Anti-Israel group Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) is seeking to overturn a 7-5 vote to defeat a divestment resolution by UCLA's student government because two of the voting members had taken sponsored trips to Israel. The two students, Lauren Rogers and Sunny Singh, neither of whom is Jewish, traveled to Israel in 2013, Rogers with the ADL and Singh with the American Jewish Committee (AJC).
A hearing was held by the student government judicial board Thursday evening where evidence was presented in the SJP complaints that the two students' trip to Israel were a conflict of interest and their votes last February against a resolution that had called upon UCLA to divest from Israeli companies that do business in the West Bank should be nullified.
The Jewish Journal of Los Angeles reported:
SJP’s main student legal representative, Dana Saifan, grilled Singh, asking him to recall the contents of a liability clause ADL asked him to sign before his trip and questioning why he didn’t submit into evidence his entire ADL trip application. Singh said that his application was filled out on an old laptop that he no longer had in his possession. The court further questioned Singh on a gala he attended and about who the attendees were at that event.
Laila Riazi, the other SJP member who argued in front of the court, said that the issue at hand was whether there was actual conflict of interest, or even merely a perceived one. “It is about limiting the perception of conflicts of interests,” she said, adding though, that “the council member may have felt obliged to pay them back.”
Chief Justice Matt Satyadi repeatedly challenged SJP’s legal representatives, Dana Saifan and Riazi, asking how a quid pro quo would work, given that Rogers and Singh had both voted by a secret ballot. “How they voted doesn’t matter,” Satyadi said.
He also questioned SJP’s suggestion that Singh’s free invitation to an ADL gala could cause a conflict of interest.
“Just because he gets a dinner doesn’t mean he has to vote for that person,” Satyadi said.
Katie Takakijan, Singh’s and Rogers’ main legal representation, warned the judicial board that SJP’s complaint could entirely change the dynamic of student trips abroad.
“What does that say to future students? Don’t apply for any educational programs abroad,” Takakijan said. “Don’t try to serve your student body by applying to be a member of USAC [student government]. Don’t do both together because you could have your entire reputation slandered and sit in a judicial board hearing and be crucified.”
The case has already had an effect on the UCLA student body and its continuing campaign against Israel:
Last week, 18 of 30 candidates for positions in UCLA’s student government signed a pledge to not take trips to Israel that are sponsored by the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC), the Anti-Defamation League (ADL) and Hasbara Fellowships.
UCLA’s newspaper, the Daily Bruin, added that an additional four candidates did not sign the letter but said that they would not attend such trips.
The May 9 elections for the student government’s 13 open positions (10 contested) saw the Bruins United Party take six seats. Each of the party’s candidates refused to sign the pledge.
Five student groups had a hand in drafting the pledge: Students for Justice in Palestine, Jewish Voice for Peace [named as one of the top ten anti-Israel organizations in America], the Muslim Student Association [which is associated with the Muslim Brotherhood], the Afrikan Student Union and the Armenian Students’ Association.
The five student judges are required to issue their decision about the SJP complaint within two weeks.