Man wears helmet and holds Israeli flag with destruction behind him
Gabriel Gaysinsky, who was the lone “no” vote on the BDS measure, visited Israel over winter break with two dozen students as part of the nonprofit Maccabee Task Force. The trip included a visit to one of the kibbutzim devastated by Hamas on Oct. 7. (Photo/Courtesy)

UC Davis student government approves BDS measure amid anti-Israel wave

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The UC Davis student government has approved a boycott of Israel and 34 companies with links to it, amid a surge in acts of protest on college campuses since the start of the Israel-Hamas war.

The Davis undergraduate student senate, known as the Associated Students (ASUCD), voted nearly unanimously on Feb. 16 to approve the measure during a bruising, contentious student government meeting. The resolution calls for the body to withhold funds from its roughly $20 million annual budget from “Israel and corporations complicit in the ongoing genocide in Gaza.”

Since the Oct. 7 Hamas terrorist attack in southern Israel, student governments or graduate teaching unions at seven American universities have passed measures in support of the boycott, divestment and sanctions movement, according to a database kept by the Amcha Initiative, a group that monitors campus antisemitism and anti-Israel activity.

Videos captured in the aftermath of the Davis vote showed pro-Palestinian demonstrators jumping and screaming jubilantly.

“Liberation within our lifetime,” the anti-Zionist campus group Students for Justice in Palestine at UC Davis wrote on Instagram. “We love you all so much. The Palestinian liberation movement at UC Davis has made history.” 

The ASUCD runs two campus coffee shops, a community garden, the campus thrift store and other programs, employing a number of students. Its mission is to “improve the quality of campus life by providing resources and services to cultivate a culture of involvement and student leadership,” according to its website.

“No ASUCD funds shall be committed to the purchase of products or services of any corporation identified by the BDS List as being complicit in the violation of the human rights guaranteed to Palestinian civilians under international law,” the measure stated, listing 34 companies, including Hewlett-Packard, McDonald’s, Airbnb and Starbucks.

The measure passed 12-1, with one abstention. 

The lone “no” vote came from Gabriel Gaysinsky, an American Israeli student who criticized the measure in an interview with J. and said that the campus climate for Jewish students since Oct. 7 has become extremely challenging.

“The actual immediate concrete effects won’t be overtly detrimental,” he said of the BDS vote. “They’re going to pull Starbucks products and Sabra Hummus from the market that the student government operates. The long-term effects and the normative effects it will have on campus in respect to the Jewish community will be much greater.”

Gaysinsky said he and other Jewish students have experienced harassment in recent months. He said he had been “gagged at” while wearing a kippah as he walked through campus on a Jewish holiday. One of his friends was pushed while wearing a “tiny pin of an Israeli flag” on her backpack, and another “had her shirt torn” for confronting someone destroying a poster of Israeli hostages.

About 400 to 500 people came to the student government meeting in support of the measure and “maybe 30” opposed it, Gaysinsky said. Those who spoke in opposition “were all laughed at, booed and jeered at every time they came up to speak,” he said.

The resolution is one of a handful of BDS measures passed at California universities in recent months, beginning with Stanford, whose graduate student workers union passed an Israel divestment resolution on Nov. 2. Students at Pitzer College in Southern California approved a resolution in favor of suspending its study abroad program with the University of Haifa on Feb. 1. Also this month, both the graduate and undergraduate student governing bodies at UCLA approved BDS measures

Nor was it the first BDS resolution approved at UC Davis, a California land-grant university known for its agricultural programs and its renowned veterinary school. The student senate passed a BDS measure in June 2021 in the aftermath of the Israel-Hamas crisis that year, while a similar resolution failed in 2020. Another failed in 2015, according to Amcha.

The new measure’s passage represented a major win for pro-Palestinian activists at Davis, even though the student government’s $20 million budget is small relative to the University of California system as a whole. UC has a $169 billion portfolio and one of the largest endowments of any American university system.

The UC system remains invested in companies targeted by BDS. Last year its Office of the Chief Investment Officer announced a $10.5 billion investment in the S&P 500, a stock index of some of the largest American companies that includes high-priority BDS targets like Intel, Caterpillar and McDonald’s, which the BDS movement names in part because an Israeli franchisee gave free meals to Israeli soldiers.

The American Jewish Committee criticized the resolution in a barbed statement sent to UC Davis Chancellor Gary May, noting that the eight-page document does not mention the Hamas attack on Oct. 7 in which terrorists targeted civilians in the deadliest one-day massacre of Jews since the Holocaust and that it accuses Israel of genocide, a claim rejected by Israel and the U.S. government, which say Israel is waging a defensive war against Hamas.

“It is not self-evident that purveyors of hummus or hamburgers are complicit in genocide,” states the Feb. 22 letter, signed by AJC chief legal officer Marc D. Stern and director of academic affairs Sara Coodin. “It is apparent that facts are of no relevance to those responsible for this resolution, a matter worthy of separate concern that an elite institution is educating students who care nothing about facts.”

AJC also asserts the resolution may violate a number of federal and state laws. 

A spokesperson for UC Davis declined to comment, directing J. to the student government. The ASUCD did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Gabe Stutman
Gabe Stutman

Gabe Stutman is the news editor of J. Follow him on Twitter @jnewsgabe.