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U. Mich student government move to table divestment resolution sparks uproar

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A sign at a student sit-in calling for the University of Michigan to divest from corporations that work with the Israeli military. (Photo: Students Allied for Freedom and Equality/Facebook)

A sign at a student sit-in calling for the University of Michigan to divest from corporations that work with the Israeli military. (Photo: Students Allied for Freedom and Equality/Facebook)

The campus battle over Israel and the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement made a splash in Ann Arbor Tuesday night, as hundreds of students came out to call for the University of Michigan to divest from corporations profiting off the Israeli occupation.  But no vote was held, with the student government voting to indefinitely table the divestment resolution.

In response, over 100 students declared an indefinite sit-in at the student government’s building, calling for a vote on the bill.  Student activists are chronicling the protest action on Twitter with the hashtag #UMDivestSitIn.

 

The divestment resolution, backed by the group Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE), calls on their school to divest from companies like Caterpillar, which makes bulldozers used to demolish Palestinian homes, and United Technologies, which produces Blackhawk helicopters for the Israeli army. As the Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah, who witnessed the vote, reported, the discussion on the divestment resolution featured a student named Nicole Khamis. She “recounted movingly the story of her cousin who died because Israel delayed granting a permit that would have allowed her to seek medical care on the other side of a checkpoint,” Abunimah wrote.

Despite the wide swath of support the resolution garnered–37 student groups endorsed the call–the Central Student Government decided to indefinitely postpone voting on the resolution. The vote to table the divestment bill was 21-15.

That move sparked an uproar, with hundreds of students holding a rally outside, chanting, “divest!” Abunimah captured the scene on video:

“Time and time again I have been silenced,” said SAFE member Suha Najjar, according to the Michigan Daily‘s Giacamo Bologna. “We are supposed to be given a platform in this room and doors are being shut in our face.”

John Lin, the chair of the resolutions committee for the student government, told me that he had told student activists he would allow the bill to be placed on the agenda, though he emphasized he did not promise a vote would be held.  It was Lin who made the motion to table the resolution. That move “broke the trust between students on this campus and the assembly,” Yazan Kherallah, the lead divestment organizer for SAFE, said in an interview.

While supporters of divestment were angry at the action by the student government, the rally invigorated them.  “It was really a beautiful moment,” Andrew Dalack, a law student and member of SAFE, told me.  “A lot of students spoke up and talked about personal stories of struggle, both at the University of Michigan and elsewhere, and how close they felt to the Palestinians as a result.”

Opponents of the resolution said that tensions would soar on campus if it passed.  “I want multiple and diverse narratives to come together in peaceful and safe spaces on campus,” said Hillel chair Michele Freed, according to the Michigan Daily. “Where all voices have a space and are respected. This polarizing resolution is bringing about just the opposite.”

In an interview, SAFE’s Yazan Kherallah said that the opposition’s arguments were about derailing the conversation.  “When we were talking about our university’s investments, and how we should be investing responsibly, they tried to make this into an issue that shouldn’t be debated at the Central Student Government,” he said. They claimed  “we were trying to figure out a solution to Israel/Palestine, which wasn’t the resolution at all. It was about how the university invests our money.”

Since the beginning of the school year, SAFE has worked to garner support for divestment from campus groups and raise their profile through actions like handing out mock eviction notices. Now, with student government elections next week, they plan to push to elect representatives more sympathetic to their cause.

The student sit-in at the Central Student Government building continues, though they had to leave last night under threat of arrest. The students have vowed to return to continue their protest until their demands are met.

#UMDivestSitIn Day 1 (Photo: Facebook/Students Allied for Freedom and Equality)

#UMDivestSitIn Day 1 (Photo: Students Allied for Freedom and Equality/Facebook)

Alex Kane
About Alex Kane

Alex Kane is a freelance journalist who focuses on Israel/Palestine and civil liberties. Follow him on Twitter @alexbkane.

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15 Responses

  1. hophmi
    hophmi
    March 20, 2014, 11:03 am

    “we were trying to figure out a solution to Israel/Palestine, which wasn’t the resolution at all. It was about how the university invests our money”

    That’s tendentious. Is the BDS movement going to deny that these dramas are about the conflict? If this is about how the University invests money, then why only one divestment campaign? Why this issue?

    The students are wearing Palestinian nationalist paraphernalia, not accountants’ visors. It’s not about the money. It’s about the politics.

    • Ellen
      Ellen
      March 20, 2014, 2:14 pm

      It is always about the money in the end. Strangle flow of funds that support the occupation and that will strangle the occupation. Flow of funds does not recognize what people wear.

      No occupation of a people ever sustained itself. All end very badly for the occupiers if they did not put to and end to it while they can.

    • Ecru
      Ecru
      March 21, 2014, 6:27 am

      @ Hoppy

      Taking a break from blood-libelling Europeans I see. Well it’s nice you have other bigotries to fall back on I suppose.

      why only one divestment campaign? Why this issue?

      Why NOT this one?

      And to paraphrase you, from another thread…

      Put off indefinitely without a debate. What is the Student Government afraid of?

      • hophmi
        hophmi
        March 21, 2014, 11:41 am

        The Student Government isn’t controlling any debate. They’re simply declining to wade in on the issue. That’s different from rushing through a vote specifically so that no one else can speak on it.

      • Ecru
        Ecru
        March 22, 2014, 1:14 am

        @ Hoppy

        So to you refusing to have the debate is different to refusing to have the debate…..Interesting take on things there oh blood-libeller in chief.

