California Students Vote to Boycott Israel -- and U.S.

February 10, 2015

The boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement against Israel picked up additional momentum this weekend when the University of California Student Association approved a resolution calling on the UC regents to divest from corporations complicit in violations of Palestinians’ human rights. But the system-wide student government went even further than that, endorsing a second resolution urging the university to divest from national governments it describes as being “engaged in human rights abuses and violence,” including not only the government of Israel, but also those of Brazil, Egypt, Indonesia, Mexico, Russia, Turkey, Sri Lanka -- and the United States.

The resolution cites a range of abuses on the part of the U.S. government: drone strikes in Pakistan and Yemen, high rates of incarceration, disproportionate targeting of racial minorities by police forces, the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants, and its activities in “directly supporting and propping up numerous dictatorships around the world with weapons sales and foreign aid.”

BDS activists celebrated the Student Association's stance: the Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at the University of California at Los Angeles issued a statement describing the vote in favor of the first, Palestinian-specific resolution as “undoubtedly the largest victory thus far in the campus divestment movement in the United States.” The group noted that student governments at six individual UC campuses, as well as the union representing UC teaching assistants and other graduate student workers, have already endorsed divestment.

Advocates of the BDS movement are often criticized for singling out Israel -- of all the objectionable regimes in the world -- for special criticism. Indeed, the conservative Cornell University law professor William A. Jacobson described the combination of resolutions at UC as illustrative of the problems with the approach. “The U. Cal. student government has proven a point I’ve made repeatedly in terms of the academic boycott: If you are going to boycott Israel, then you need to apply those standards to the whole world, which will result in boycotting yourselves,” he wrote in his Legal Insurrection blog

Just because the system-wide UC Student Association passed the resolutions -- the full texts of which are linked in the meeting minutes -- doesn’t mean the Board of Regents will necessarily take them up. In 2010, the University of California released a statement affirming the board's policy of divesting from a foreign government, or with companies doing business with that government, only in cases in which the U.S. government has declared a regime guilty of committing acts of genocide (which it has not done in the case of Israel). In forwarding that statement, a UC spokeswoman said Monday that the university’s position and policies have not changed.

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