Dearborn student government pushes 'U' to divest funds from Israel

BY NEETHI SRINIVASAN
For the Daily
Published March 11, 2010

Vice President Joe Biden and special envoy to the Middle East George Mitchell visited Israel earlier this week to hold an open discussion on Israeli-Palestinian relations. Though these peace talks are often brokered on an international stage, political action regarding the dispute in the Middle East has recently entered a local forum.

The student government at the University’s Dearborn campus unanimously passed a resolution last month, asking the University’s Board of Regents to form an advisory committee to investigate what they view as unethical investments of endowment funds into companies that support Israel.

But according to University officials and students involved in the issue here in Ann Arbor, it doesn’t seem likely that a similar resolution will be passed in the Michigan Student Assembly any time soon.

Currently, the University invests some of its $6 billion dollar endowment in companies like Boeing, Northrup-Grumman and BAE — corporations which reportedly provide Israel with support in the form of military weapons and machinery.

Hussein Berry, the author of the resolution in Dearborn, said these kinds of University financial investments are unethical and take advantage of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

“There are people dying with our dollar… it’s blood money,” Berry said.

But there are currently no plans for a similar resolution in MSA. When asked if the Michigan Student Assembly would support their Dearborn counterpart, Michael Rorro, vice president of MSA, said that he couldn’t comment on that possibility specifically because “it hasn’t been brought up to the assembly in any official way.”

Rorro added that the job of the student government is to “make student life better at the University of Michigan. If a resolution like this can do that…the government can consider it.”

Richard Kallus, chair of the American Movement for Israel here, wrote in an e-mail that divestment efforts will not go far in addressing the conflict in the Middle East.

“Divestment or any talk of divestment would do nothing to solve the conflict in the region,” he said.

The U-M Dearborn student government passed similar resolutions in 2005 and 2006, but according to David Skrbina, a lecturer of philosophy and faculty advisor to the Arab Student Union at U-M Dearborn, the University didn't follow through with the resolutions because they weren't in accordance with the regents' rules on student activism.

Skrbina said instead of asking the Board of Regents to form an investigative advisory committee on the issue, the previous resolutions “went directly to divestment.”

He added that students passed the current resolution in an attempt to pressure the University to withdraw its financial support from companies involved in the conflict.

Though she hasn’t commented on it recently, University President Mary Sue Coleman said in a statement in 2002 that the University wouldn’t be divesting.

“I do not support divestment,” Coleman said in the statement. “As a matter of University policy, we do not believe political interests should govern our investment decisions.”

According to Coleman, two past instances in which the University divested — in 1978 to protest South African apartheid and in 2000 from tobacco stocks — were consequences of sustained support for the issues from the campus community.

Both Berry and Skrbina are currently working to raise campus awareness and interest in the issue of divestment. Recently, the Arab Student Union held a week-long series of events focusing on issues of divestment and the realities for Palestinians involved in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Berry said though awareness of the conflict has come with the large number of Arab Americans on Dearborn's campus, he does not believe that this resolution is anti-semitic.

“The issue isn’t whether or not we should divest from Israel," he said. "The issue is whether or not we should divest from the killing of innocent people."

Berry added that he is working to gain the support of Jewish students on Dearborn’s campus by working with groups like the Jewish Student Organization and the Jewish Voice for Peace.

In addition, Berry said he is currently circulating a petition supporting the resolution through both the Ann Arbor and Dearborn campuses, which already has the signatures of about 1,500 students and more than 200 faculty and staff members.