In the nationwide battle over Israel-Palestine, there is likely to be a major encounter tonight at the University of Michigan. The school’s student government assembly will be meeting a week after it tabled a divestment resolution, and many expect that the resolution will come up again. “It is not on the agenda, but it could be voted to be heard,” a student at the assembly told me.
Opponents of the legislation are said to be bringing in busloads of Hillel students from other campuses. And Palestinian solidarity forces will be out in great number, too. “Staff at the University of Michigan expect upwards of 500 people in attendance,” reports Brandon Baxter of the pro-divestment coalition. (See updates at #UMDivest.)
The meeting is sure to be jammed, and tense– 7:30 PM, the Rogel Ballroom of the Michigan Union.
Meantime, the sit-in at the student government offices continues, by scores of students protesting the vote last week to table a resolution that called on the university to divest from corporations profiting from the Israeli occupation.
A friend reports that there is sympathy on campus for the pro-divestment forces–Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE)– because of the manner in which the resolution was taken off the agenda last week. Here’s a fairly comprehensive story in The Michigan Daily that cites the regrets over procedure from the student government president:
SAFE’s efforts over the past three days culminated with a statement Sunday from Business senior Michael Proppe, CSG [Central Student Government] president, who laid out his response to each of the five “calls for accountability” from the sit-in, including an apology from Proppe personally… [and] reiterating his plan from last week to motion for Assembly Resolution 3-050 to be reconsidered…
SAFE members also said their group members, as well as other students perceived to be Arab, have been threatened and intimidated by various individuals on campus….
[Others have also reported feeling intimidated.]
“The climate issues have impacted a wide range of groups of our students this week,” [Dean of Students Laura] Blake Jones said. “Many people have been harmed and have felt fearful, and we have to address the climate issues and care about the concerns of all of our students.”…
She spoke privately with student leaders of Hillel about personal concerns before answering questions from all students who attended the forum.
Student commenter Mozhgan Savabieasfahani adds:
The resolution that was brought to Michigan Central student government (CSG) last Tuesday night was “indefinitely postponed”. That means the voices of 300 students who were present at the meeting, and 36 student organizations that had supported this resolution, were muzzled. That was/is undemocratic and should not have happened. Unpleasant and outright threatening messages are begin sent to may Arab students involved in BDS movement locally and nationally –not just to Michigan CSG.
Our friend relates that, “The unshaken outrage of SAFE activists seems to have turned the dynamic around. They’d been dissed, they knew they’d been dissed, and they refused to let it go. The Administration paid attention, as indeed it needed to. SAFE students got an apology, in the end, by the CSG president. It wasn’t perfect; it was directed to both sides, equally, as though the slight were equal. But it put SAFE into the position of who was right, an important psychological victory.”
Now here is a statement from Jewish Voice for Peace in support of the divestment resolution.
March 24, 2014
To the Assembly of the University of Michigan Central Student Government:
We write to endorse the divestment resolution proposed by S.A.F.E. and supported at last week’s meeting by 300 students and 37 student organizations, including groups representing a broad spectrum of students of color, human rights, and social interests.
The resolution calls on the University to divest from five named U.S. corporations and all others that directly “profit from and facilitate the Israeli occupation and siege of Palestinian land in violation of international law and human rights.” It is explicitly offered “in the spirit of UM’s deeply held principles of social justice and equality for all people.”
In calling for divestment from companies that profit from and enable the commission of egregious human rights violations, this resolution follows the model of nonviolent economic
resistance against the Jim Crow laws of the American South and South African apartheid. The resolution honors the Palestinians’ own call for global nonviolent economic resistance.
The Israeli occupation destroys Palestinian homes; depletes aquifers essential to family farming in a fragile ecosystem; seizes sleeping children from their beds in the middle of the night for throwing stones at armor-plated bulldozers that rip their centuries-old olive trees from their family orchards before their eyes; and has forced women in labor to give birth on the ground at checkpoints, even in winter, causing the deaths of women and infants, in arbitrary exercises of total power and control over a captive population. Victims of South African apartheid, including former Archbishop Desmond Tutu, after seeing it with their own eyes, have called the Israeli occupation “apartheid.”
Growing numbers of Jews reject such brutality and say instead: “Not in our names!” We believe that the only path to peace and security for Israeli Jews and Palestinians alike follows justice, fairness, and equality. Israel, as all other nations, must adhere to universally accepted standards of human behavior and international law, and we join with others in applying nonviolent economic pressure to persuade it to do so. It is not anti-Semitic for Palestinians to demand equal rights, just as it was not anti-white for African-Americans and South Africans to demand equal rights, and just as it is not bigotry against Chinese people to demand a change in official policy and practices toward Tibetans. The resolution that should be before the Assembly seeks equality and fairness and is neither racist nor discriminatory; it is a demand for an end to oppression. The target is not the “Jewish people,” but official misconduct by the State of Israel.
In all struggles for equality, those holding advantaged positions will be reluctant to relinquish the personal benefits of inequality, oppression, exploitation, and slavery. When black South Africa turned to nonviolent boycott and divestment campaigns to seek equality, and when civil rights activists in the United States tried nonviolently to enforce the civil rights of black Americans in the 1960s and ‘70s, it was not their nonviolent pressures that caused turmoil. They were responding to oppression in ways now universally recognized as appropriate. The turmoil was caused by the underlying injustices and the repressive reactions to peaceful efforts to end them. Fears of heated debate on campus in response to peaceful efforts to vindicate human rights provide no justification for suppressing or abandoning the struggle for justice.
The divestment resolution is strongly protected free speech. The rights to petition for and engage in boycotts and divestment in the name of human rights and the rule of law are afforded the highest degree of legal protection under the First Amendment of the Constitution, and such advocacy and related action do not lose their protected character simply because they may embarrass or vex others.1
Please stand proudly in solidarity with the courageous proponents of this resolution, and make us proud of the student government of this great University. It is the right and just
Gabi Kirk, Campus Liaison
Jewish Voice for Peace National
Jewish Voice for Peace – Detroit
1 NAACP v. Claiborne Hardware Co., 458 U.S. 886, 910 (1982). In this case by white Mississippi merchants for relief from a civil rights boycott against their businesses as part of the struggle to end segregation in the South, the Supreme Court held that boycotts “to bring about political, social and economic change” are protected under the speech, assembly, association and petition clauses of the First Amendment.”