In the wake of the U.C. Davis student senate passing an Israel divestment resolution last week, two swastikas were found spray-painted at Alpha Epsilon Pi, the university’s largely Jewish fraternity.
That act of vandalism triggered the launch of a petition demanding condemnation from all U.C. Davis administration and student senators. “Should there not be a unanimous condemnation,” the organizers wrote, “then we ask for the immediate resignation of every official who refuses to condemn this act of hate.”
The divestment resolution at U.C. Davis, which on Jan. 29 passed 8-2 with two abstentions, will be followed in close order by two more Israel divestment votes in California.
On Feb. 10, the Stanford University student senate is scheduled to vote on a measure that urges the university to divest from companies that maintain “the Israel occupation.” The measure was introduced on International Holocaust Remembrance Day by a broad coalition of student groups under the banner “Stanford Out of Occupied Palestine,” according to Rabbi Serena Eisenberg, executive director of Hillel at Stanford, and supporters have been posting flyers in dormitories and campaigning door to door.
In a meeting set for Feb. 8, the U.C. Student Association, a coalition of students from all U.C. campuses that aims to provide a collective voice for the system’s students, will hold a board meeting on the UCLA campus. On the agenda is a resolution authored in part by a Students for Justice in Palestine member that would urge U.C. to withdraw assets from companies that “sell equipment, materials and technology to Israeli defense forces.”
Like all of the other student senate resolutions — including one that passed at U.C. Berkeley in April 2013 — this resolution is nonbinding and only urges university leaders to take a course of action. Requiring a two-thirds vote to pass, the resolution had been scheduled for an original vote late last year but was tabled, twice, ostensibly to allow individual campus associations to discuss the matter.
At Davis, the series of events began Jan. 29 at an Associated Students of U.C. Davis hearing, where the divestment measure was debated. Written by members of the Davis chapter of Students for Justice in Palestine, the measure called on the U.C. Board of Regents to divest from four corporations that “aid in the Israeli occupation of Palestine.” The pinpointed corporations include Caterpillar, Veolia and Raytheon.
Just before the measure was voted upon, current and past Aggies for Israel presidents Julia Reifkind and Danny Eliahu spoke against it. Addressing the crowd, Reifkind said, “To those of you who have brought this toxic resolution forward today, with the knowledge it will pass, I say this to your so-called victory: You have divided our campus and damaged lives.”
Added Eliahu: “Tearing down the Israelis is not the same thing as advocating for the Palestinians. As students, we should be working together towards a future of peace, justice, human rights and mutual respect for both peoples.”
Later, Reifkind told J., “We knew this bill would pass. Instead of staying in the room and fighting, we decided to do something revolutionary. We encouraged everyone who agreed with us, that [the resolution] is divisive and didn’t belong on campus, to stand up and walk out.”
More than 100 Jewish and pro-Israel students did just that. And as they walked out, pro-Palestinian audience members cheered, and on a video posted on the Aggies for Israel Facebook page, it sounds as if several people shout “Allahu Ahkbar” (God is great).
U.C. Davis Chancellor Linda Katehi said in a Jan. 30 statement that divestment from Israel “does not reflect the position of U.C. Davis or the [U.C.] system” and that “this type of call to action will not be entertained.”
After the vote, ASUCD senator Azka Fayyaz posted two Facebook photos with the captions: “Hamas & Sharia law have taken over UC Davis” and “Israel will fall” (plus additional words).
On the morning of Jan. 31, student residents at the AEPi fraternity house discovered two large red swastikas spray-painted on their building’s back wall and porch.
AEPi vide president and fraternity house resident Nathaniel Bernhard later said on a YouTube video that “this was not a great week to be a Jewish student on campus,” adding that the vandalism “made me feel marginalized.”
The vandalism drew widespread condemnation. Anti-Defamation League Central Pacific regional director Seth Brysk called it a “heinous expression of hatred.” He added: “We are extremely concerned that this hate crime occurred directly on the heels of a U.C. Davis student senate vote supporting the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement. BDS activists have been known to employ Holocaust imagery and themes in an attempt to garner support for their cause.”
The U.C. Davis chancellor’s office released a statement, calling the vandalism “despicable and hateful” and adding, “This kind of behavior is not only repugnant and a gross violation of the values our university holds dear, it is unacceptable and must not be tolerated on our campus or anywhere else. Nothing rivals a swastika as a more potent or offensive symbol of hatred and violence toward our Jewish community members, but this odious symbol is an affront to us all.”
AEPi national president Andrew Borans said in a press statement, “Within hours of [the vote], during the Sabbath night, our fraternity house was vandalized with swastikas. Anti-Semitism is on the rise on college campuses across the world, and the ‘BDS movement’ — the effort to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel — is the chief face of campus anti-Semitism.”
A coalition of student and campus groups, including the Muslim Student Association, Arab Student Union and Students for Justice in Palestine, condemned the graffiti but added in a statement: “We reject any attempts to blame this on any single student community, including the U.C. Davis divestment movement. We hope that the university investigates and exercises due diligence in holding those responsible for this hate crime to the fullest extent of the law.”
The petition launched by Aggies Demand Action, after the discovery of the graffiti, had more than 16,000 signatures as of Feb. 4. It can be found at http://aggiesdemandaction.nationbuilder.com.
Despite the spate of divestment measures and anti-Semitic graffiti, Reifkind sounded upbeat when interviewed for this article.
“We have a good amount of positive pro-Israel students and organizations to rebuild our campus and stay strong,” she said. “An issue like divestment, while a challenge, is not something we cannot overcome. We have a victory in this in that it doesn’t affect us. We will continue to celebrate Israel and our community.”