Cal State Long Beach, UCSB differ on Israel divestment resolutions
The topic of Israel divestment and higher education returned, front and center, last week as students at two Southern California universities voted on the issue — with differing results.
The student government at Cal State University Long Beach on May 10 voted in favor of Israel divestment while students at the UC Santa Barbara (UCSB) voted against it a day later.
Associated Students Inc., an advocacy group at Cal State Long Beach, passed a resolution calling on the university to divest from companies that the resolution alleges perpetuate Israeli oppression against the Palestinians, citing such companies as Caterpillar, General Electric and Hewlett-Packard. The vote was 15-7, with one abstention.
“I was very disappointed with the passage of the bill,” Jeffrey Blutinger, the Barbara and Ray Alpert Endowed Chair in Jewish Studies and the director of the Jewish studies program at Cal State Long Beach, told the Journal. “While I’m not going to say [all] anti-Zionism is anti-Semitic, this one is.”
The resolution is titled “Suggestions for Socially Responsible Investing: Companies Complicit in and Profiting from Palestinian Oppression.” General Electric, according to a draft of the resolution, has provided supplies to the Israel Defense Forces “used in violent attacks on people living in Israel and Palestine.”
The vote followed an April 26 statement by Cal State Long Beach President Jane Close Conoley expressing opposition to the resolution. She said she could not support it despite her reservations about the Israeli treatment of the Palestinians.
“A careful study of the BDS [Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions] movement illustrates to me that this movement is opposed to the existence of the State of Israel,” Conoley said.
Blutinger, faculty adviser at Beach Hillel, which serves Cal State Long Beach, said Conoley’s opposition to the resolution garnered criticism from pro-divestment faculty members.
“I thought that was nonsense. The fact that she spoke out does not prevent them from speaking out, and the fact she is the president of the university does not mean she doesn’t have the right to express herself,” he said. “If she was supporting them, they would have been happy.”
While the passage of the resolution at Cal State Long Beach is more symbolic than practical — it will not impact Cal State Long Beach investments — Beach Hillel Executive Director Rachel Kaplan said last week’s events reinforced the unwelcoming environment facing pro-Israel students. “In terms of campus climate, we have a lot of work to do,” Kaplan said.
Further north, the Associated Students of the University of California, Santa Barbara, the UCSB student senate, voted 16-0 with seven abstentions against an Israel divestment resolution, according to the Daily Nexus, the campus newspaper. The vote followed an all-night debate that concluded at 4 a.m. with more than 400 students and observers attending. Among them was Rabbi Evan Goodman, the Edgar M. Bronfman Executive Director at the Santa Barbara Hillel.
“Resolutions like this are symbolically attempting to destroy Israel, so I don’t stand for it and our students don’t stand for it,” Goodman said in a phone interview on May 12.
This was the fourth time in five years that a resolution calling for divestment in Israel has come before the UCSB student senate. Goodman described last week’s meeting as more agreeable than previous ones.
“It was a pretty civil discussion overall, and the comments made [on both sides of the debate] were by and large appropriate,” he said.
Rose Ettleson, a sophomore and president-elect at Santa Barbara Hillel, said a familial atmosphere galvanized the pro-Israel side.
“On our side, it really felt almost like a family gathering. There were lots of rabbis from the local Chabad. And the local Jewish Awareness Movement, JAM, they brought food for everyone. Hillel staff brought food. People were studying. People were writing what they were going to say,” she said. “Some people were sleeping in some moments.”
The campus group Students for Justice in Palestine on April 23 proposed the UCSB resolution, titled “Divest From Companies that Profit From Human Rights Violations in Palestine/Israel.”
The university “has the highest percentage of Jewish students in the UC system and probably the largest total number of undergraduate Jewish students,” Goodman said.
In statements released May 11, pro-Israel organization StandWithUs, which works with college students to combat anti-Israel sentiment, hailed the UCSB vote while condemning the vote at Cal State Long Beach.
Tali Shaddaei, a fifth-year Cal State Long Beach student from Pico-Robertson, said the intention of the resolution’s supporters at her school was to quiet pro-Israel advocacy on campus. But the 22-year-old founder of 49ers for Israel, a pro-Israel education club at Cal State Long Beach, said the passage of the resolution could have the opposite effect.
“My hope is it ignites a fire within the pro-Israel community to fight stronger and be more united in our efforts,” she said.