A divest-from-Israel resolution has passed the U.C. Santa Cruz Student Union Assembly, but only after a last-minute procedural change to the bylaws allowed for a simple majority vote.
The measure, presented by the Santa Cruz Committee for Justice in Palestine, came before the SUA on May 27 at its last meeting of the academic year. Approximately 200 people crowded into the Merrill Cultural Center for the meeting, though discussion of the divestment resolution did not begin until after 11 p.m.
The non-binding resolution compares Israel’s treatment of Palestinians to apartheid, declares Israel in violation of international law and an abuser of human rights, and calls for U.C. Santa Cruz to divest holdings in companies that “directly support or profit from these human rights violations.” Those companies include Lockheed Martin, Caterpillar, Hewlett Packard and General Electric.
The resolution was approved at approximately 2:45 a.m., passing by a 22-14 margin.
Last year, the same student assembly voted 19-17 against a similar divestment resolution. The school’s student assembly is composed of six student officers, 30 representatives from U.C. Santa Cruz’s 10 colleges and six at-large members.
The May 27 meeting included two hours of public comment. One of those in attendance was Jesse Barush, 20, a math major from Napa and a pro-Israel activist who worked to defeat the resolution. He said speakers were split fairly evenly between supporters and opponents of the resolution.
“The notable difference I saw was that people speaking against the resolution were, with one exception, current students,” he said. “On the other side, there was a large number of [former] students. This is an undergraduate student assembly supposed to represent undergrads at Santa Cruz. It’s not a place for somebody who graduated 40 years ago.”
After the discussion period, the assembly voted 21-12 in favor of the resolution, but the 64 percent support fell short of a two-thirds majority and the resolution was defeated.
However, the defeat was only temporary.
A motion to suspend the bylaws and allow for a simple majority vote was presented, which, according to Barush, passed 24-12 with no discussion. Immediately after that, another vote on the resolution was taken, and it passed 22-14.
“We were shocked,” Barush said. “The resolution failed, then there was the motion to reconsider and change bylaws. It came out of nowhere. We didn’t realize this was a possibility. It was constitutionally legal. It’s never happened before. This is the first time in the history of our student government. But it is legal.”
Barush, a member of the Jewish fraternity AEPi, helped coordinate Students Against UCSC Divestment from Israel. He acknowledges the resolution’s passage has only symbolic value, as university officials have said they will not divest from any company as a result of student resolutions. But he says the pro-divestment activists are formidable opponents. “A lot of these people have been at it for years,” he said.