On November 13, ASUCI unanimously passed a legislation to divest from companies that profit from apartheid. It is refreshing to see that our campus does not just claim to advocate for human rights, but also takes proactive actions to make sure that our university does not contribute to companies directly involved in human rights violations.
This legislation was drafted to continue the tradition of college students fighting for human rights.
From grassroots work to legislations, college students historically have been the leading force behind reminding universities of their values. This university again has the ability to take part in a historical movement that we can look back on and be proud of, because this is history in the making.
The legacy of student movements against companies that are invested in and profit from apartheid dates back to the 1980s. One example is apartheid in South Africa, in which Michigan State University, Harvard University, Columbia University and the University of California took steps to divest from companies that profited from these human rights violations. Similarly in 2006, ASUCI unanimously passed a legislation to divest from Sudan, when the government systematically oppressed black Africans in Darfur.
We did not shy away in 2012 when that time came again to take a strong stance for human rights, and ASUCI unanimously passed a legislation against apartheid in Palestine. This most recent legislation is a reminder to our students that we will not stand for human rights abuses because our education is not predicated on the profit of apartheid.
Our university’s core values are the promotion of human rights without discrimination. As Chancellor Drake said, “It is my goal to infuse our values into the core of everything we do at the University of California, Irvine. These values — respect, intellectual curiosity, integrity, commitment, empathy, appreciation and fun — foster the creative process, build stronger bonds between people and inspire a shared sense of purpose.”
Several companies violated the core values of respect, integrity and empathy in 2007, when the Israeli government created a blockade in Gaza.
According to a United Nations report in 2009, “the blockade has ‘locked in’ 1.5 million people in what is one of the most densely populated areas on earth, triggering a protracted human dignity crisis with negative humanitarian consequences.” Since 1948, there have been over 500,000 Israelis living in illegal settlements built in the occupied Palestinian territories, as well as a 25-foot-tall wall that encloses them into a small, densely packed territory.
A few of the companies that were highlighted in this legislation as contributors to the humanitarian consequences were Caterpillar, Cemex, General Electric and Raytheon. Caterpillar provides bulldozers to illegally and brutally destroy the houses and neighborhoods of innocent Palestinian civilians. Cemex “illegally owns and operates manufacturing plants in West Bank settlements, exploiting Palestinian natural resources in violation of international law.” General Electric has supplied the Israeli military with engines for AH-64 Apache helicopters, which have been “systematically used by the Israeli military in attacks on Palestinian civilians which constitute severe human rights violations and war crimes.” Raytheon provides guided missiles “to ruthlessly level civilian dense regions during Operation Cast Lead.”
Operation Cast Lead was a name given by the Israeli military to the military operation against the Gaza strip from December 27, 2008 to January 18, 2009.
According to the United Nations report in 2009, the damage from Operation Cast Lead is estimated at $139 million and the “widespread loss of productive agricultural assets with an estimated direct loss of USD 180 million and an indirect loss over a six-month period of USD 88 million.” In this period of time, over 1,200 Palestinians were killed.
The companies outlined in the legislation are clearly in human rights violation of International Law of the United Nations, and this cannot go unnoticed.
It’s about time that our university takes that strong stance and divests from companies that profit from apartheid.
Let us continue to urge our university to take many more stances for human rights, as this legislation should inspire us to do so much more.
Erum Siddiqui is a second-year political science major. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.