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Central Student Government votes to reject divestment resolution

By Will Greenberg, Daily News Editor
and Kristen Fedor, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 26, 2014

After hours of discussion and debate, the Central Student Government reversed the indefinite postponement of the controversial divestment resolution and subsequently voted to not pass it in a 25-9 vote with five abstentions early Wednesday morning.

Hundreds of students lined the second floor of the Michigan Union and entered the Rogel Ballroom on a first-come, first-served basis Tuesday evening, and more than 2,000 viewers watched CSG’s live-stream of the six-hour-long event. University Police regulated the large crowd that formed both inside and outside the Union and organized the crowds to line up on State Street. Students allowed into the meeting were given tickets and encouraged not to leave the room once they entered. When the meeting began, the number of people in the room exceeded its 375-person capacity. An additional 200 students were seated in the nearby Pendleton Room as an overflow space.

On March 18, many members of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality and its supporters attended the CSG Student Assembly meeting to advocate for a proposal to encourage the University to divest from certain companies allegedly involved in human rights violations against Palestinians. After the CSG assembly chose to postpone the vote indefinitely, SAFE and its partners staged an indefinite sit-in in the CSG chambers and formed “calls for accountability,” asking CSG to make amends for what SAFE viewed as its poor handling of the situation and to bring the proposal to a full vote.

The sit-in garnered attention across campus leading up to Tuesday night’s meeting. This week, individuals both supporting and opposing the divestment resolution attended in significant numbers. SAFE representatives and members of the 36 student organizations that have pledged support for the resolution spoke to the assembly about the proposal. Students who spoke against the resolution did not identify with specific organizations, but were encouraged by several members of Hillel to attend.

CSG President Michael Proppe, a Business senior, motioned to allow a reconsideration of the indefinite postponement of the divestment bill once the assembly reached the Motions and Other Business portion of the meeting. This motion passed with five dissenting votes, followed by a revote on the motion to indefinitely postpone the bill again, which failed with only seven in support. Proppe’s motion to reconsider Resolution 3-050 then passed with only three dissenting votes.

Despite an amendment to line 105 of the resolution, adding the phrase “pending the results of the ad hoc committee,” the proposal did not pass. It was voted on in a secret ballot, an amendment to the rules decided by the assembly to ensure the safety of individual representatives.

LSA senior Suha Najjar, one of the original authors of the resolution, said while it wasn’t the complete outcome that members of SAFE wanted, she was happy their voices were not silenced this time.

“I am upset. I am disappointed. But more so, I am very proud of what we’ve accomplished,” she said. “Last week there was a decision to indefinitely postpone and resolutions like that don’t get called back in here, but because of our persistence and because of our determination we came back and we fought and we got to say what we wanted to say.”

She added that the sit-in is now over and SAFE members will not no longer occupy the CSG chambers.

After the vote, supporters of the resolution left the chambers in silence to rally at the Cube in front of the Fleming Administration Building. Speakers at the Cube shared their plans to take a divestment proposal to the University’s Board of Regents, thanked the resolution’s supporters at large — particularly the large number of non-Palestinian supporters — and advised all members to remain cautious on their way home given the perceived hostility on campus after last week’s vote.

During the Community Concerns portion of the meeting, selected members of the audience are given a three-minute time allotment during which they are allowed to make statements to the assembly. During the bill’s second reading, authors of the resolution continued the discussion. Guest speakers opened the meeting, followed by 90 minutes of Community Concerns. Usually, only 30 minutes are allocated for Community Concerns, but the CSG assembly voted twice to extend this time limit.

Max Blumenthal, a Jewish-American author and journalist, served as guest speaker on behalf of SAFE. He was the first speaker of the meeting and opened by praising students of SAFE who have been protesting for the past week. SAFE members responded with sign language applause, since audible cheers were banned by assembly rules.

Guests on behalf of Hillel discussed alleged flaws in the divestment resolution. Four speakers on behalf of Hillel were present, including Yael Aronoff, associate professor of international relations at Michigan State University, and four University of Michigan law students.

Law student Scott Bloomberg said he objected to the resolution’s statement that there is already a broad and consistent consensus on divestment, one of the University requirements for adopting a divestment proposal. He said due to the diversity of views regarding this issue, no such consensus currently exists.

History Prof. Victor Lieberman, who recently received the Golden Apple Award for teaching and currently teaches the course “The History of the Arab-Israeli Conflict,” delivered a presentation on the history of the conflict.

LSA senior Bayan Founas, a SAFE member, said the group was not consulted by CSG about which professor would be presenting to the assembly. She added that several students visited with Lieberman and asked him not to speak because they disagree with his interpretation of the history of the West Bank conflict. Founas said SAFE members requested that Proppe find a different speaker a few hours before the meeting, but were informed it was too late.

In response to a question from LSA sophomore Jacob Ruby, an LSA representative, Lieberman said he believes the passage of the divestment resolution would further the broader Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign against Israel.

Speakers heard in random order during Community Concerns included students both for and against the resolution at hand. Several students in support of divestment shared personal stories of life in the Middle East and Palestine specifically. Students against the resolution reiterated sentiments that passage of this resolution would further divide the student body.

While CSG executive officers are not permitted to vote on matters of the assembly, they did address the room before members of the assembly began their debates.

Proppe advised representatives to consider the strong division of student opinion regarding the resolution when considering its passage. He added that he does not think those representatives who voted to indefinitely postpone the resolution did so with the intent to silence students.

CSG Vice President Bobby Dishell, a Public Policy junior, said as a student leader, he lessened his involvement with pro-Israel groups once he became a representative. He reiterated that he remains pro-Israel, but does not want his own political beliefs to influence his role as vice president.

Dishell and LSA sophomore Meagan Shokar, speaker of the assembly, said the hostile campus climate in the wake of the March 18 meeting threatens the democratic process and would not be tolerated. SAFE representatives told The Michigan Daily that members have been receiving racist comments, have been yelled at on the street by people driving by and have been classified as extremists. CSG members claimed to receive similar threats and members of both groups have reported some individuals do not feel safe enough to attend their classes.

Administrators have met repeatedly with SAFE and the members of the sit-in, as well as other groups, hearing the various accounts of threats received by CSG representatives as well as members of the sit-in. In anticipation of the meeting, E. Royster Harper, vice president for student life, sent a campus-wide e-mail early Tuesday evening reminding students of the University’s policy regarding freedom of speech and artistic expression outlined in its Standard Practice Guide. She urged students to remain respectful and tolerant of diverse viewpoints.

Harper referred to a previous Daily article, an official response from Proppe and a statement from Palestinian students and allies to provide students with context of the issue.

Clarification: A previous version of this article did not identify the full name of SAFE upon first reference. SAFE stands for Students Allied for Freedom and Equality.

Correction appended: A previous version of this article did not mention that Scott Bloomberg's objection to the bill was that the issues surrounding the divestment proposal were c;aimed as a widely held belief in the proposal despite the strong opposition to it.


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