The author is a PSL member and Students for Justice in Palestine organizer at UC Riverside.
On April 23, the student government at University of California, Riverside passed a resolution that called on the UC administration to withdraw investments from companies that are profiting from the Israeli-enforced apartheid system in Palestine. The campaign to get the resolution passed was led by the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at UCR.
The bill was part of the larger international boycott, divestment and sanctions movement called BDS, which encourages individuals, corporations, and institutions to avoid business with Israel until it respects the right of return for Palestinian refugees, ends ethnic discrimination and withdraws its military from illegally-occupied Palestinian territory. In both goals and tactics, the BDS movement is similar to the divestment efforts against South African apartheid, which was seen by many as one of the decisive factors in pressuring the country to end its own apartheid.
Though the student senate produced a divided 8-7 vote on the divestment resolution, it was undoubtedly supported by UCR’s student population. About 150 students attended the senate meeting, nearly 120 of who were present to support the divestment bill. In addition to the SJP, which spearheaded the effort to pass the resolution, 75 student organizations endorsed the bill.
Representatives from Chicano, Asian Pacific, Sikh, Native American, and LGBTQ student programs attended the senate meeting at which it was passed to give public testimony to support the Palestinian struggle and comment on the moral righteousness of divesting.
This is the second time UC Riverside has approved a divestment bill. One bill was passed and then rescinded a year ago when a number of pro-Israel students claimed they were “marginalized” by the passage of the resolution, making it apparent that even acknowledging the human rights of Palestinians was upsetting the traditional comfort and privilege Zionists enjoy.
Within the UC system alone, student representatives at UC San Diego, UC Berkeley, and UC Irvine have passed divestment resolutions. Students at UC Davis, UC Santa Barbara, San Diego State University, and countless other campuses are working earnestly to do the same.
For the time being, divestment resolutions at universities are public statements from students to administrations. But the anti-apartheid movement is gaining ground quickly, and, as it was with South Africa in the 1980s, soon university officials nationwide will have no option but to acknowledge the demands of their student populations and divest.