After nearly a dozen attempts over more than a decade, the Central Student Government at UM voted for a resolution to divest the university’s holdings in companies that do business with Israel.
The secret ballot vote was 23 to 17, with five abstentions, and came after hours of debate in the wee hours of the morning Wednesday.
It was the 12th time since 2002 that a divestment resolution was brought before the CSG. It was presented last year and this year by SAFE (Students Allied for Freedom and Equality), which describes itself as an advocacy organization for Palestinians’ “right to self-determination and freedom from the human rights abuses that they currently endure under Israeli occupation in the West Bank and Gaza” and for Palestinians living in the state of Israel who “treated as second and third class citizens by nature of their Arabness and non-Jewish status.”
The resolution directs the CSG to take the resolution to the University of Michigan administration and board. It specifically asked the university to disinvest in three companies – Boeing, Hewlett-Packard and United Technologies – that produce weapons and information systems that Israel uses to prop up its alleged “apartheid system” against Palestinians.
For all the effort it took to pass the resolution, it appears to be DOA, however.
UM Regent Andrea Fischer Newman said on Wednesday morning that the board will not take up the resolution.
“The students have the right to express themselves, and obviously a right to free speech,” she said. “We’re not going to disinvest in Israel. Our investment strategies are based on what’s best for the endowment, what’s best for the university. We’re not in agreement with using politics to make decisions.”
The weeks leading up to Tuesday’s vote were fraught with protests and accusations and leaks.
Hillel sent around a petition asking students to oppose the resolution, and provided several trainings to empower students to speak against the resolution. Among them were Ari Spellman, 21. He serves as Israel Cohort chairman at UM Hillel.
Spellman blamed the divisive tactics of a group called Canary Mission, in part, for the passage of the resolution. The group blacklists Palestinians and others on U.S. campuses who expresses anti-American, pro-disinvestment or anti-Semitic views.
“Their goals are to intimidate students on college campus, blow their statements and actions out of proportion, and prevent BDS votes from passing. That seems pretty ironic considering that their blacklist was one of the key factors in last night’s resolution passing,” said Spellman, a Northbrook, IL, native.
An unjust narrative that suggests that anti-divestment, pro-Israel students are racist and xenophobic also contributed to a lack of sympathy, he said.
“I would say this isn’t a good sign for Jewish students, but I wholeheartedly believe that the outcome will not impact the Jewish student experience in any way,” Spellman said.
Hillel Executive Director Tilly Shames issued a joint statement Wednesday with Joshua Blum, a senior who serves as chairman of Hillel’s board, urging university President Mark Schlissel to condemn this “one-sided and hurtful” resolution.
Yet, “While deeply hurtful to many students, this was a Student Government vote that has no bearing on the university or its investment policy. In fact, the Board of Regents has already spoken against a similar resolution passed at the University of Michigan Dearborn campus last winter, calling it ‘an intellectually bankrupt and morally repugnant expression of anti-Semitism.’ “We hope that students will take advantage of all of the ways they can engage in dialogue with other communities, Israel education programs, and the numerous access points to Jewish life through Hillel,” the statement read.
Blum, an Atlanta native, said the current cultural climate likely made it easier to pass the resolution after so many past attempts.
But he doesn’t see it as anti-Semitic.
“I think the authors’ goal of the resolution was to serve as a way for Palestinians to express their sentiments regarding the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. I don’t believe their intentions were to attack Jewish identities, but rather, discuss their own,” he said.
The Jewish Federation of Metropolitan Detroit helped to circulate the Hillel memo to the community and alumni.
Federation President Beverly Liss said Wednesday morning that she was disappointed and “deeply saddened” by the vote.
“On the other hand, I commend students for all the work that went into defeating the resolution,” despite the outcome, she said.
The Federation, in conjunction with the Jewish Community Relations Council, ADL and AJC, released a statement late Wednesday condemning the vote:
“The passage of the resolution reflects the advocacy of a small and vocal group of students who made this their priority issue. These activists took advantage of conditions on campus favorable to their cause as they conflated divestment with other popular social justice causes.”
After the vote, a small group of jubilant students took to the street to dance.