Finding the silver lining in another BDS loss

Although pro-Israel groups roundly condemned the most recent passage of an Israel divestment resolution in California — this time by UAW 2865, a union that represents 13,000 University of California graduate students — the actual results may depict a student body that tends less for or against Israel, and more toward a general apathy over the divestment debate that has played out on UC campuses over the last few years.

In the Dec. 4 vote among UC graduate students, 65 percent of the 2,168 students who voted at nine campuses voted to call on UC administrators to divest the system’s financial investments from Israeli government institutions and from companies that assist the Israeli government in what some call its oppression of Palestinians. Of the 1,411 students who endorsed the resolution, 1,136 pledged not to “take part in any research, conferences, events, exchange programs, or other activities that are sponsored by Israeli universities complicit in the occupation of Palestine.” 

The vote made UAW 2865 the country’s first union to join the global anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions (BDS) movement. 

Although the act is only symbolic — UC administrators repeatedly have rebuffed calls to divest — the vote still marks another success for the BDS movement in the country’s largest university system. Undergraduate student governments at six of the system’s nine universities have endorsed divestment from Israel, with UCLA’s being the most recent, having voted 8-2 on Nov. 18 in favor of divestment.

At UC Berkeley, 70 percent of the 721 graduate students who cast ballots endorsed divestment. At UCLA, the margin was narrower; of the 525 graduate students who voted, 58 percent supported divestment.

But in a university system with 50,000 graduate and post-graduate students, less than 3 percent actually voted to endorse divestment, with 83 percent of the union’s 13,000 represented students sitting out the vote altogether. And at two campuses, UC Santa Barbara and UC Irvine, more graduate students opposed divestment than supported it. 

At UC Santa Barbara, the undergraduate student government rejected a divestment resolution in April by a 16-to-8 margin. The Dec. 4 results for graduate students represented by UAW 2865 were 95 against divestment and 84 in support.

And at UC Irvine, which is known for its pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel activism, only 141 students voted, with 86 opposing divestment and 55 supporting. This may come as a surprise, considering how some UC Irvine students have made the news in recent years. In 2010, for example, the school was the site of the incident involving the so-called Irvine 11, in which 11 Muslim students were arrested for disrupting the speech of then-Israeli Ambassador Michael Oren. UC Irvine also has previously played host to mock die-ins and Israeli apartheid week (termed Israel Hate Week by Israel supporters).

Lisa Armony, who previously reported on the Irvine 11 case for the Journal and is now the director of the Rose Project at Jewish Federation and Family Services in Orange County, said the political climate at UC Irvine, when it comes to Israel, has undergone major changes since the Irvine 11 incident. The Rose Project was created in 2008 as a response to over-the-top anti-Israel activism at UC Irvine and was tasked with working with administrators and student leaders to find a way to improve the climate for Israel supporters.

“The [UC Irvine] that people sort of think about is not the [UC Irvine] of today,” Armony said. “It’s a very different campus climate. I don’t think it’s correct to call  [UC Irvine] a pro-Palestinian university.” 

She also said that, in recent years, UC Irvine’s administration has worked to make sure that anti-Israel activism is “in line with campus codes of conduct.”

Moshe Lichman, a 29-year-old computer scientist pursuing a doctorate at UC Irvine, is an officer in UAW 2865 and was the lead graduate student in organizing opposition to the divestment resolution. 

“Not a lot of people campaigned for one side or the other,” Lichman said, echoing Armony’s point that Irvine is not the hotbed of anti-Israel activism that it once was. 

California community mourns victims of killing spree

Hundreds gathered at a memorial service on Sunday night to mourn six young people killed two nights earlier by a gunman in a California college town.

Some 200 people attended an evening mass at St. Mark's University Parish, pausing in front of poster boards dedicated to three of the dead, Veronika Weiss, Katie Cooper and Chris Michael-Martinez.

Elliot Rodger, 22, the son of a Hollywood director, fatally stabbed three people in his apartment before shooting dead three others on Friday in Isla Vista, near the University of California at Santa Barbara campus. He then shot himself.

The Mass of hymns, prayers and moments of silence included a poster “In Memory Of” Rodger. The three other posters read “In Loving Memory Of”.

