[The following press release was issued on 21 May 2014 by Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of California Los Angeles in response to a recent no conflict of interest verdic by the UCLA Student Judicial Board.]
Students for Justice in Palestine views today’s Judicial Board ruling in SJP v. Singh and Rogers as a major blow to the integrity of student government at UCLA. Sunny Singh and Lauren Rogers’ actions clearly constituted a conflict of interest, and this was a missed opportunity for the Judicial Board to set a precedent. SJP is concerned that this verdict will signal a green light to additional off-campus groups to lobby student leaders and council members through free trips and other in-kind gifts as a means of buying loyalty and influencing council votes. SJP will await the full opinion of the Judicial Board, the justification of the majority opinion, and the position of minority opinion (if any) before outlining its next steps in the struggle to keep USAC free of off-campus lobbying interests.
The evidence presented by SJP would concern any reasonable observer, and stands as a counter to any claims by the Respondents that the case was merely a political attack. Both Singh and Rogers admitted on record to receiving in-kind gifts in the form of international travel, accommodation, meals, and networking opportunities worth thousands of dollars from the Anti-Defamation League and American Jewish Committee, respectively. These organizations have a public anti-divestment position, and are on record as encouraging students across campus to oppose divestment and other resolutions critical of the investment of university assets in the systematic violation of Palestinian human rights. The two organizations maintained ongoing contact with each of the respective Respondents since their trips, and continued to provide them with various benefits and networking opportunities throughout the academic year. Even more troubling is the fact that the ADL explicitly stated that it expected participants to apply what they learned from them through their position as student leaders, while the AJC contacted Rogers and explicitly asked her to vote against the divestment resolution. Any reasonable observer of these facts would believe that it is very possible that Singh and Rogers’ votes on divestment were influenced by these gifts and the political positions of those that provided them. Once given permission by the Judicial Board, SJP will release all relevant documentation provided to substantiate these claims.
The real losers in this verdict are the UCLA students and the integrity of their student government. Through its verdict, the Judicial Board has validated behavior which many students believe was unethical, a violation of the duty of student government representatives, and would be deemed unacceptable had it replicated at the level of local, state, or federal government. The verdict also opens the door for outside groups to use free trips and other in-kind gifts to influence the undergraduate student government. If the trips provided by off campus pro-Israel organizations are permissible, there is a strong possibility that organizations with other political and commercial interests—in such industries as those of fossil fuel or private prisons—will engage in the same behavior to achieve their desired outcomes. Thus, it is our position that if the conflict of interest language is not strong enough to prohibit even this clearly inappropriate behavior, then the bylaws are in need of revision. We look forward to the Judicial Board recognizing this shortcoming at the very least, when it issues its full opinion.