UCLA pro-Palestine groups gain ground with pledge signings

The pro-Palestine campus movement flexed its muscles again last week as 18 of 30 candidates for positions in UCLA’s student government signed a pledge to not take trips to Israel that are sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Hasbara Fellowships. 

The development was reported by UCLA’s newspaper, the Daily Bruin, which added that an additional four candidates did not sign the letter but said that they would not be part of such trips. 

Five student groups had a hand in drafting the pledge: Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), the Muslim Student Association, the Afrikan Student Union and the Armenian Students’ Association. 

“As many students have experienced this year, AIPAC and ADL have political agendas that marginalize multiple communities on campus,” read part of the statement. “Both AIPAC and the ADL (as well as its current president) have histories of Islamophobia. AIPAC has sponsored Islamophobic speakers at its conferences and has also consistently pushed for war with Iran, even while the Barack Obama administration has sought a diplomatic route.”

AIPAC is a pro-Israel lobby that aims to promote the U.S.-Israel relationship, while the ADL fights anti-Semitism and bigotry. 

ADL’s Pacific Southwest regional director, Amanda Susskind, issued a statement that characterized the accusations in the pledge as “repugnant” and “misguided.”

“The suggestion that the trips somehow taint participants also assumes that they have no ability to judge for themselves about the experiences to which they have been exposed,” Susskind wrote. “This effort is just another strategy to delegitimize Israel and reflects how far the anti-Israel movement is willing to go in order to stifle voices that support the Jewish state.”

Gabriel Levine, a fifth-year UCLA student and board member of JVP, declined to comment, referencing instead the language used in the pledge.

In calling on candidates to avoid trips by Hasbara — a pro-Israel campus activism organization — the pledge pointed to the fact that Hasbara is part of Aish International. It said that Aish is “an organization that has helped disseminate Islamophobic materials on campuses” that “portray the Muslim community as threats, have incited violence against Muslims and serve to marginalize Muslim students on campus.”

The May 9 elections for the student government’s 13 open positions (10 contested) saw the Bruins United Party take six seats. All six elected candidates refused to sign the pledge. In fact, according to the Daily Bruin, none of the party’s candidates signed.

However, every candidate in Bruins United’s two largest competitors — Let’s Act! and Fired Up! — signed the pledge. Four candidates from Let’s Act! won student government seats. Of the three independents who won, none signed, but two told the Daily Bruin that they would not attend trips sponsored by AIPAC, ADL or Hasbara. 

The new president of the student government, Devin Murphy (Let’s Act!), signed the pledge and won with 50.2 percent of the vote, narrowly edging Bruins United candidate Sunny Singh. During an April 29 student government hearing, Murphy said that he had previously traveled to Israel, in January 2013, on a trip sponsored by the pro-Israel American Jewish Committee (AJC).

“I wasn’t a councilmember,” Murphy said at the hearing, which is available on YouTube. “But as a councilmember, when it provides a conflict of interest, that’s not something we should do.”

This pledge is the most recent example of a string of actions in recent months by California’s pro-Palestine campus groups and other student groups with which they’ve nurtured relationships. On May 8, the student government at UC Davis debated a resolution that would have called on university administrators to divest from many companies that do business in Israel. That resolution, which ended in a tie, failed to pass.

In late April, student governments at San Diego State University, UC Santa Barbara and UC Riverside (UCR) all held similar votes. Only UCR’s resolution passed. In 2012 and 2013, divestment resolutions passed at UC Irvine, UC San Diego and UC Berkeley. 

In February, after a contentious all-night debate, UCLA’s student government voted 7-5 against a divestment resolution. The UCLA chapter of SJP filed an official complaint against Singh and fellow student Lauren Rogers, both of whom voted against the resolution. It accused them of violating the student government’s constitution by going on Israel trips with the ADL and the AJC, alleging that participation in those trips created a conflict of interest. SJP’s petition calls on the student government’s judicial board to call into question the acceptability of the votes by Singh and Rogers.