Rodger killed two women and four men, aged 19 to 22, and wounded 13 people, including eight who he shot as he sped through town in his black BMW, exchanging fire with police, authorities said.

Minutes before opening fire the former community college student emailed his plans to some 30 people including his mother, father and former teachers, said Cathleen Bloeser, whose son was a childhood friend of Rodger and received a copy.

Rodger stated his intention to kill his housemates, lure others to his home to continue the mayhem then slaughter women in a sorority and bring his spree to the streets of Isla Vista.

The manifesto, which details Rodger's fear that his guns might have been discovered when police visited him less than a month ago, was not the first indication of a troubled mind.

“We could see that he was turning,” Bloeser said, adding that Rodger talked to her 22-year-old son and another friend about sexual crimes he wanted to commit against women. “He'd changed emotionally, and he'd become very despondent and he wanted to get back at people.”


Bloeser said Rodger had asked that Bloeser's son, Philip, and a mutual childhood friend to stay with him this weekend at his apartment in Isla Vista.

“I have a feeling that they would have been right there as a part of it and shot as well,” she said.

Family friend Simon Astaire told Reuters that Rodger's mother, Chin, received a phone call on the night of the shooting from his therapist alerting her to the manifesto. She called police and her ex-husband, Peter Rodger, and the two parents raced to Isla Vista, Astaire said.

Chin heard radio reports about the shootings as she drove.

Santa Barbara County Sheriff Bill Brown said that Rodger was seen by a variety of healthcare professionals and it was “very, very apparent he was severely mentally disturbed.”

Brown said his department had been in contact with Rodger three times, including for a welfare check at the request of his family in which deputies found him to be polite and courteous and not appearing to meet criteria to be held involuntarily.

Astaire said Rodger had seen therapists off and on since he was nine”

Bloeser said the mental health of Rodger, who was bullied as a child and was known to have Asperger's syndrome, deteriorated in the last year and he was under psychiatric care but not taking his medication.

The Los Angeles Times published portions of Rodger's roughly 140-page manifesto in which he detailed his fear that police would foil his plot when they visited him last month.

“I had the striking and devastating fear that someone had somehow discovered what I was planning to do, and reported me for it,” Rodger wrote.

“If that was the case, the police would have searched my room, found all of my guns and weapons, along with my writings about what I plan to do with them. I would have been thrown in jail, denied of the chance to exact revenge on my enemies. I can't imagine a hell darker than that.”

He said police left when he told them it was a misunderstanding.

Rodger also said he did not think he was mentally prepared to kill his father, an assistant director on the 2012 film “The Hunger Games”.

Additional reporting by Alex Dobuzinskis, Eric Kelsey and Dan Whitcomb in Los Angeles, Brendan O'Brien in Milwaukee, Jim Loney in Washington and Casey Sullivan in New York; Writing by Cynthia Johnston and Dan Whitcomb; Editing by Chris Michaud) (Editing by Chris Michaud; Editing by John Stonestreet

Santa Barbara Hillel supports students in wake of shootings

Approximately 40 UC Santa Barbara students sought comfort and grief counseling at the Santa Barbara Hillel on May 24,  the day after Elliot Rodger, 22, killed six students and injured 13 more. Rodger also died during his Friday night murderous spree of  “revenge” in Isla Vista, a community where students live adjacent to the university.

Rabbi Evan Goodman, the Edgar M. Bronfman executive director of the UC Santa Barbara Hillel, said the students came to discuss the tragic events. Rodger, who was not a student at UCSB, began his killing spree in his own apartment, stabbing three students to death. He followed this by shooting two women outside a sorority house and a third victim, a man, was at a deli in Santa Barbara. Rodger also wounded others by running people over in his car and shooting randomly from his car window while driving.

[Invocation by Rabbi Evan Goodman at UCSB memorial]

Rodger exchanged gunfire with police, but his death may have been a suicide. None of his victims are known to be Jewish.

Speaking to the Journal by phone on Tuesday, Goodman said students with varying degrees of connection to the incident came to Hillel on Saturday.

Among them was a female student who said she had aided a friend Rodger had shot in the leg, Goodman said.

