Statement on SUA Chair Shaz Umer’s “Investigation” of UCSC Divestment Bill

On May 28th at 2:30 a.m. the UCSC Student Union Assembly (SUA) voted 22-14 in favor of passing the University Socially Responsible Divestment Resolution. This resolution calls for divestment from Caterpillar, Hewlett-Packard, Lockheed Martin, General Electric, and Elbit Systems, who profit from the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and blockade of the Gaza Strip. While Shaz Umer, outgoing SUA Chair, has recently issued a statement claiming that the vote failed due to technicalities, we reject that conclusion and Umer’s undemocratic actions of the past three weeks. The divestment vote stands as a victory.  Umer is not acting in good faith, and we call his ability to be impartial into question due to his past relationship with virulently anti-divestment off campus lobby groups.

On the night of May 28th, the original resolution vote failed after a 21-12 vote, just short of the required 2/3rds majority for normal passage of a bill in UCSC SUA. However, shortly after this transpired, an SUA member moved to suspend the by-law requiring a 2/3rds majority, in favor of a simple majority. This was in accordance with Section B (1) of the SUA by-laws. Furthermore it has been routinely utilized in the past for other votes, although Umer incorrectly stated during the hearing it would be the “first time” these bylaws had been suspended. SUA voted to suspend the bylaw, and reconsidered the divestment resolution. It passed by simple majority, with a final count of 22-14. According to Robert’s Rules, a motion can be reconsidered once, making the action legal. The vote on the bill proceeded according exactly to SUA’s own regulations.

However, after opponents of the bill approached Umer contesting the legality of the bill’s passage, the bill was put on hold and the nature of its passage was reviewed for almost one month. Nowhere in SUA’s constitution or bylaws is the chair granted the power to suspend or veto a bill. On June 17th, Umer released his findings stating that the bill did not pass“for not meeting the required two-thirds [majority vote] because the SUA body suspended the wrong portion of the bylaws.”

However, upon review of a video recording of the vote, it is clear the SUA member who moved to suspend the by-law did not state a specific section of the SUA’s governing documents, as it is not required to do so. She simply moved to suspend the by-law requiring a 2/3rds majority to pass resolutions, and other SUA members, understanding this, voted affirmatively. If there was any mistake regarding which section the SUA voted to suspend, it was the fault of the chair for citing the wrong section. Regardless, Umer decided to claim the bill failed because of his own mistake, even though he has no power to do so.

( “Motion to suspend the constitution” begins at 2:47:30, Umer quotes the incorrect section at 2:49:50 when he says “So I have the section.”)

Umer has long standing relationships with off campus groups that work to defeat divestment from companies profiting from the Israeli occupation of Palestine.  In August 2013, Umer traveled to Israel with the Anti-Defamation League–for free–where he took part in a variety of activities portraying a one sided view of the Israeli occupation. The ADL has since been involved in this “investigation” of UCSC’s divestment bill. As far back as fall 2012, Umer sought out pro-Israel groups on campus that have strong external ties to the right wing organization Hasbara Fellowships and assured them that he will be “a willing resource and ally” in his role as a member of UCSC SUA. Outside forces should not be a factor in the UCSC Student Union Assembly or student government’s decisions, and yet it appears that the controversiality of the bill factored into its review and repeal.

Umer’s non-binding opinion that the resolution “fails” on a technicality, contravening the clear intent of the assembly, has no legal effect. Umer’s position as SUA chair does not allot him the power to overturn the will of the assembly. The assembly’s vote to approve the resolution by a majority stands because it was the clear intent of the assembly. In his official statement, Umer writes that “there may have been intent to suspend section IV (a),” (emphasis added) but the footage demonstrates that this was the clear intention of the SUA representative who made the motion and the clear intention of all the voting members. There was no confusion. His attempt to bypass the clear intent of the assembly is a disservice to student democracy. His bizarre explanation is an embarrassment to the Santa Cruz student government and threatens the integrity of our democratic system. Given Shaz Umer’s history with the Anti-Defamation League and SCIAC, we believe that his decision does not reflect that of the undergraduate organizations and individuals who supported the passing of this historic resolution. We call on him to retract his statement. The democratic procedures and the voices of those who voted to pass this bill cannot be marginalized by the mistake of a single person who not only harbors questionable intent, but simply does not have the jurisdiction to rewrite history.


Committee for Justice in Palestine

Sikh Student Association

Muslim Student Association

African Student Union


African/Black Student Alliance


UC Santa Cruz Divest Press Release


Historic UCSC Divestment from Companies Complicit in the Violation of Palestinian Human Rights Challenges UC Regents’ Anti-Divestment Policy

Santa Cruz, California—May 28, 2014—At approximately 2:45AM, the University of California, Santa Cruz Student Union Assembly (SUA) passed a resolution calling for divestment from companies that profit from Israeli human rights violations against Palestinians with a majority vote of 22-14. The resolution was authored by members of the Committee for Justice in Palestine, a UCSC registered student organization, and endorsed by the UCSC chapters of Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, Autonomous Students, and the Muslim Student Association. The resolution was also endorsed by several off-campus organizations such as Boycott from Within, the Santa Cruz Palestine Israel Action Committee, and the University of Cape Town Palestine Solidarity Forum.

