From the River to the UC

March 30, 2010

It’ s old news, but people are now gearing up to override the veto.

To recap, a bill passed the ASUC Senate urging divestment from companies that allegedly supplied Israel with the materials to bomb Gaza, and was vetoed by ASUC President Will Smelko during the spring recess.

Here is the article about the passage of the bill.

Here is the article about its veto.

Here is a toxic and hysterical editorial celebrating the veto. Here is a less toxic, though even more hysterical editorial condemning the veto.

Here is a new article with more updates.

My thoughts:

I am not terribly excited about my student government grand-standing over foreign policy issues, particularly when they can’t seem to manage their affairs at home. But…

Here’s a quote from the pro-veto editorial:

The measure attacks Israel, an open democratic society that has long been a close American ally. Its government is elected and subject to the rule of law. Its judiciary is independent; its military is under civilian authority; and its press is free.

On the other hand, the measures favor Hamas, an extreme Islamic group that expelled the opposing Fatah party in Gaza by force after winning a 2006 Palestinian election. (Israel withdrew from Gaza in 2005.) The rulers of Gaza offer no protection under law, no independent judiciary and no free press.

They permit no opposition. Rather than building a civil society, they launched a rocket war against innocent Israeli civilians from behind schools, hospitals, mosques and government agencies, using their own residents as human shields. Yet, the bill holds them blameless for the Palestinian plight. That the supporters of this action singled out Israel for rebuke while ignoring the fanatical regime in Gaza suggests that their agenda is political not ethical.

And here is a graph!

It’s too bad this graph doesn’t plot the ages of the victims.

I don’t think this bill is about attacking Israel and supporting Palestine. Certainly not in the way that Hanan Alexander seems to think it is– “It attacks democracy while protecting dictatorship, does not reflect UC interests, was passed unfairly and promotes divisiveness.” I’m not saying this for sure, I might actually be totally wrong on this– some of those senators are pretty fucking nuts (*cough*Christina Oatfield*cough*).

This bill is not about who wears the white hat and who wears the black hat; this bill is about the Gaza bombings being wrong and reprehensible. This is not a condemnation of Israel’s existence and the heritage of certain UC students (although Alexander’s talk about Palestinians deserving some share of blame for their misfortunes is probably a condemnation of someone’s heritage, though I cannot guess whose). Rather than divesting from some apparent implicit support of Israel, it is a divestment from an unmistakable atrocity. Calling it wrong makes you no less anti-Israel than the many Israelis, both in Israel and America, who denounce the Gaza attacks.

To divert the debate, to accuse the bill’s proponents of anti-Semitism, of supporting terrorists, of insulting Jewish students, or of promoting a divisive campus is nothing but fleeing in the face of the truth: that Gaza was wrong, that US entities helped it to happen, and that the UC is involved with those entities. And if you think that calling the death of over a thousand Palestinians a bad thing is an insult to your heritage, then, well, I guess your heritage can go suck it.

I do think there is one valid point against the bill:

Divestment will also harm UC interests during a time of recession. It will adversely affect America’s ties to a close trading partner that is home to one of the most innovative and advanced high tech industries in the world. This punishes not only employees of the designated companies, but also other workers, the indigent and elderly who depend on a robust economy and Palestinians in the West Bank and Gaza whose economy is tied to Israel and the United States.

With the University of California reeling from its largest downsizing ever, the senators who supported this measure are out of touch […]

Perhaps this bill is simply none of the ASUC’s business. But if you take that tack, you have to commit to the position that the 1980s resolution for divestment from apartheid South Africa was also none of the ASUC’s business. The fact that we’re in a recession doesn’t change anything: Is it okay to be knowingly involved (though remotely) in wrongdoing, because you’re in a recession?

When it comes down to it, I’m actually not sure whether a bill calling for divestment of any kind should be on the ASUC’s agenda. I know the bill calling for divestment from apartheid-South Africa is celebrated as a great example of student activism, but I’m actually not sure whether there was a real point to it.