  2. Krauss
    Krauss
    March 20, 2014, 11:59 am

    So this is the new tactic of the Israel lobby.

    At Northeastern they are outright banning anyone who dares to protest Apartheid and support divestment. At Michigan they are instead doing the old political classic of “indefinitely tabling”(i.e. removing it).

    Did Mr. Lin come to this conclusion on his own? I doubt it. There was likely massive donor pressure. All universities in America are very craven to money, and the fact is, money isn’t in Palestinian causes. But it is massively in Zionist causes.

    In the recent Israel lobby conference that went ahead at the National Press Club in D.C. a few weeks ago, I was stunned to hear that an academic who studies political money for a living told the audience that Zionist donors outnumber Arab(not even Palestinian) donors by a factor of 120 to 1.

    She used the 2012 general election as a test case. I’m not even talking about people who are Zionists and have it as their 2nd or 3rd agenda item. I’m talking about political lobby organizations whose sole mission it is to fund campaigns on behalf of Israel. Nothing else.

    In Michigan, it’s likely a case of donors who don’t have Israel as their #1 agenda item, but in a situation like this become “activated”. Much like a guy like Leslie Crown or Katzenberg of Dreamworks(and AIPAC). They are first and foremost liberals(but only in the US) but as soon as Israel comes up, they become these raging right-wing racists.

    Also, on a adjacent note, it is sad to see how racial stereotypes get confirmed. Mr. Lin, an Asian, hews to the establishment. And it shouldn’t need to be like this. The Asian-American Studies Association was the first major academic body to support a boycott. But that’s because those Asians are keenly aware of the “model minority” stereotype and as such can work around it. Not so Mr. Lin, but he still has room to improve and cast off his slavishness to the Zionist establishment and allow the BDS supporters a vote.

    After all, if they didn’t think the BDS supporters could have won, why would they have tried to kill the motion? If they were confident it would have lost, they’d allowed the vote and then publicize it, to say “see, BDS is dead!”. But they couldn’t do that, so they tried to kill it.

    Another day, another attempt by hard-right Zionist donors and their organizations to destroy free speech and democracy. And sadly, another day of spineless university establishments that bend over backwards in return for money.

    • March 20, 2014, 1:31 pm

      i urge everyone to check out putins speech tp parliament on crimea

    • ritzl
      ritzl
      March 20, 2014, 3:52 pm

      The other day Tzombo observed that, “Being pro-Israel is not political. Being pro-Palsetinian is.” This is a perfect example:

      Opponents of the resolution said that tensions would soar on campus if it passed. “I want multiple and diverse narratives to come together in peaceful and safe spaces on campus,” said Hillel chair Michele Freed, according to the Michigan Daily. “Where all voices have a space and are respected. This polarizing resolution is bringing about just the opposite.”

      Is Freed actually saying that all the actions that this motion is trying address are NOT themselves “polarizing?” Why yes she is.

      I never can tell whether this complete obliviousness to one’s environment is strategic or ignorant. Either is weird. Both are counterable, with time.

      (Sorry Krauss. I meant to put this in the main thread.)

  3. Blaine Coleman
    Blaine Coleman
    March 20, 2014, 12:10 pm

    Wonderful.

    You should have seen 300 students chanting “Divest-Divest-Divest” in the Central Student Government meeting, March 18th, soon after a representative claimed that “none of my constituents” were interested in the divestment resolution.

    Now the entire student government gets a chance to re-assess their definition of the phrase, “none of my constituents”.

    • March 20, 2014, 1:33 pm

      it’s feeling more and more everyday like the anti-vietnam war 60’s!
      let it happen fullforce

  4. MHughes976
    MHughes976
    March 20, 2014, 1:33 pm

    These Student Governments do seem to a foreign eye to be extraordinarily ponderous and pompous things.

  5. Ellen
    Ellen
    March 20, 2014, 2:24 pm

    Opponents of the resolution said that tensions would soar on campus if it passed.

    Since when is that a reason to repress debate and dialogue, let alone indefinitely tabling a motion instead of debating it and allowing a vote.

    The student government has surely adopted a parliamentary code or rules, such as Roberts Rules. Suggest the students examine if this was even properly tabled according to their own rules.

    • hophmi
      hophmi
      March 21, 2014, 11:42 am

      “Since when is that a reason to repress debate and dialogue, let alone indefinitely tabling a motion instead of debating it and allowing a vote.”

      Um, all the time, particularly when the issue has nothing to do with student governance on campus. The pro-Palestinian community is not the first to ask the student government to take a political position on some hot button issue for their own vanity.

  6. Mike_Konrad
    Mike_Konrad
    March 20, 2014, 6:15 pm

    I wish both sides would stop mincing words.

    Opponents of the resolution said that tensions would soar on campus if it passed. “I want multiple and diverse narratives to come together in peaceful and safe spaces on campus,” said Hillel chair Michele Freed, according to the Michigan Daily. “Where all voices have a space and are respected. This polarizing resolution is bringing about just the opposite.”

    He does not want the other side to have a space – He wants the other side shut down.

    But to be fair, the Palestinian side does not want a two state solution, but the eradication of Israel as a homeland for the Jews.

    Israel is losing the battle on campus because it is fighting poorly.

    Calls for BDS should be countered with calls to divest from the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia, Egypt (whose constitution is based on Sharia), and any Sharia based country.

    Zionists put their money where they mouth is. I can’t blame them.

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