The past couple years have been symbolic of peace and progress towards building relationships between different student organizations that affiliate with the Middle East. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), Highlanders for Israel (HIFI), and Hillel, the Jewish student organization. These clubs have been working on creating lasting friendships despite Middle Eastern politics. It seemed that everyone was working towards a durable peace, but recent events show otherwise.

All of this progress was put to shame during the Senate meeting on Wednesday, March 6, 2013, when SJP proposed the divestment bill, which calls for UC divestment from Israeli companies.

Hillel and HIFI were notified of the divestment bill only 20 hours prior to the meeting. The news was a shock to the Jewish community on campus; no one had expected their “friends” to deceive them and keep their plans a secret. Then at the meeting, SJP was given an extra fourteen minutes to present the bill. Those who opposed the bill were put at an unfair disadvantage, and were given a significantly shorter amount of time to speak. Up until this point, the organizations freely shared information about upcoming plans and events out of mutual respect.

In fact, many students who identify with the Middle East have been working together for the
past two years in hopes of establishing a Middle East Student Center (MESC). The center would help foster a friendly space that would equally and fairly represent the marginalized groups on campus who associate with Israel, Palestine, and other Middle Eastern countries. Students, who disagreed on political issues, and specifically, the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, were able to put aside their personal differences and come together to discuss a cultural center where different student organizations could freely express themselves.

Despite the internal progress made between the students while working on the MESC, this
Senate meeting quickly differentiated those who are Pro-Israel from those who are Anti-Israel. Representatives of HIFI and Hillel had trusted members of SJP. Ironically one year ago, in last March, the SJP President, Shadi Matar, issued a statement to Press Enterprise: “I’m still friends with the people I’m working with… I will continue to work with them and put out my hand”. Looking back at this moment, it is apparent that the months of hard work and compromise were all lies. There were several times when HIFI and SJP have extended hands of friendship to each other, and it is disappointing that SJP felt it necessary to drastically change the campus dynamics.

There was already tension in the Senate Chambers when the meeting first began. As the meeting proceeded, people in the galley could sense anger rising, and it only got worse within the next two and a half hours. When the Senate casted their votes, 11-5 for divestment, supporters began to cheer and record the moment on their phones. Others, however, had the overwhelming sense that they were unwelcome. In a short evening, the student body had quickly become polarized. From then, on, people would be judged by whether or not they supported the bill in Winter 2013.

The divestment bill, in its entirety, much like the way in which it was presented, is filled with
lies. The bill maliciously compares Apartheid South Africa to Israel, and this accusation, along with others, could not be further from the truth. While South Africa’s legal system enforced discrimination and oppression based on race, the Israeli legal system is similar to that of the U.S., and advocates for every citizen’s equality regardless of race, religion, gender orientation, and ethnicity. Under Apartheid South Africa’s government, black Africans were not allowed a voice in the government. Yet in Israel, every citizen is protected and has equal rights and opportunities.

In Israel, Arab men and women can vote, travel freely, obtain medical care, and own property. The country’s official languages are Arabic and Hebrew, and official religions include Islam, Christianity, and Judaism. In Israel, the only Democratic country in the Middle East, Arabs, Christians and Jews hold seats in Israeli Parliament and have the right to the freedom of speech, religion and press. It is shocking that in the Middle East, people of different backgrounds live together and live in such unity, while on the UCR campus, there is such divisiveness and hostility.

Despite all of the progress made with the MESC, SJP breeched their trust with HIFI. As a result of this bill, Jews, Israelis and their friends, have been alienated from the rest of the student population.

Jacqueline Zelener
Highlanders for Israel