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Hundreds attend CSG meeting to hear vote on divestment

By Giacomo Bologna, Daily Staff Reporter
Published March 19, 2014

Several hundred students gathered Tuesday night to support a Central Student Government resolution that would call on the University to divest from companies allegedly involved in violating Palestinian human rights. CSG voted to indefinitely postpone the resolution after the large number of attendees forced the body to move the meeting to the Rogel Ballroom of the Michigan Union — the largest meeting space available.

Shortly after the vote to postpone a final decision on the resolution, the crowd pressed up against the stanchions dividing the room and chanted “Divest” at the CSG members for several minutes. The assembly moved to adjourn the still in-progress meeting and most members left, but the crowd continued to chant and later re-formed on the steps of the Union, where more than 100 students listened to speeches and chanted.

Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, one of the major sponsors of the protest, specifically called for the University to divest from United Technologies, General Electric, Heidelberg Cement and Caterpillar. The group alleges that these companies do business with the Israeli military and supply some of its equipment.

Knowing the divestment resolution was on the table, Dean of Students Laura Blake Jones attended the meeting and noted the strong sentiments of students present.

“I will absolutely be meeting with students,” she said in an interview after the meeting. “We’ll move forward from here and continue to have dialogue.”

LSA senior Yazan Kherallah, the divestment chair of SAFE — whose members wrote the resolution with Rackham representative Rae Scevers — was upset by the assembly’s deflection of the vote.

“We’re angry,” Kherallah said. “Central Student Government never gets this showing. Over 300 people showed up raising concerns for how the University invests in money.”

The breakdown of the vote to postpone the resolution was 21-15 with one abstention.

Some students held signs and many wore pins and keffiyehs, checkered black and white cloths representing Palestinian nationalism.

However, some students who attended opposed the resolution, though substantially fewer made a presence.

In the half-hour allotted for community concerns — CSG’s public forum at meetings — speakers traded three-minute speeches advocating for and against the resolution.

LSA junior Michele Freed, Hillel chair, spoke against the resolution, which she said would heighten pre-existing tensions on campus.

“I want multiple and diverse narratives to come together in peaceful and safe spaces on campus,” Freed said. “Where all voices have a space and are respected. This polarizing resolution is bringing about just the opposite.”

Advocating for the resolution, LSA junior Sami Shalabi spoke about his father’s departure from Palestine following the Six Day War in 1967 and his belief that his time in the United States would last no longer than two years.

“I have been robbed of picking pomegranates in the late summers, and swimming in the Dead Sea from the real side,” he said. “Where is my reconnection? Where is my birthright?”

When discussion of the divestment came up on the formal agenda, Law representative John Lin motioned for postponement, adding that the issue of divestment is outside the scope of CSG.

LSA senior Chris Mays, an LSA representative, echoed Lin’s sentiments.

“This is Central Student Government. Not the United Nations,” Mays said.

Noting the perennial nature of this debate, he added, “We need to bring this to a peaceful closure.”

While Public Policy junior Daniel Morales, a Public Policy representative, acknowledged that while some representatives might be uncomfortable voting on this resolution, he said postponing a vote would be disrespectful to those representatives who wanted to speak out on the issue.

LSA senior Tyler Mesman, an LSA representative, said it would be a disservice to the students who elected the assembly to not vote on an issue that drew so many to the meeting.

“The issue was brought to us so that we can discuss it,” Mesman said. “We’ve been given the power to vote … we need to vote.”

A representative granted Kherallah time to speak during debate and he implored the assembly to vote on the resolution.

“I’m very disappointed. We’re not asking you to be the (United Nations),” Kherallah said.

“Look at the crowd in front of you,” he added as he pointed toward the hundreds of students behind him as evidence that the resolution was appropriate for CSG.

LSA senior Suha Najjar, another SAFE member, was allotted time to speak during the debate and decried a postponement of the vote.

“Time and time again I have been silenced,” she said. “We are supposed to be given a platform in this room and doors are being shut in our face.”

Throughout the meeting, LSA sophomore Meagan Shokar, CSG speaker, had to pound her gavel and call for order following outbursts from the crowd.

A few University Police officers were present throughout the meeting, which was delayed by nearly an hour when CSG had to change venues.

After the event, scores of supporters of the resolution took to the Union’s steps outside to further their efforts for divestment. Throughout the event, students voiced their opinions through Twitter, using the hashtag #UMDivest.