If you yourself are unsure about whether or not you support this bill, do not brush over this last point lightly: if you, like me, are left with intuitions that calling for divestment is not the job of the ASUC, you must also reject the bill that called for divestment from apartheid South Africa. If you reject this bill as a waste of time, you must also reject that bill as a waste of time. It’s not an easy bullet to bite, hence my uncertainty.

But I am certain that Will Smelko vetoed the bill for all the wrong reasons. The bill passed 16-4 after four hours of discussion (for which Smelko was not in attendance), and all Smelko has to say for himself is some weak bullshit:

Smelko said in a veto statement that the bill did not adequately outline an effective divestment strategy or address possible effects on UC and ASUC finances and “the perception of the bill as a symbolic attack on a specific community of our fellow students.”

Smelko-who could not be reached for comment Sunday-said in a veto statement that the bill has a “one-sided focus on a specific country that lacks important historical context and understanding”.

When I was in high school, I had to do a project where I went and interviewed a WWII vet. The guy I found was a pilot in the Pacific Theater. He mostly had funny stories and folksy recollections– but what sticks out in my mind at the moment was the research he had done on the Pacific Theater once the war was over. In particular, he had come to know a lot about the fire bombings of Tokyo– and this man, who had fought for the Allies, who had killed his Japanese counterparts, and no doubt, had friends who died in a similar fashion, had nothing good to say about the fire-bombings. He was morally outraged and disgusted by them– he honestly thought that we had done something wrong.

There is something poisonous about the partisan refusal to own up to a bad thing being bad.

Dodging the question is not quite the same thing– that is, by pretending that this is about the Jewish student community, or about the amount of time the Senate had to discuss the bill, or about the “complex history” of the Middle East.

It’s not the same.

But it sure makes you look like a pussy.


These are worth reading, far more than the editorials that the Daily Cal has chosen to run, and probably more so than my own post.

Thou Shalt Not Stand Against The Blood of Thy Neighbor

Why Our Divestment Victory Matters

passed the ASUC Senate


  1. Have you read the actual bill? I felt a little different about things after reading it. It’s not necessarily bad, but it could be a lot better. I understand now why there are relatively intelligent opponents of the bill (I’ve been told Noah Stern isn’t a total tool). There are definitely pointed “fighting words.” I think your post actually does a better job of sizing up the situation.

    Do I support divestment from Israel? Not being fully informed about the financial ramifications, I think so. Should the ASUC be wasting their time meddling in foreign affairs? Probably not. That being said, if the ASUC were to bring this back in a retooled form that dealt with some of the criticism, I don’t think I could help but feel proud of my student government.

  2. I know what you mean. The protestation that the ASUC is “not taking sides” certainly seems weak after a lot of the prior language. You can actually see which parts were written by interest groups like SJP, and which parts were written by senators. Bits about “occupation” might not be entirely necessary, but it’s not a exaggeration. Any offense, or reason to take offense, comes from a conflation of the actions of Israeli authorities with Israel itself, or the Jewish identity itself. This could be easily resolved by improving the language of the bill. This could also be resolved by not getting so goddamn butthurt, but that is probably much harder than improving the language of the bill. And as it’s been vetoed, and my guess is that they will retool it in order to override veto.

    I have a question, though, did Stern or any other allegedly reasonable people offer possible amendments, or did they merely vote no?

    • Wish I knew the answer. It’s hard to tell with Daily Cal coverage. I’d have to talk to someone who was there.

  3. For the record, I wear the black hat. But only when I’m rustling cattle.

  4. This is a good dudgeonpost, but I think this is the absolute end of our dudgeon reserves. I like dudgeon as much as the next guy, but I think something like seven out of our last ten blog posts have been dudgeon-centered. The dudge loses its effect if we keep on dudging without a breather every now and again.

  5. Hey, you know what’s a fun word?

  6. *Imitates Carrie-Ann Moss, holds gun to Erik’s head*

    Dudge this.

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