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UC Merced students renew calls for university to define Gaza conflict as ‘genocide’

Many students spoke to student senate and student president Miguel Craven (pictured left), including Jeneen Barakat, right, urging for the student government to pass a revised resolution.
Rachel Livinal
Many students spoke to student senate and student president Miguel Craven (pictured left), including Jeneen Barakat, right, urging for the student government to pass a revised resolution.

MERCED, Calif. – Cheers erupted in a crowded conference room Wednesday night as UC Merced’s student senate passed a second resolution calling for the university to divest from companies that support Israel.

The latest resolution comes as the Palestinian civilian death toll in the Gaza Strip continues to climb. The resolution also asks the university to acknowledge the conflict as a genocide. It’s the student government’s second resolution since the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas against Israel that sparked the war in the Gaza Strip.

“We wanted to make it clear that we were not condemning Israeli students or people who identified as Jewish or practice Judaism,” said Ravneel Chaudhary, the student senator who crafted the latest resolution.

Chaudhary said the second resolution has more student representation than the previous one, which was vetoed by UC Merced’s student president Miguel Craven early last month. Craven felt the first resolution was written with “one lens” that he said supported one group while “oppressing another.”

“We wanted to make sure that we were making that distinction in our resolution between the state of Israel and practicing Jewish people,” Chaudhary added.

About 1.9 million people have been displaced in the Gaza Strip and more than 17,000 have been killed after weeks of Israeli attacks, many of whom have been women and children, according to NBC.

The Israel Defense Forces estimated 1,200 people were killed in the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas. Around 140 hostages are still being held by Hamas, NBC reported.

Amid the war in Gaza, there has also been a rise in hate crimes in the U.S. impacting both Jews and Muslims. Much of the heated debate has been playing out on college campuses.

When writing the newly-drafted resolution, Chaudhary said he made sure to speak to Jewish students from UC Merced and from other campuses, like UC Berkeley, where tensions rose among students following the Oct. 7 attack.

Large audience turned out

During Wednesday’s meeting at UC Merced, students and other attendees had time to give statements to the senate and the public.

Students like Jeneen Barakat, a Palestinian woman who has been leading protest efforts for the resolution, grew teary eyed as she recited a poem from a man who experienced bombings in 2008 on the Gaza Strip.

“I have no more home. My home is gone. I can never go back there,” Barakat said, before reciting the poem.

Ilias Benomar, a senior at El Capitan High School in Merced, also attended the meeting, saying the university shouldn’t stay silent.

“As someone who's been here and watched the UC grow, I've noticed that their presence here really is kind of a defining factor for our town,” Benomar said. “It's the first thing that comes up when you google Merced; it's a big part of what we do.”

What happens next?

Craven, UC Merced’s student president, has until Wednesday, Dec. 13, to either pass or veto the latest student resolution.

If there is a veto, student senate members would have a chance to overturn the veto after a week of discussion, and the president would have to make a statement on his position during their first meeting back. The senate meets again in January.

If the resolution passes, Chaudhary says it will be the first resolution in the UC system to pass since the Oct. 7 attack on Israel.

The updated resolution also offers historical context on how long the Middle East conflicts have existed.

Chaudhary said he hopes the resolution provides a “space for Palestinian students.” He said he would also like to see the campus address Islamophobia just as much as anti-Semitism.

“There are action items that can be done at the Merced level, which hopefully we can start working on next semester,” he said.

Rachel Livinal covers higher education for KVPR in Fresno and the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative, a nonprofit newsroom based in Merced.

Rachel Livinal reports on higher education for KVPR through a partnership with the Central Valley Journalism Collaborative.