It happened this month at UCLA. Which campus will be next? In a strategically brilliant – but wholly racist and disgusting move – several campus student clubs at UCLA accused two elected student leaders of not being impartial after they took trips to Israel. The groups further asked student candidates for campus elected positions to pledge not to take certain trips to Israel.
At UCLA, 22 out of thirty candidates for student government offices at the public university said they would not take trips to Israel that are sponsored by the Anti-Defamation League, the Hasbara Fellowships/AISH, or the American Israel Public Affairs Committee. Eighteen of the thirty signed a pledge prior to the voting.
No candidates on the Bruins United ticket signed the pledge. They refused. The newly elected president of the student government, Devin Murphy, did sign the pledge. He won with 50.2% of the votes cast. He narrowly beat Bruins United candidate Sunny Singh. Murphy traveled to Israel in January 2013 on a trip sponsored by the American Jewish Committee, but he wasn’t a member of the student council at that time. A point he made clear at a campus hearing.
Additionally, on Thursday, May 15, UCLA’s Judicial Board will hold an open hearing regarding the accusation that Undergraduate Students Association Council (USAC) General Representative Sunny Singh and USAC Financial Supports Commissioner Lauren Rogers engaged in a conflict of interest by voting on the UCLA BDS (Boycott Divestment Sanctions) divestment resolution when they had gone on free trips to Israel while in office. The accusers are UCLA’s Students for Justice in Palestine.
Students for Justice in Palestine at UCLA members challenged the legitimacy of the votes against divestment that were made by 2 undergraduates. The group delivered a petition to the USAC Judicial Board that claimed that a summer ADL trip to Israel by Singh and a winter trip to Israel with Project Interchange by Rogers were conflicts of interest. By seeing Israel up close and personal, they would not be sufficiently impartial to vote for the University of California and UCLA to divest itself from Israel. Last quarter, the USAC voted down the resolution by secret ballot. The vote was 5-7-0 , and Rogers and Singh spoke against the resolution.
So, does this mean that studying about any subject or issue, such as Israel, is a conflict of interest? Should elected leaders refrain from educational trips, conferences, events, and panels? Does eating a matza ball – or worse, a felafel – represent a conflict of interest?
Dana Seifan, a UCLA senior and president of Students for Justice in Palestine said that, “Whether their intention was for education or something else, the fact remains that the [sponsoring] organizations themselves have anti-divestment agendas.”
The ADL, a trip sponsor, and other area groups stated that the on-campus student groups (Jewish Voice for Peace, the Armenian Studentsâ€™ Association, Students for Justice in Palestine, the Muslim Students Association, the Afrikan Student Union and Samahang Pilipino) are unfairly targeting Israel. The ADL statement said, â€œThis effort is just another strategy to delegitimize Israel and reflects how far the anti-Israel movement is willing to go in order to stifle voices…” Roz Rothstein, the CEO of StandWithUs, said these groups are attempting to limit [students’] understanding of Israel. Rothstein also implied that that if candidates for campus leadership could not learn about Israel at a university, then candidates should also refrain from associating with the BDS movement, attend divestment training sessions, or Students for Justice in Palestine conferences – which promote hatred and marginalizes so many students.
The ADLâ€™s Pacific Southwest regional director, Amanda Susskind, characterized the accusations in the pledge as â€œrepugnantâ€ and â€œmisguided.â€ The pledge stated the the trip sponsors marginalizaed students, supported Islamphobia, and wanted war with Iran. â€œThe suggestion that the trips somehow taint participants also assumes that they have no ability to judge for themselves about the experiences to which they have been exposed,â€ Susskind wrote.
David Nusbaum, a junior, and Luba Ismakov, a senior, both board members of Bruins for Israel, wrote that they have witnessed a troubling double standard targeting Jewish and pro-Israel students and organizations on campus. That while it is cloaked in the language of â€œethics,â€ â€œmarginalizationâ€ and â€œhuman rights,â€ the initiative is actually about denying a narrative and represents a frontal assault on dialogue, education and constitutionally protected rights. Further, they asserted that the groups that circulated the joint statement of ethics are calling for the effective blacklisting of only Jewish and pro-Israel organizations from campus life and politics.
Note: I am using the generally accepted terms of junior and senior instead of the popular third-year and fourth-year terms. I apoligize if these terms taint anyone.