UC student workers' union urges divestment from Israel

About 65% of union members who voted approve a measure urging UC to divest from firms that aid occupation.

Members of the union that represents UC students who work as teaching assistants, tutors and readers have voted to urge the UC regents to divest itself of stock in Israeli institutions and international companies that backers say violate human rights and aid the occupation of Palestinian territories.

In results announced Wednesday by the UAW 2865, about 65% of the 2,160 votes cast in the union's referendum approved the divestment policy and asked that it apply to all financial holdings of the university and of the UAW's international parent union. The ballot measure also called for the U.S. government to end military aid to Israel.

The UC regents have said they have no intention of such a sell-off of investments. But the issue nevertheless has roiled UC campuses as several student governments, including UCLA last month, have taken pro-divestment stances after much debate. Jewish and pro-Israel organizations worked to defeat the union measure and those by the student governments.

UAW 2865, which bargains for about 13,000 student workers, also asked its voting members whether they would take a personal and non-binding pledge not to participate in research, exchanges or conferences sponsored by Israeli universities "complicit in the occupation of Palestine." About 53% of those who voted, or 1,136, anonymously said they would do so, according to the union.

Union officials emphasize that such steps would not entail boycotts of individual faculty members from Israel.

Katy Fox-Hodess, a UC Berkeley graduate student who is on the union's statewide executive board, said members know that regents are not likely to divest but felt it was still important to express opposition to Israeli policies.

"We hope to continue to build this movement at UC," she said. "We see this as another step for the university and the international union to divest."

Tammi Rossman-Benjamin, a leader of the AMCHA Initiative, a group that has alleged some UC campuses foster an anti-Semitic environment, said that the "academic boycott is blatantly antithetical to the mission of a university" and that it would worsen the hostility felt by some Jewish students.

In a statement, Rossman-Benjamin, who is a lecturer in Hebrew at UC Santa Cruz, called on UC administrators to ensure that graduate student instructors do not violate university rules by using classrooms to promote anti-Israel sentiment.

Similarly, Dean Schramm, president of the American Jewish Committee's Los Angeles region, said that singling out Israel for divestment was an unfair double standard. "Where are the calls for divestment from autocratic states such as Syria, Sudan, or Iran, which routinely violate human rights?" Schramm said.

Union leaders deny any anti-Semitic intent in the measure and emphasize that it had many Jewish supporters. Fox-Hodess said that the union long has taken positions on other international issues.

"This is part of our democratic process. We welcome our members to engage in local or international issues."

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