“Our students are infinitely intertwined with the entire university community; we’re not an island… and so it’s important for us to be there to remember the victims …and to support the survivors in the rest of the community,” Goodman said of why Hillel immediately became a grief counseling center in the aftermath of the attack.

Goodman spoke to the Journal a few hours prior to a UCSB campus wide memorial service on Tuesday, May 27.

A student signs a remembrance wall in the Isla Vista neighborhood of Santa Barbara, Calif., on May 27. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

The Hillel’s Isla Vista location is “only about a block away” from where part of the shooting happened, Goodman said. So he quickly reached out to university officials and spoke with other religious leaders on campus, offering Hillel as a place to come for all students – not just Jewish ones — needing assistance in the wake of the traumatic episode.

“I was in touch with the university officials as the events unfolded late, late Friday night and Saturday morning, and in conversation I offered that, because we are located right in the heart of Isla Vista, right by the university, that we would be happy to open our doors to provide help,” the rabbi said.

In the wake of the rampage, various events have been taking place in southern California commemorating the losses. On Monday night, Westlake High School in Thousand Oaks held a vigil. Veronika Weiss, one of two victims from the Los Angeles area, was a graduate of the high school.

Goodman said his remarks at the UCSB memorial service would center on the healing process and moving forward.

“I want to focus on the idea that we while we may ask why this happened — and those are important questions to ask — the most important thing to do now is look at how we can move forward from this, how we can support one another, and in the Jewish sense, bring a little bit more light into the world despite this.  That we’re defined not as victims, but how we react to and address the challenges and even the tragedies that come our way,” Goodman said.

Goodman was just one of a group of religious leaders of various faiths participating in the campus memorial, scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday and held at the campus’ Harder Stadium.

UCSB’s regular classes were cancelled for Tuesday.

Meanwhile, students needing support could meet with various faculty members, according to a message from the school’s chancellor, Henry T. Yang and interim executive vice chancellor, Joel Michaelsen.

Events to support the students and memorialize the dead will continue in the coming days. On Friday, May 30, Hillel will hold a Shabbat dinner with a memorial service. The entire UCSB community is invited, Goodman said.

The days following the tragedy in Isla Vista: 

UC Santa Barbara students attend a candlelight vigil on May 24. Photo by Jonathan Alcorn/Reuters

Memorial flowers placed in bullet holes in the window of a deli that was one of nine crime scenes of the Isla Vista shooting. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

People lay flowers at a makeshift memorial for 20-year-old UCSB student Christopher Michael-Martinez. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

UCSB students, from left: Lisa Kitson, 20, Jason Dahn, 20, Ariana Richmond, 20, and Melissa Barthelemy, 36, march between drive-by shooting crime scenes in a protest against sexual violence and hate crimes. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

UCSB student Jorge Anaya, 20, stands outside the 7-11 where he saved a student who was shot, by helping carry her into the store. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

UCSB students from various sororities hug outside a sorority house where two women were killed. Photo by Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

Invocation by Rabbi Evan Goodman at the UCSB Memorial Program

Friends, I am Rabbi Evan Goodman from Santa Barbara Hillel, and it is my profoundly sad privilege to be on this podium with other leaders of our Isla Vista faith communities.

The four of us who will offer brief remarks to begin and end represent more than just four faiths.

We represent the many different backgrounds, religions, and family traditions that make up our campus and community.

We represent the hope present in the interfaith community.

Because, that which unites us is so much stronger than whatever divides us.

Because, in this time of grief and pain and questioning we must draw closer to one another than ever before.

There is darkness in this world.

What can we do to begin to dispel this darkness?

The 5,000 candles on Saturday night shone brightly from UCSB to Isla Vista.

The loving embraces, hugs given freely to friends as well as strangers, brought more light into this world.

What defines us as human beings, is not the tragedies we face, but how we choose to respond to those tragedies.

We may want to ask “Why?” And that is a fine question.

But today I implore us to ask ourselves, “What will we do to honor the memory of these six amazing individuals?”

“How will we help make this world a better place?”

“How will we bring a little more light into a place of darkness?”

May each one of us be a blessing to each other, and by doing so, may we give the lives of these 6 precious souls everlasting meaning and purpose.