While official discussion of the Divestment Bill was scheduled at 11PM, a SUA member motioned at approximately 8:15 to indefinitely table the bill. The motion failed. After addressing the Graduate Student Association’s appeals to condemn administrative intimidation efforts towards students in the April strike, as well as the Compassionate University Resolution and SUA budget, the Divestment testimonials were initiated at 11:30 PM.

Following the three hour debate, the first SUA vote on the resolution revealed widespread support for Divestment landing just shy of the necessary two-thirds majority. SUA representatives then voted to suspend the SUA bylaw dictating a two-thirds majority, instead requiring only a simple majority vote to pass the resolution. The resolution passed 22-14, a marked improvement over the previous 2013 UCSC Divestment Resolution, which failed 17-19.

As of Spring 2014, five of the nine UC undergraduate universities have divested from corporations profiting from, and perpetuating, human rights violations committed by the Israeli occupation of the Palestinian territories. This directly challenges the UC Board of Regents’ undemocratic policy of refusing to divest from corporations based on their involvement in Israeli human rights violations.

The Committee for Justice in Palestine recognizes that this success could not have been reached without the support of student organizations such as Movimiento Estudiantil Chicano de Aztlán, the Muslim Student Association, Autonomous Students, the Sikh Student Association, the African/Black Student Alliance, the Student Alliance of North American Indians, the Queer Student Union and members of the broader community.

CJP extends its deepest gratitude to all who made this stunning victory possible.

For press inquiries email

UC Santa Cruz Muslim and Palestine Solidarity Student Groups Urge UC Admin To Protect Their Rights

May 12, 2013

The Committee for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Student Association at UC Santa Cruz call on the UCSC Administration, the UC Regents, and UC President Mark Yudof to affirm and rigorously defend our right to free speech as well as address a pervasive pattern of Islamophobia and anti-Palestinian intimidation that continues to run unchecked throughout the UC system. Over the past few years Muslim and Palestinian rights groups, and our allies, have been subjected to repeated attempts to stigmatize and silence our activism, much of which has come from within our own institutions.

 This year a video came to light showing UCSC Hebrew lecturer Tammi Benjamin making extremely offensive and defamatory claims about UC Students for Justice in Palestine and Muslim Students Association groups. She described our members as “foreign students who come from countries and cultures where anti-Semitism is how they think about the world” and stated that “these are not your ordinary student groups like College Republicans or Young Democrats. These are students who come with a serious agenda, who have ties to terrorist organizations”.

These claims were not only false, but extremely harmful in a post-9/11 environment in which Muslims, Arabs, and anyone who could be perceived as such, have been subjected to harassment and violence, both from members of their own communities, and government agencies like the FBI and NYPD. In this context, even false claims that students are tied to terror can have serious and long-lasting effects on their lives, and run a very real risk of exposing them to hate crimes and unjust government surveillance.

 The natural response of UCSC CJP and MSA students to Tammi Benjamin’s remarks was to organize a campaign that attempted to humanize our groups in the eyes of our community and called on the UC and UCSC admin to respond by distancing themselves from her offensive comments. Students used their own still and video images to challenge the ugly stereotypes Benjamin promoted about them, and urge their school to act. But rather than stand with these students in their time of need, UCSC administrators and UC President Yudof chose to remain silent. This silence sent a very clear message: the University of California does not think that these types of attacks on Muslim and pro-Palestinian students are worth addressing, even when they come from a UC instructor. While the UC and UCSC administrators failed to act, the wider UC community sprang into action. Entirely of their own accord, student governments at UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, UC Davis, and UC Santa Barbara passed resolutions condemning Tammi Benjamin’s comments and bravely addressing Islamophobia in their own communities in a way their universities had previously failed to. Additionally over 1,800 people have signed CJP’s petition urging UC President Yudof to condemn Tammi Benjamin’s remarks.

 Given the UC’s institutional silence, it is no surprise that Tammi Benjamin, and her group the Amcha Initiative, felt emboldened to respond to this student mobilization with increasingly vitriolic and generalized attacks on campus organizations like Students for Justice in Palestine and the Muslim Student Association. Immediately after CJP and MSA launched our entirely nonviolent campaign, lecturer Benjamin sent a series of letters to UCSC administrators that targeted members of our groups and falsely claimed we were “terrorizing” her with our peaceful petition, videos, and posters.

