Scores (if not hundreds) of Jewish and Pro-Israel students spent Tuesday night in a crowded ballroom at UCLA to advocate against the student government’s proposed passage of a divestment resolution. I, on the other hand, sat at my computer 125 miles away, wearing sweatpants and drinking Coke Zero with lemon watching the USAC divestment meeting in one tab of my browser, and Lakers “highlights” in another.
How did I earn the privilege of kicking my feet up while dozens of my friends and former classmates posted Facebook updates on the meeting, participated in the five-plus-hours-long’s public input and held back tears while their fellow UCLA students delegitimized Israel, and chanted the rhetoric of apartheid, racism and power?
I’ve already been there and done that. And now it’s time to move on.
At my campus, UC San Diego, the Associated Students passed a similar resolution to the one debated last night at UCLA just over a year ago. For the first time in five years, UC San Diego’s Jewish and pro-Israel community has been spared the hours of sitting in anxiety and chanting the back and forth in a cramped council room. And I actually don’t mind the break.
Divestment resolutions have been over-sensationalized on UC campuses over the past few years. The annual campus debate over whether our universities should pull investments from companies that make Apache helicopters and Caterpillar bulldozers used by the I.D.F. has become a spectacle of sorts. Our Hillel on campus would set up a snack table outside council chambers to provide sustenance to weary activists and UCSD’s talks got so crowded that by the third week of Divestment meetings (yes, we had three weeks of it), they had set up a separate ballroom so students could watch the meeting on a projector.
Pro-Israel advocates have long clung to the rhetoric of “Divestment is Divisive” and I see the mantra is still alive and well as per UCLA activists last night. The idea that a student government passing an anti-Israel bill will ruin campus climate and that “international affairs do not belong in an Associated Students meeting” are the only major talking point that has ever really been successful for UC campuses. But as campuses pass divestment bills like dominoes (four UC campuses in 2012-2013), it’s becoming more and more apparent that divisiveness is immaterial in these conversations.
One pro-divestment speaker at last night’s meeting told USAC she was a UC Irvine student and that the campus climate has remained unchanged since that campus unanimously passed a B.D.S. bill in late 2012. On my own campus, I can confirm that 12 months after our divestment issue was settled, I am still as comfortable walking around campus wearing a yarmulke as I was before UCSD became a “divestment campus.”
Now that we’ve moved past the meaningless debate over B.D.S. (all of the bills have thus far been advisory votes only with no actual impact on university decisions), campus Jewish communities have an opportunity to begin defining our own purpose on a university campus. A Jewish activist’s time is better served working to improve life for Jews on campus through positive change as opposed to a scenario like fighting a B.D.S. bill where the “best case scenario” is that nothing happens and activists get to do it all over again in the next round.
I won’t say I’m inherently happy that my campus passed divestment last year — the B.D.S. movement is rooted in needless hatred and works to delegitimize one of the most promising countries in the Middle East while thousands of nearby Syrians are massacred by their own government monthly. I do, however, appreciate that my responsibilities as a Jewish leader on my campus can be focused more on community building that enriches the lives of my Jewish peers on campus instead of on B.D.S.
Our community at UCSD has shown this year that we are capable of not only defending ourselves when attacked, but that we are actually working to improve the experiences for our peers and ourselves. Last month, I published an op-ed that criticized the University of California’s decision to “accommodate” Jewish students by unilaterally deciding to move back the fall term’s start date and cut a week of everyone’s winter break in the process. We did not succumb to growing shouts of anti-Semitism heard on our campus and elsewhere in the UC system. Instead, we took action and brought our own resolution to our ASUCSD, which explained that Jewish students were not only offended by the change, but that we also wanted to be on the front lines of the fight against the change. ASUCSD passed our resolution unanimously. It was positive, productive, and certainly not divisive.
Additionally, our Union of Jewish Students is currently in talks with the Muslim Student Association to explore opportunities for our communities to mutually advocate for more kosher and halal food options on campus. This further proves that campus climate is alive and well at UCSD — even in light of B.D.S.’ passage last year — and that positive changes for the Jewish community are within reach.
When the UCLA bill was finally rejected after 11.5 hours of debate, I was asleep. I went to bed after six hours of the meeting had passed without any real progress in the meeting. The dust will clear at UCLA and around the state, and when it does, I hope that activists will change their course and set sail for positive change for the Jewish communities on UC campuses.
If 100 anti-B.D.S activists had spent those 11.5 hours elsewhere, that would have meant seven full weeks of time for productivity as opposed to setting up the opportunity to fight BDS again in 2015.
Jewish campus leaders have the power to define our own communities. We’ve been on the defensive too long and it’s time to move past B.D.S. and build a stronger and smarter future.
Zev Hurwitz is a student at UC San Diego.