MSA rejects resolution asking for ‘U’ divestment from four companies

Anna Schulte/Daily
LSA senior Abbas Alawieh speaks at the Michigan Student Assembly meeting last night. The assembly discussed a proposed resolution calling for the University to divest from several companies. Buy this photo

BY ANNA ROZENBERG
Daily Staff Reporter
Published April 13, 2011

Correction appended: A previous version of this article misquoted Yonah Lieberman and inaccurately described J Street UMich. A previous version of this article also misspelled Bilal Baydoun's name and misquoted him.

In a close vote at its meeting last night, the Michigan Student Assembly denied a resolution calling for the University to reevaluate its investments in several companies.

The resolution asked that the University divest from British Petroleum, aerospace technology company Northrop Grumman, agricultural company Monsanto and HanesBrands Inc. Many people filled MSA Chambers as the assembly discussed the resolution. More than a dozen students, many of whom are former MSA representatives, and two University faculty members shared their opinions on the proposed resolution.

Several motions asking that the resolution be taken off the agenda or tabled were denied at the meeting, which is the new assembly’s second meeting.

Northrop Grumman was the company discussed most due to its ties to Israel. The MSA resolution stated: “Northrop Grumman specializes in military aircraft and radar technologies, and has supplied military apparatuses used in war crimes by the United Nations fact-finding missions, such as the Israeli military. The Israeli military has used these weapons to sustain its illegal occupation of Palestine and has violated — and continues to violate — dozens of United Nations resolutions in doing so.”

LSA junior Bilal Baydoun, one of the authors of the resolution, spoke on behalf of the authors. Despite the mention of Israel in the resolution, Baydoun said the authors’ main intention wasn’t to focus on any specific country the company supplied to, but rather on the company itself.

“I don’t care about Israel, I don’t care about Palestine, I care about the University of Michigan ...” he said.

Baydoun and other speakers advocating for the resolution argued that the resolution doesn’t have political or religious significance.

Several students including LSA sophomore Yonah Lieberman, chair of J Street UMich — a pro-Israel, pro-Palestinian, pro-peace student organization on campus — spoke against the resolution.

“We have serious concerns about the clause in this resolution that references Northrop Grumman,” Lieberman said. “Divestment is a polarizing tactic when we should be working together ...”

Lieberman said J Street UMich believes voting on the resolution would heighten tension between Israelis and Palestinians.

However, others expressed their support for the resolution. Robert Lipton, an associate professor in the Medical School, said he is in favor of the resolution and identified himself as an “American Jew.”

“I am not anti-Israel. I’m anti-human rights violations,” Lipton said. “I’m in support of social justice whether it’s Egypt, Israel, Yemen ... or the Bronx.”

Lipton went on to voice his support for the resolution, commending students’ efforts.

“I think this is a very powerful step,” he said. “Student action is unbelievably important.”

But Business School sophomore Todd Siegal encouraged MSA not to vote for the resolution in its current form.

“These four companies are very different and need to be dealt with on individual and separate occasions,” Siegal said. “Passing this resolution tonight would eliminate the possibility of future dialogue on this issue.”

After attending to the rest of its agenda, the assembly returned to the resolution for a final discussion and vote.

Before the final vote, Engineering Rep. Zeid El-Kilani proposed an amendment to the clause regarding Northrop Grumman. MSA voted in favor of the amendment, which changed the clause about the company so that it didn’t explicitly state Northrop Grumman’s involvement with Israel or any other country.

After much debate, the assembly voted down the amended resolution in a 10-12 vote, with two abstentions.