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Viewpoint: A reasonable demand

BY GABI KIRK
Jewish Voice for Peace
Published March 24, 2014

To the Assembly of the University of Michigan Central Student Government:

We write to endorse the divestment resolution proposed by Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, and supported at last week’s meeting by 300 students and 36 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 four 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 that “it is the opinion of the authors that ethical divestment fits with UM’s deeply held principles of 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 Israel 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.

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 decision.

Gabi Kirk, Campus Liaison
Jewish Voice for Peace National

Gabi Kirk is the campus liason for Jewish Voice for Peace National.