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The student government at the University of California at Irvine last night voted unanimously to divest itself of investments in companies that support the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, and to urge the UC Irvine administration to do the same.

The resolution, titled “Divestment from Companies that Profit from Apartheid,” is the second such policy to be adopted by a UC student government in recent years. (A similar resolution at Berkeley was passed, and then rescinded, amid intense media attention in 2010.) It passed by a vote of 16-0, with no abstentions.

The student government’s vote is unlikely to have any immediate practical effect. There is no indication that the UCI student government has any investments in corporations supporting the Israeli occupation, and UC administrators have stated that they have no intention of considering any such divestment on an institutional scale. But it is likely to revive discussion of Israel divestment on American campuses.

Irvine’s resolution draws explicit parallels not only between Israeli policies and South African apartheid, but also between the current campaign and American students’ past organizing for South African divestment. “As the example of South Africa shows,” the resolution declares, “it is imperative for students to stand unequivocally against all forms of racism and bigotry globally and on campus, including but not limited to Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia, patriarchy, and Israel’s system of apartheid.”

Unlike anti-apartheid campaigns, which targeted any companies doing business in South Africa, last night’s resolution does not call for full divestment from Israel. Instead it calls on UCI to end ties with companies that “provide military support for, or weaponry to support the occupation of the Palestinian territory,” those which are involved in “the building or maintenance of the illegal wall or the demolition of Palestinian homes,” and those which “facilitate the building, maintenance, or economic development of illegal Israeli settlements on occupied Palestinian territory.”

The resolution names eight companies meeting one or more of those criteria in which it claims UCI invests — Caterpillar, Cement Roadstones Holding, Cemex, General Electric, Hewlett-Packard, Raytheon, Sodastream, and L-3 Communications.

In 2010 UC Irvine suspended its Muslim Student Union in the wake of the disruption of a campus speech by the Israeli Ambassador. Ten Muslim students were subsequently convicted of misdemeanor charges in connection with that incident.

Just last week an Israeli news website described UC Irvine as “a hotbed of pro-Israel activity,” by the way.

In a post titled “We’re Breaking Up,” the Student Labor Action Project announced today that three major student activist organizations have cut ties with banks implicated in predatory lending, student loan profiteering, and right-wing political activity:

  • The United Council of University of Wisconsin Students has pulled its money from M&I Bank, which contributed more than $46,000 to the campaign of Wisconsin’s notorious governor, Scott Walker.
  • And the University of California Student Association has broken ties with major student lender US Bank in the wake of its “lack of willingness to engage in good-faith efforts to negotiate sustainable permanent mortgage modifications.”

That’s three major student organizations in just a few weeks. More to come?

In the last few weeks Ivy League students have mounted Occupy actions aimed at recruiting sessions for major financial institutions on their campuses — the 1% occupying the 1%. Inside Higher Ed has an interesting article up on the phenomenon, complete with (full disclosure) a couple of thoughts from me.

I haven’t posted much about the Russell Athletic story this last while, but I got an email yesterday from United Students Against Sweatshops that demonstrates that their work has really been moving forward.

When I posted last, in early May, USAS had won fifty-seven campus disaffiliations from Russell over the course of the spring semester in protest of the apparel company’s labor policies in Honduras, specifically its decision to close a newly-unionized factory  Jerzees de Honduras factory in the wake of its unionization.

Since then, nearly thirty more campuses have joined the Russell boycott, bringing the total to eighty-four. New recruits to the cause include merchandising bigwigs the University of Arizona, Brown, Louisville, the University of Florida, and North Carolina State. USAS is now calling this “the largest collegiate boycott of an apparel company in history.”

You can follow the story as it develops at USAS’s Boycott Russell Athletic blog, which I’ve added to our blogroll today.

United Students Against Sweatshops has extended its remarkable string of victories against clothing-maker Russell Athletic.

This week Boston College and the entire University of California system announced their intention to terminate contracts with RA, bringing to fifty-seven the number of colleges and universities that have disaffiliated so far this year.

The campaign against Russell Athletic stems from the company’s history of anti-labor activity in Honduras, specifically its closing of the Jerzees de Honduras factory in the wake of its unionization.

About This Blog

n7772graysmall is the work of Angus Johnston, a historian and advocate of American student organizing.

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