Monday, February 2, 2015

Response to Katehi's anti-divestment e-mail

As the time of publication this statement has not been endorsed by any organization or caucus, the views expressed represent only the views of the author. (Though hopefully the Davis UAW will be signing on to this statement soon.)

On the morning of Friday January 30, Chancellor Katehi sent out an e-mail to the entire UCD community in regards to the previous night’s successful passing of a bill through the ASUCD senate that calls for the UC to divest its funds from companies that profit from human rights abuses in Occupied Palestine. We would like to deeply examine just what is being said in this letter and its implications.

It starts:
“Last evening the ASUCD Senate passed a resolution urging the UC Board of Regents to divest from four corporations that, according to the resolution, “aid in the Israeli occupation of Palestine.”
This, however, does not reflect the position of UC Davis or the University of California system. “

What exactly is meant by “This, however, does not reflect the position of UC Davis or the University of California system”?

At first glance one might think that the Chancellor is saying that divesting from companies profiting from human rights abuses in Occupied Palestine is not UC policy. But it OBVIOUSLY isn't UC policy, otherwise there would be no need for this bill. If it was already UC policy to invest in socially responsible ways, then all of the time and effort that countless people put into making this bill pass over the last 3 years would have been a huge waste. So what does this sentence really mean?

The only other possible meaning is that the Chancellor has performed a sleight of hand here, by seemingly quoting the text of the bill she is actually challenging the entire claim - that there is an occupation of Palestine by the state of Israel and that US and international companies are profiting from this occupation and the human rights abuses that arise from this occupation. She is making a counter-claim about the truth, she is saying that these companies do not “aid in the Israeli occupation of Palestine”, because the Chancellor doesn’t believe that there is an occupation of Palestine at all. It is a very softly worded way of saying the same thing as “The bill calls for divestment from four companies that according to the resolution “aided in the faking of the moon landing in 1968””, or some other foolishness. Its sole purpose is to marginalize the resolution, to marginalize the community that rallied behind getting this passed, to marginalize the ASUCD senators that passed it, and especially to continue marginalizing/invisibilizing Palestine/Palestinians.

Then the message turns threatening:

“The investment policy for the University of California system, including UC Davis, is set by the UC Board of Regents. The Board and Office of the President issued a statement regarding student resolutions that urge the Board to divest from companies doing business with Israel. The statement reiterates the Board’s position that this type of call to action will not be entertained.”

This is a huge condescending pat on the head as the Chancellor says, “How cute that you students think you have any power in this university!” If it weren't for the long history of the UCs repression of student free speech and activism and UCPD police brutality, this message might just seem like arrogant hubris, but with this history this message seems very threatening. It is ASSURING us that this policy will not ever change, no matter what we do. The silent reminder behind this is that the investment in human rights abusing companies is fully backed by the might and repression of UCPD.Pepper spray, felony charges, batons to the ribs, and even fully loaded guns pointed at peaceful student protesters and more are what await students who dare to make these words on this paper (the resolution) come alive in the streets and on campus.

So what does the Chancellor say after denying that Palestine is being occupied and then subtly reminding us of the police terror that awaits pro-Palestine and pro-Human Rights activists? She immediately covers the violence behind her words by reminding us of the need to stay calm and civil!

We recognize that this is a sensitive topic for many on our campus, one that is very personal and emotional.  It is for this reason that we must exercise sensitivity, restraint and respect in relation to the issue. Prior to the debate last night, those in attendance were reminded of our Principles of Community.  We affirmed the right to freedom of expression, but also affirmed our commitment to the highest standards of civility and decency toward all.

The daily violence of oppression, colonialism, and exploitation are normalized and made invisible under our current global socio-economic system. But when the oppressed rise up and demand change they are labeled violent, because even the slightest disruption of the system challenges the entire system and reminds the people of their power.

We see this parallel in the #BlackLivesMatter movement. The daily violence of the New Jim Crow, police terror in Black communities, including the every other day murder of Black people, the prison industrial complex, the school to prison pipeline, and more, is never called violent. But the highway shutdowns, the looting of stores, and even the disrupting of brunch, are all labeled violent.

It should be no surprise then that onJan 16 Chancellor Katehi sent out a message about Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. day, even going so far as to quote and appropriate King for herself. Of course the quote she chose was not, “I knew that I could never again raise my voice against the violence of the oppressed in the ghettos without having first spoken clearly to the greatest purveyor of violence in the world today -- my own government.”

Nor did she pick the quote, “I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro's great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen's Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to "order" than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice;”

Of course she didn't pick those quotes. They would have been all too appropriate in challenging both the racial oppression happening here in the US, and the occupation of Palestine. The US government props up the state of Israel’s occupation by providing more foreign aid to Israel than any other state, most of it military aid to continue the occupation. Katehi is the White moderate King is disappointed with because of her commitment to “order’ and the quiet continuation of oppression and occupation instead of the presence of justice.

The whole point of this paragraph was to call for a lack of tension - as if people talking about occupation is the tension, instead of seeing the occupation as the tension itself. The entire point of the Principles of Community is that it ignores all real world power dynamics and imagines that academia is a magical land where people do not come from anywhere, do not have family, and will never leave and go back to the real world. People's experiences, the experiences of their family, of their people, are all to be discussed abstractly, without giving in to the “personal and emotional”. Palestinian students taking classes last summer are somehow expected to not acknowledge, not feel, not mourn, for the Palestinians being bombed in Gaza.

Her message then ends:
A renowned international university, UC Davis manages academic and research programs across the globe and is home to a community of faculty, researchers and students from everywhere in the world.  We believe that our shared goals of teaching, learning and serving the needs of society, in a climate of justice marked by respect for each other, will help us build a strong community of learning and fulfill our mission of educating the leaders of tomorrow and producing and disseminating knowledge.

Which research, and whose needs?

Clearly Katehi is doubling down on the neo-liberal university’s partnership with “world renowned” researchers like Monsanto, the UC research program to build better drones, or Technion, Israel’s Institute of Technology that has extensive ties to Israel’s military and defense research and development (R&D). Katehi’s vision of the UC is thus one that aids and abets the corporate and imperialist global order, serving the needs of oppression, occupation, and exploitation. Can we expect any more from a university run by Janet Napolitano, a woman who as head of DHS oversaw record deportations, and the indefinite detention of immigrants (predominantly People of Color) in private for-profit detention centers.

This is the university she wants, this is the tomorrow she wants.

As an active member and former officer in the Davis Unit of UC Student Worker Union UAW 2865, which was the first major US union to officially join the BDS movement, and the reform caucus Academic Workers for a Democratic Union (AWDU), whose members are overwhelmingly supportive of BDS, I support the divestment resolution, and I stand with the people of Palestine. As a member of AWDU and UAW 2865, I/we have a different vision of the university. And we are fighting for a better future.

Another world is possible. Let’s make it happen.

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