live up to our True Bruin values, which state that we must be accountable for our actions and that we should respect the rights and dignity of others.
I question the collective goals of the current council and whether they have been as unified as they should be. When I served as a general representative on the council last year, I noticed a lack of connection and communication between council members. I hoped that this would not have been the case this year, but unfortunately, the discussion at last week’s meeting failed to recognize the unity on campus around human rights, workers’ rights and environmental sustainability.
Why have so many USAC members attempted to silence student voices and hinder important and insightful discussions that could help us all flourish?
Specifically, USAC recently voted down the Bruin Diversity Initiative, that will help contribute to a healthier campus climate for all students through strengthening access, retention and community service efforts. USAC should have voted to place the student-initiated referendum on the ballot for the students to decide.
Fortunately, these communities of students were able to gather more than enough petition signatures to get the referendum placed on the ballot this spring. Instead of tabling bills on human rights and voting against the student-initiated Bruin Diversity Initiative, our representatives should all support students and take firm stances on these issues.
While the majority of the council members didn’t acknowledge the students of many communities that support the resolution, including Afrikan Student Union, Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano/a de Aztlán, Pakistani Students Association, Armenian Students Association, Queer Alliance and Muslim Students Association, Lana Habib El-Farra, along with the two other council members who sponsored the resolution, did her job as a student advocate by addressing a very universal issue that affects people globally and at our university.
Like El-Farra, I, as a past council member, understood that when I was asked to bring to council an issue or resolution that could directly or indirectly affect students, I should not worry about the debate that could ensue because we are UCLA Bruins who are mature and critical enough to engage in heated debates that have the potential to turn into healthy and productive discussions.
This was clearly a missed opportunity, and one that will be remedied in the coming weeks either through conscious discussions, or by electing a new council in May.
Click here to read this submission in the Daily Bruin.
By Lila Suboh and Dana Saifan
“Remember, there was no Palestine as a state – (it was) part of the Ottoman Empire. I think that we’ve had an invented Palestinian people who are in fact Arabs and who were historically part of the Arab community,” stated Newt Gingrich, a U.S. Republican presidential candidate in 2012.
That’s right, Palestinians are “invented” people. The 4.3 million people in the West Bank and Gaza Strip and the 5 million Palestinian refugees are “invented” people.
Maybe it is because Palestinians are “invented” that they don’t deserve basic human rights, such as access to water, roads, electricity, food and medical supplies? Or maybe they don’t deserve a homeland of their own because they are “invented” people? Or maybe, just maybe, it is because Palestinians are “invented” that they are subjugated to live under Israel’s occupation, which has been deemed illegal under international law?
The truth is, we are all “invented” people, living in “invented” nations that were birthed at the expense of indigenous peoples, disregarding those human beings’ real identities, histories and experiences prior to the invention of nations.
Despite the superficial invention of labels for strips of land spread across vast oceans, the people on these lands are very real. UCLA students and Los Angeles residents are very real. The Palestinian people are very real.
Likewise, the struggles of students on campus and Palestinians are real and concern us all. Last week, UCLA students rallied against a proposed 20 percent hike to University of California Student Health Insurance Plan fees and caps on student benefits.
In a more severe struggle for access to health care, the Palestinian people face worsening health conditions as the Israeli military’s checkpoints impede pregnant women, the sick, and the elderly from reaching hospitals in the West Bank.
The Israeli blockade prohibits vital medical supplies, such as needles and medicine, from reaching Palestinians in Gaza whose lives depend on them.
While the Palestinian struggle for basic health needs, as a matter of life or death, is more critical and overt than UC struggles to maintain health care, the understanding of access to health care as a basic human right is universal.
As UCLA students, we face budget cuts and fight for access to higher education. Palestinian students persist through roadblocks (both physical and financial) each day to attain their education, despite the chilling reality that only $192 is spent on each non-Jewish Palestinian child per year by the Israeli government, compared to $1,100 on each Jewish Israeli child, according to the Washington Report.
And just as our minority communities around Los Angeles are racially targeted and incarcerated, Palestinians are deemed “security threats” because of their race.
According to Palestinian human rights organization Addameer, 700 Palestinian children under the age of 18 are prosecuted each year through Israeli military courts and more than 4,700 Palestinians are in prison as of Jan. 1, 2013.
We are all “uninvented” human beings that are equally deserving of our human rights, from UCLA students to Palestinians.
This week, Students for Justice in Palestine is hosting its annual Palestine Awareness Week, a program dedicated to educating the UCLA community about Palestine and its people who resist Israel’s oppression within the Palestinian territories, within Israel and around the world. This is an opportunity for UCLA students and faculty to learn why this conflict is not as complicated and controversial as many have portrayed it to be.
As human beings, Palestinians deserve equal rights – it’s as simple as that. With the solidarity of UCLA students and faculty, these rights are possible to attain, just as it was possible for students and faculty to help deconstruct South African apartheid in the 1980s.
As Archbishop Desmond Tutu emphasized, by standing in solidarity with the Palestinian people, “You are doing the right thing. You are doing the moral thing. You are doing that which is incumbent on you as humans who believe that all people have dignity and rights, and that all those being denied their dignity and rights deserve the solidarity of their fellow human beings.”
Click here to read this in the Daily Bruin