In the span of 24 hours from Tuesday to Wednesday, two divided campus communities made an unprecedented step toward compromise — and then took it all back.
On the heels of another Israel-Palestine divestment resolution, members of Students for Justice in Palestine and Tritons for Israel — the student orgs that have supported and opposed the petition in the past, respectively — met last Friday, April 22, to discuss the controversial issue, which is brought like clockwork before A.S. Council each spring. But a few hours before Wednesday’s council meeting, members of TFI withdrew their support of the joint statement after hearing dissent from members of its community. And now the two groups are back at square one with no agreement and no compromise, only a promise on the part of SJP that the group will pursue divestment again in the coming year.
A refresher: This is the second year SJP has introduced its divestment resolution, a resolution that, last year, packed the council’s Forum and produced 5 a.m. meetings with tempers running high on both sides. This year, just two speakers addressed council during public input, taking up only a fraction of their allotted 20 minutes.
The resolution calls for the UC system to take a neutral stance on the Israel-Palestine conflict by stopping its investment in companies such as General Electric and Northrop Grumman, companies that currently build parts of the helicopters used in the Middle East. Although UC President Mark G. Yudof has already stated that the university will not divest from the two companies, the divestment issue remains a important symbolic gesture that SJP members have compared to the move to divest from South Africa in the 1990s. UCSD isn’t alone; last year, the UC Berkeley council debated a similar resolution and passed it 16-4, but that decision was vetoed by then-ASUC President Will Smelko. Petitions have been started at Harvard and MIT, among other schools.
Last year, the resolution failed again and the issue remained stagnant, despite A.S.-enforced attempts for the two groups to work together in a committee. The failure of last year’s effort makes this willing outreach on the part of the groups’ executive boards all the more commendable, and we hope that the executive members of next year’s boards are equally open to collaboration.
But despite the optimistic beginning, poor communication has again prevented these two groups from reaching a consensus on an issue so important to both and perhaps alienated them once again. Given the 11th-hour withdrawal of support from TFI members, the group’s position may be hampered next year; worse, with this failed attempt, the two groups may write off compromise altogether.
With an issue so fraught with tension and history, and one that is so regularly discussed, a weekend, even with the best intentions, won’t be enough to come to a satisfactory conclusion. The two orgs should start a dialogue on the resolution earlier in the year, and both executive boards should be clear on their goals and duties.
This time, TFI withdrew due to last-minute internal disagreements; should there be a similar problem next year, both orgs should be clear on how they want to determine their positions, be it according to its executive board, or through the wishes of its larger community. Once both organizations decide how they want to address the issue, they can hopefully work together to move forward.