With Roundabout Politics in Play, No One Leaves Happy

After six hours of back-and-forth emotion on a controversial resolution to acknowledge Israeli war crimes, the A.S. Council did nothing but waste an opportunity to promote awareness.

Posted on 29 April 2010

By Editorial Board

As much as we rag on our student leaders for wasting valuable floor time making empty statements — aka resolutions, or press releases proclaiming the student body’s stance on a major issue — we do admit there are certain moments at which they are not entirely worthless.

Seeing as the A.S. Council isn’t in the position to do anything concrete about global problems (besides maybe allot $370 to InterVarsity to throw a Haiti fundraiser), its greatest power in affecting change might be turning a few more heads to a cause — a cause greater than fighting the unjust confinement of the Sun God Festival to RIMAC Field.

For example, the A.S. movement to divest university money from South Africa in 1986 was a clear statement the students could make to push international injustice into public discourse. In the end, the university did withdraw $3 billion from investments in South Africa — partially due to the will of its student government.

Just a week ago, though, an especially contentious resolution hit the A.S. listserv: the Resolution in Support of Peace and Neutrality Through UC Divestment From U.S. Corporations Profiting From Occupation. In other words: the resolution to withdraw UC funds from two large U.S. companies that sell military technology to Israel.

Though the document would have — like another resolution to divest from Sudan in 2005 — taken a daring stance against financial support for oppressive violence, it specifically targeted (yet simultaneously avoided the specific mention of) Israel, which was blatantly implied to be the occupier in question.

The UC investment in Israel is especially roundabout; General Electric and United Technology provide hundreds of other services and products within our own country, and the university does invest anywhere that could fund Israeli weaponry in particular (nor in the form of student fees). For that reason, the divestment would be very symbolic — the symbol being that we condemn Israel for its wartime actions, and anyone who supports those actions. Thing is, many students do not see the issue quite so black-and-white; that’s where the A.S. Council’s constituents are divided, and have been for years.

The council tried to pass a clearer version of this resolution last year; it didn’t pass, because of a similar divide on whether wartime crimes are indeed being committed (or at least whether that fact should be amended by Israel’s reasons for violence). But if the resolution’s only hope to pass is with its clear objective masked in “evil corporation” language, it is divisive. If it had been voted through council last night in its current form, it would not have represented the interests of the student body.

When an elected student council (mostly made up of students most invested in controversial issues like these — though their political stances are rarely clear to voters throughout the campaign) makes a decision still so contended by its constituents, it’s a false statement, and devalues the resolution as a form of mass speech. It is a room of 20-odd students stating their opinion like it matters more than the rest of ours.

We do not so much mean to say that maintaining a pristine campus climate should be the priority; there are always two sides when it comes to war, and the tension is justified. Instead, the A.S. Council should strive for complete honesty in its resolution language and a maximum effort toward education. The best thing we can do for either Israel or the Palestinian people is alert those around us to exactly what is going on in that region.

Whether or not it is in self-defense, the United Nations and Amnesty International have both recognized that Israel is indeed committing human-rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories.

The sentiment that a resolution stating as much would make members of the pro-Israel community feel “unsafe” is overstated. Criticizing a government for committing war crimes is a far cry from criticizing a people, or even a country. The terrorist acts committed by the Palestinian side are widely condemned; however, because the Jewish homeland has always been a fragile topic — and a country we’re tied to in more ways than one — the U.S. is among the last countries in the world to recognize those crimes.

But there are two sides, and both need to be heard. The council should have at least sent out the resolution over the all-campus listserv before considering it in a room with extremists from both sides. So, in a way, as boring and half-assed a decision it was to push the resolution back to be revisited next week, it’ll make us keep considering the facts. Even if the resolution must be re-proposed each quarter, we hope its language can become clear enough to address the true wrongdoings in question — which belong more to a government than a weapons manufacturer — and promote teach-ins, Library Walk info booths and enough open-air hubbub to foster the kind of informed interest this topic deserves.

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