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Why Are Student Leaders and Jewish Bruins Under Attack at UCLA?

For Jewish and pro-Israel UCLA students, the atmosphere is poisonous. We feel attacked, ostracized, and threatened. Our identities are being rejected and our right to express our beliefs endangered. Our academic performance is being harmed unjustly; and our supporters are now targets of hate campaigns, baseless accusations, and unfair political and social retaliation.

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Powell Library at UCLA

Powell Library at UCLA
Photo Credit: Wikimedia Commons



There will always be that one person who does not like you. There will always be that one person who thinks you can do no right. And while you acknowledge your own faults, that one person sees them as far greater than anyone else’s. Implicit in this is the antagonistic relationship between two people, between two differing belief systems, and two differing ways of thought. Unfortunately, this is the situation we have learned to accept when it comes to the relationship between Israeli and Palestinian leaders and pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian groups. On campuses across America, this dynamic is no different.

It seems, however, that during the past year at the University of California, Los Angeles, pro-Israel and pro-Palestinian tensions have reached a climax—partly because there are no longer just two voices fighting against each other, but multiple voices fighting against one. UCLA has seen the mobilization of self-identified minority communities banding together in order to combat the terrors they believe Israel inflicts on the world, and a concerted effort by pro-Palestinian organization to exploit this to their advantage and silence pro-Israel voices on campus.

By going to university, you expect to find yourself, to make friends, and to define beliefs that will guide you for the rest of your life. All of this is happening for me at UCLA, but in a high-pressure situation I could never have anticipated. More than anything else, this was made clear to me during the Undergraduate Students Association Council (USAC) debate over an anti-Israel divestment resolution.

The resolution in question called for divestment from Caterpillar, Cement Roadstone Holdings, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, and Cemex, claiming that all these companies committed human rights violations against the Palestinian people. If passed, the resolution would be purely symbolic, since the Regents of the University of California had already declared that they would not divest from any companies that maintain operations in Israel.

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), a pro-Palestinian organization, authored the resolution, which was sponsored by three council members. SJP has long been active on campuses across America and its ideology is well known. Its website states,

As a solidarity organization, we support the Palestinian call for three basic rights, outlined in 2005: The right not to live under occupation in the West Bank and Gaza Strip, the right to equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, the right for Palestinian refugees to return to their homeland. As a group, we focus on supporting these rights instead of advocating for a particular political solution (such as one or two states).

The issue most pro-Israel students had with the resolution was that it did not allow a dialogue on whether or not Israel committed human rights violations; it assumed Israel’s sole culpability without looking at any event in a historical context. Bruins for Israel (BFI), the primary pro-Israel group on campus, was thus the most vocal organization opposing the resolution.

BFI is an entirely mainstream and moderate group. As outgoing President Miriam Eshaghian has said, “By framing factual current events in a historical context, we give the campus community the tools to comprehend the turmoil…. We advocate for a negotiated two-state solution: A Jewish state of Israel and a Palestinian state…. We stand firmly against any form of delegitimization of Israel as a Jewish state.”

To BFI, the resolution was part of the global anti-Israel Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement, which seeks to delegitimize the Jewish state, and therefore had to be strenuously opposed.

The USAC meeting to vote on the divestment resolution was scheduled for February 25, 2014. For weeks before the deciding USAC meeting, both pro-divestment and anti-divestment groups lobbied individual council members intensely, bombarding them with fact sheets, presentations, explanations of historical context, and, in some cases, friendships that proved to be false and exploitative.

Tessa Nath

About the Author: Tessa Nath is a UCLA third-year student majoring in English and minoring in French. When not working on her senior thesis, Tessa divides her time between editing Ha'Am: UCLA's Jewish Newsmagazine and serving on UCLA's Jewish Student Union Executive Board, as well as the Center for Jewish Studies Student Leadership Council.


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