 On May 8th the Amcha Initiative released an “action alert” linked to a letter to UC President Yudof, in which Benjamin repeated her defamatory claims and called on the UC to investigate and even consider disbanding every single SJP and MSA affiliated group in the UC system. These demands represent an open call to criminalize Muslim and Palestinian rights organizing in a fashion that can only be described as bigoted and draconian. This clear assault on the first amendment rights of Muslim students and those who support equality for Palestinians runs entirely counter to the values of openness and tolerance espoused by the University of California and must be whole-heartedly condemned. We call on the the UCSC Administration, the UC Regents, and UC President Mark Yudof to do the following:

  • Condemn Tammi Benjamin’s original remarks as well as her attempts to engage in the wholesale censorship of the Muslim and pro-Palestinian communities

  • Affirm, in writing, the rights of Muslim and pro-Palestinian students to equal access to the same UC funds and resources afforded to other student groups

  • Ensure that matters of hate speech and hate crimes are given equal response regardless of the personal background, or political beliefs, of those targeted

  • Take steps to ensure that MSA and SJP students feel welcome and included on campus

 UCSC administrators, the UC Regents, and UC President Yudof should note that there is absolutely no moral equivalence between the demands of Tammi Benjamin and the Amcha Initiative that students be censored and subjected to institutionalize discrimination, and the demands of these students that their university protect their rights. The University of California has taken an unfortunate position in the past of adopting the narrative of the Amcha Initiative over that of the student groups it targets. The UC now has an opportunity to side with those it serves and prove that Muslim students, and those who support Palestinian rights, hold an equal place in our institutions of higher learning. We hope you will make the right decision and anticipate your timely response.


The Committee for Justice in Palestine at UC Santa Cruz

The Muslim Students Association at UC Santa Cruz

“‘No Comment’ is not enough!” Student Anti-Hate Campaign


UCSC Lecturer Tammi Benjamin was caught on tape making extremely offensive claims that the Muslim Student Association and Students for Justice in Palestine participants are “foreign students” with “ties to terrorist organizations”. So far UCSC Admin and UC President Yudof have refused to comment on the situation. Students are upset at their school’s failure to speak up for them and are saying “‘No comment’ is not enough!”

Sign the petition:

Check out the poster campaign:

Submit your own videos to:

Tweet with the hashtag #UCNotEnough

Petition: University of California President Mark Yudof, Condemn UCSC Lecturer’s hateful attacks on Muslim/Arab student groups

Sign the Petition here!

A video has surfaced, showing UC Santa Cruz Hebrew lecturer Tammi Rossman Benjamin making extremely offensive comments about the Muslim Students Association and Students for Justice in Palestine groups at an off-campus event in June 2012. Benjamin describes their members as “foreign students who come from countries and cultures where anti-Semitism is how they think about the world.” She makes openly racist and defamatory claims that MSA and SJP are connected to terrorist organizations like Hamas, Hezbollah, and the Muslim Brotherhood. Benjamin also singles these student activists out from all others, saying, “These are not your ordinary student groups like College Republicans or Young Democrats. These are students who come with a serious agenda, who have ties to terrorist organizations”.

These comments reflect the worst stereotypes and slurs leveled at Arab and Muslim communities in the post-9/11 era. They have absolutely no place in a university environment and it is completely unacceptable for a University of California lecturer to be making them, especially about students. What is even worse is that these comments are part of a pattern, one that the University of California Office of the President has been complicit in promoting.

Tammi Benjamin leads an extreme pro-Israel group called the Amcha Initiative, which has launched a series of censorship attempts targeting UC and California State University academics and student groups, based on claims that academic critique of Israel is tantamount to anti-Semitism. In 2011 they filed a complaint against UCLA professor David Shorter for linking to a page related to the Palestinian Boycott Divestment and Sanctions movement on a class website, prompting an improper investigation that was eventually dismissed. In February 2012 the Amcha Initiativetried and failed to shut down Israeli historian Illan Pappe’s speaking tour at CSU campuses, falsely claiming that he was “anti-Semitic” and supportive of terror. Tammi Benjamin was also behind a federal complaint alleging that campus political and academic speech critical of Israel creates a hostile environment for Jewish students at UC Santa Cruz, resulting in an ongoing Department of Education investigation into the school. The ACLU recently condemned the federal investigation into UC Santa Cruz as “disturbing” and having “a chilling effect” on student organizing in a letter criticizing a similar investigation at UC Berkeley.

In March 2012, Tammi Benjamin and the Amcha Initiative sent a letter to UC President Mark Yudof with racist rhetoric tying student groups to terror, and misrepresenting an incident at UC Davis. The next day President Yudof responded with a system-wide email that adopted the Amcha Initiative’s false narrative, without any condemnation of their inflammatory language or baseless claims.

It is no wonder that Tammi Benjamin felt comfortable publicly claiming students were tied to terrorism last June, when the University has rewarded her organization for doing so in the past. These actions are damaging to Muslim and Arab students and their allies, and promote an environment where students are open targets for hate groups. The University of California and the Office of the President must take a clear stand against hate speech directed at marginalized communities, and distance itself from extremists like Tammi Benjamin and the Amcha Initiative that work to smear and silence student human rights campaigners.

We ask that University of California President Mark Yudof:

-Release a statement from the UC President’s Office condemning Tammi Benjamin’s hateful comments in the video and previous Amcha Initiative statements.

-End any UC cooperation and communication with extremist groups like the Amcha Initiative that target advocates for human rights.

-Formally retract any statements issued at the request of the Amcha Initiative, and take proactive steps to address the negative impact the UC’s past cooperation with the group has had on free speech and campus climate for Muslim and Arab students and groups like SJP and MSA.