Avinoam Baral assumes the USAC Presidency at UCLA just days before a critical BDS vote.

TMR readers will recall the contentious battle for leadership of the UCLA Undergraduate Student Association Council (USAC) at the end of the past Academic year. The elections held  this past May served ostensibly as a proxy battle over a generations old conflict occurring thousands of miles  away. While pro-Israel students gathered behind Avinoam Baral and his Bruins United Party, anti-Israel groups like Students for Justice in Palestine and other BDS supporting allies offered their endorsement to Devin Murphy and his LETS ACT! slate. 

Tensions reached a fevered pitch on campus this past week, building up to a BDS divest from Israel resolution scheduled for a council vote this coming Tuesday. Campus watching pundits like those at Legal Insurrection predicted a BDS victory at UCLA this Tuesday.

This summer and fall, a series of resignations, defections, and a special election cost the party allied with the Jewish community its student government plurality. Next Tuesday, in a meeting closed to the press and alumni, BDS is likely to pass in the face of muted opposition.

But those above comments were posted before a remarkable turn of events shook the UCLA campus this weekend. In a surprise move that took both pro and anti-Israel groups by surprise, pro-BDS USAC President Devin Murphy tendered his resignation. In a letter posted on his Facebook account yesterday, Murphy explains his sudden decision (excerpts below):

Devin Murphy in happier times. He resigned from the UCLA presidency days before a pivotal BDS resolution.

Devin Murphy in happier times. He resigned from the UCLA presidency days before a pivotal BDS resolution.

“Unfortunately, it is with a heavy heart that I must resign as the Undergraduate Student Association President. – Firstly, this institution and all others like it around the country were not made for people like me. As an Afro-Cuban, Black Queer male, the toll that the stresses of this campus has had on my mental, physical, and emotional health is nothing any student should ever have to go through – but this is unfortunately something with which many students of color deal. My advocacy for the betterment of our policies and conversations dealing with mental health has been rooted in a deeply personal experience with my own inner-self.”

Adds Murphy,  “Divestment is inevitable. Justice and freedom has never been granted by appeasing the oppressor. As students, we have a moral responsibility to ensure that our tuition is not funding the oppression of Palestinians.”

Photo Credit: Truth Revolt

Photo Credit: Truth Revolt

The UCLA Daily Bruin reported that upon Murphy’s resignation, internal Vice President Avinoam Baral would immediately assume the position of USAC President. 

The constitution says that if a councilmember leaves office after the midpoint of the one-year term, the next ranking officer would assume the vacant position. This is the first time in recent history that a USAC president has resigned from office.”

While supporters of Israel on campus were encouraged by the turn of events, Baral’s ability to advocate against this Tuesday’s BDS resolution is severely limited by the constraints of his new position. The President’s role on the council is primarily one of facilitation rather than advocacy for one position or another. The President may vote only in the event of a tie. 

Baral has deep Seattle roots, he is a graduate of Northwest Yeshiva High School and his family are longtime members of Congregation Ezra Bessaroth. As Vice President, Baral worked ceaselessly this past year to refocus the USAC towards campus-based rather than international issues.