On Thursday night, UCLA’s student government judicial board heard Students for Justice in Palestine v. Singh and Students for Justice in Palestine v. Rogers, both alleging that members of UCLA’s student government (USAC) who are against the Boycott Sanction and Divest (BDS) movement took inappropriate gifts from pro-Israel organizations and should have recused themselves from the anti-Israel Divestment vote, which lost 7-5.
While on its face, this hearing concerned ethics rules, this case is the start of a national movement to make support for Israel costly or prohibited on college campuses, UCLA testing ground for next generation of anti-Israel campus tactics.
Jared Sichel, a reporter for the Jewish Journal, Los Angeles’ local Jewish newspaper, comments (as both Professor Jacobson and I have also noted in the past) that however the board rules, SJP has succeeded in “making it costly to be pro-Israel at UCLA.”
Now, everyone seeking office who goes on a trip to Israel or is associated with a pro-Israel organization may be accused of having a conflict of interest boxing them out of key positions that vote on divestment matters.
SJP is building a chilling effect, showing that those who stand in their way will be subject to long hours of debate, protest, and even “legal” hearings. Some may not agree with SJP, but consider it not worth the trouble to stand in their way.
This new tactic has already set a dangerous political precedent nationwide, but if the judicial board rules in favor of SJP, the ruling with have impacts far beyond UCLA. Scrappy underdogs that they claim to be, SJP is well-organized and well-connected to the Palestinian cause as a whole, and whatever succeeds at UCLA may be replicated nationwide. Politically, they already have a win to point to, but a judicial board win will embolden them to bring the campus lawfare show on the road.
Dana Saifan, the president of SJP at UCLA, who also argued their case before the board, revealed her intentions on Twitter after the hearing:
No mention of UCLA or ethics. Only about harming the “Israel lobby,” ADL, and AJC.
The arguments presented at the hearing further demonstrate that SJP’s concern in bringing the case was never ethics, only electing a pro-BDS president (with the same “ethics” problems) in the short-term, and stigmatizing or even banning trips to Israel in the long term.
Numerous examples were presented of past council members who went to Israel without complaint.
According to campus sources, over the past 4 years, at least 14 members of council, including some from the party supporting BDS, went to Israel as students. At least 7 did so while serving on council. During that time, a number of votes were taken concerning the Middle East.
But not until this election week, with Singh running for the presidency, was the issue brought before the Judicial Board. In fact, in her testimony, Rogers noted that the SJP joint statement with the candidates, the Judicial Board case, and the first online campaign efforts occurred the same day.
Additionally, in October, during a previous vote relating to BDS, there was a council vote as to whether Singh had a conflict of interest. By a 7-2-2 margin, the council voted that he did not. Other arguments, which I will not detail here, dealt with the specific details of USAC’s conflict of interest bylaws.
The most important arguments, however, were not those presented at the hearing, but those not presented.
BDS supporters managed to make the divestment vote a secret ballot, claiming they were receiving threats and feared for their safety from BDS opponents. This grandstanding cost them the chance to dispute the vote of any individual in a meaningful way. The board refused to hear evidence as to how Singh and Rogers voted, as their votes are unknown as a matter of “law.
This means their votes cannot be reversed. Because their terms of office ended last Tuesday, they cannot be removed either. In other words, there is no remedy available for SJP in this case, and there never was. Singh and Rogers were not actually on trial. Instead, all future council members who wish to visit Israel, whether just to learn, or for religious reasons, or, yes, for legitimate training in advocating for Israel, are on trial.
The board has up to two weeks to publish their ruling, but it could come any day now.
(Featured Image: SJP-backed Devin Murphy reacts to winning student council presidency)DONATE
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