Two local student governments say yes to divestment

The student governments at two local universities passed resolutions last week that call for their schools to divest from a handful of companies that do business with Israel.

U.C. Santa Cruz and San Jose State University joined a growing list of campuses that have passed similar measures — demanding that their schools divest from companies that they claim are profiting from the Israeli “occupation of Palestine.” The resolutions are nonbinding and routinely ignored by the entities that control the university purse strings.

U.C. Santa Cruz passed a divestment resolution last year that was subsequently vetoed. However, on Nov. 17, in a 28-5 vote with seven abstentions, the Student Union Assembly reversed the veto on appeal, thus reinstating the original passed measure.

Daniel Bernstein

A day later, a divestment resolution passed at San Jose State; the vote was 10-5, according to the Facebook feed of the Students for Justice in Palestine.

Circumstances surrounding the vote at U.C. Santa Cruz proved to be controversial, as a Jewish member of the SUA was told to “abstain” from voting because of his ties with the school’s Jewish Student Union and because he was “elected with a Jewish agenda.”

Daniel Bernstein, a student representative from the school’s Stevenson College, posted last week on Facebook a screen capture of a Nov. 12 message he told J. he received from a Stevenson council member whose identity he would not reveal.

The text read, in part, “You will be abstaining, as the president of JSU that is the right thing anywho” and “There was also a comment [at a Nov. 10 meeting] that you were elected by a — hmmm idk [I don’t know] if these are the right words but let’s say — a Jewish agenda and that the Jewish community rallied with you to elect you the Stevenson rep.”

Bernstein, a 21-year-old junior who is in fact vice president of the JSU (not president), responded on Facebook: “The implication that I, as a Jewish student and leader in the Jewish community, should not be allowed to vote on an issue that so deeply impacts the Jewish community, and that I should abstain because I cannot be trusted due to an alleged ‘Jewish agenda,’ echoes the racism Jews have faced all over the world throughout our history.”

Why was he told to abstain? As he explained it to J., Bernstein is one of three Stevenson College (one of 10 colleges on the UCSC campus) representatives to the UCSC Student Union Assembly; two are appointed and one (in this case, Bernstein) is elected.

He said it is routine for the representatives to be directed on how to vote on SUA measures by a Stevenson council of students.

It had been decided at a Nov. 10 Stevenson council meeting (which Bernstein did not attend) that one representative would vote yes on the appeal, one would vote no and one (Bernstein) would abstain. However, at the SUA meeting, Bernstein defied the “order,” voting against overturning the veto.

In a statement, UCSC Chancellor George Blumenthal acknowledged the SUA had a right to reinstate the divestment resolution, but worried “it will have a chilling effect on individuals within our campus community. However unintentional, its passage may create an environment in which some of our Jewish students feel alienated and less welcome.”

At San Jose State, the divestment resolution passed despite heavy lobbying by opponents, said Sarita Bronstein, executive director of Hillel of Silicon Valley.

“We developed a strategy in which we paired our students with students in government,” Bronstein said. “We had one-on-one conversations with [student senators] to present our side. We also lined up students to speak at the hearing.”

Bronstein said the resolution that passed demands the university divest holdings in such companies as Caterpillar, Motorola, Hewlett-Packard and G4S, yet the administrator of the SJSU portfolio informed her that it has no stock in three of those four companies.

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Dan Pine

Dan Pine is J.'s news editor. He can be reached at dan@jweekly.com.