“Lewis Carroll couldn’t have done any better,” says Barbara Harvey of the National Lawyers Guild. “What seems to have precipitated this Alice in Wonderland version of democracy in action was the outreach from Students for Justice in Palestine to surrounding SJP chapters, urging them and other supporters to attend the hearing.”
Let’s walk through this.
The SJP chapter at the university started up in 2011 and has been working on a divestment resolution since then. The student government advisory measure would urge the university foundation “to divest from mutual funds that invest in companies ‘which are explicitly tied to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories,’” as the Toledo Blade reports.
This is a historic moment for us and our university. UT was nearly a decade late divesting from South African apartheid (we did not divest fully until 1989, while some other universities divested over ten years earlier), let’s not make the same mistake again. We are on the forefront of the struggle against injustice, and this is something all UT students should be proud of, especially us SJP activists who have worked so hard for this over the years.
And guess what? On Sunday night, student government president Notestine sent out an email announcing that tonight’s meeting on divestment would be closed to all but five representatives of the designated pro and con positions, and they could only speak for ten minutes per side. The two organizations invited are the SJP and the school’s Hillel chapter. A Hillel serves all Jewish students. So the Student Government is setting the debate up as a putatively religious question. Some of Notestine’s rules of order:
Here is how the meeting will be structured:
1. Your organization is permitted 5 representatives (Please have a list of the 5 emailed to me before Tuesday at 5:00 p.m.)
2. Coin flip will decide who has the floor first. The other organization will be asked to sit outside during the opposition’s report
2.1 We do this to prevent debate between our guests which is normally reserved for our voting senators
3. Your organization will be allowed to make official statements up to 10 minutes. (You may divide it up among speakers)
4. Everyone will be invited back into the room to watch the remainder of the session including senate debate and voting.
What’s more, Hillel will be allowed to include two officials of the Jewish Federation of Greater Toledo among its five representatives– though the JFT officials cannot speak to the resolution.
Derek Ide of the SJP steering committee says that the student government bowed to outside pressure in setting up the rules. “We are fully 100 percent opposed to this model of debate. We think it should be open to the public. From the beginning we have called for a fully democratic procedure,” he says.
The SJP is only going along with the charade, he says, because it is the “only avenue” offered to the organization to put forward its divestment resolution. He says that he has been told that the meeting will be live-streamed. So at least the campus can see what’s going on.
Update: As commenter Joel points out below, the Jewish Federations officials won’t be allowed to speak at the meeting. But they will be allowed to attend a meeting that almost all students are barred from.
The divestment resolution, by the way, targets five corporations that are complicit in violations of human rights and international law in the occupied territories. You’d think that anyone who’s for the two state solution would be all for this measure, as a way of ending the occupation. No.
Notestine says he came up with the rules on his own. “No one in the administration told anyone how to conduct the meeting,” he told me this morning. He told the Toledo Blade that he wants the meeting to be “conducted safely.”
The school surely worries that the debate over Israel and Palestine will be heated, engaged, loud, and divisive, as it has been at so many schools, from Berkeley to the University of Michigan. The Hillel on campus is afraid of such a democratic debate. From the Toledo Blade:
A statement released by Hillel characterized the proposed action as an attempt to “isolate and delegitimize Israel.”
“We are concerned about the potential implication this will have in creating hostility against the small Jewish community at UT,” the statement read in part. “We wish that the students who created this resolution had recognized and taken advantage of the opportunity for our community to exchange ideas and engage in civil dialogue about an issue that many of us care about. It is disappointing that they instead chose to engage in tactics that divide the campus community and prevent us from moving forward in a positive way.”
That’s an emotional blackmail, not so different from Lawrence Summers of Harvard saying that divestment resolutions cause Jewish members of an academic community to “feel that they are being attacked.” So anti-Zionism is equated with anti-Semitism, when many Jews have long opposed the program of Jewish nationalism on other people’s lands. How long must these mental chains limit American freedom of speech?