Dearborn student gov't demands divestment

BY KELLY FRASER

Published October 3, 2006

The student government at the University's Dearborn campus last week unanimously passed a resolution calling for the University's Board of Regents to vote to divest from Israel.

The student government passed similar resolutions in 2004 and 2005.

This year's resolution reads, "We demand that the University cease all investment in companies that financially benefit from the actions of the Israeli military in illegally occupied territories."

Bilal Dabaja, Dearborn's student government's senate speaker, said the resolution is stronger than the previous two because of this summer's war between Israel and Hezbollah.

Dearborn Student Government President Tarek Baydoun said the resolution has broad support on campus. It is unlikely, however, that the resolution will be meet with the same level of support in Ann Arbor or by the regents, who would ultimately decide whether the University divests.

As a branch of the University, the Dearborn campus cannot independently divest.

The resolution asks the regents to form an advisory committee of administrators and students to examine the University's financial ties with Israel. This request follows procedure created by a resolution adopted by the board in 1978 to consider divestment cases.

The 1978 resolution reads, "If the Regents shall determine that a particular issue involves serious moral or ethical questions which are of concern to many members of the University community, an advisory committee consisting of members of the University Senate, students, administration and alumni will be appointed to gather information and formulate recommendations for the Regents' consideration."

Divestment is rare. The University has only divested twice in its history. First, in 1978, the board voted to divest from apartheid South Africa. In 2000, it divested from the tobacco industry.

Baydoun said the student government hopes to increase the influence of the divestment resolution with a University-wide petition drive.

Dabaja said the goal of the petition is to collect "as many signatures as possible" to convince the regents to take up the matter.

Dabaja acknowledged that the regents have historically not been receptive to the idea but said the resolution is necessary.

"We understand that in the past the regents have not agreed with us, but we will continue to bring this issue to their attention," he said. "If we cannot stop the tragedy, it is our duty to speak out against the injustice in our capacity as students."

Last March, University Regent Larry Deitch (D-Bingham Farms) told the Daily the regents would not support divestment and that a resolution from student government would not change this.

In an e-mail yesterday, Deitch reaffirmed his position.

When asked if there were any circumstances under which the University should divest or if last week's resolution changed his position, Deitch replied only, "NO."

Josh Berman, chair of the American Movement for Israel, said divestment would be counterproductive.

"Divestment is a divisive tactic focused on one-sided finger pointing towards Israel in a way that kills dialogue," Breman said. "Those who care about initiating positive change should insist in dialogue as well as a solution that benefits Palestinians, Israelis and Lebanese alike."

In 2005, the Michigan Student Assembly, the student government at the Ann Arbor campus, voted down a resolution calling for the creation of a committee to investigate University investments in Israel.

Although the vote was expected to be close, the measure failed 25-11.

MSA President Nicole Stallings said she would not rule out the possibility of taking up a vote for divestment if "there was a huge outcry from students" but said "there are more effective ways of exploring the issue."

Instead, Stallings said the focus should be on "taking that dialogue and turning it into something positive."

MSA on divestment

The Dearborn campus's student government has passed three resolutions to divest from Israel in the past three years.

The Michigan Student Assembly has not taken up the issue since the spring of 2005, when a resolution requesting that the University Board of Regents form a committee to examine the University's investments linked to Israel was defeated by a 25-11 vote.

Hundreds of students crowded the scheduled room, anxious to hear the results. MSA was forced to relocate the meeting to the Michigan Union Ballroom to accommodate the crowd. At times, the tension erupted and crowd members interrupted speakers with passionate outbursts.

Prior to the vote, 12 clauses - all but the final three - were removed from the resolution because of concern that the resolution's language targeted and condemned Israel.