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.

(http://m.ustream.tv/recorded/48111815?rmalang=en_US “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.

Signers:

Committee for Justice in Palestine

Sikh Student Association

Muslim Student Association

African Student Union

MEChA de UCSC

African/Black Student Alliance

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