Re-centering the struggle for #UMDivest

Wednesday, March 28, 2018 - 8:06pm

CSG during Divestment debate 2017

CSG during Divestment debate 2017 Buy this photo
Haley McLaughlin/Daily

As Arab Heritage Month comes to an end, we at Michigan in Color want to commemorate the community’s accomplishments and stand in solidarity. From Middle East/North Africa boxes to the success of Arab Xpressions, we are in complete admiration of the organizing and coalition building the community did this year. 

In particular, we want to reaffirm our support for #UMDivest in solidarity with the Palestinian community. The voices of Palestinian students have long been silenced on campus. Speaking out against the occupation and its human rights abuses are often met with scare tactics and erasure — including at The Michigan Daily. Our section, Michigan in Color, was partly founded because writers of color were not allowed a space to support divestment and speak up in opposition to the occupation.

Furthermore, we are concerned about statements made by incoming Central Student Government President Daniel Greene, a Public Policy Junior, that he "won't elevate another minority at the cost of another minority” [sic] at the debate hosted by The Michigan Daily. Anti-Semitism is a constant threat on campus and in this country, but simplifying both sides to “minorities” ignores the blatant power imbalance between the Israeli state and Palestinian population. The notion that divestment divides minorities is also concerning to us. The 2017 divestment proposal was supported by numerous organizations representing students of color on campus including La Casa, the Black Student Union, and United Asian-American Organizations. Divestment did not divide marginalized groups — it united us. Giving voice to a historically silenced community on campus does not take away that of another.  Given this, we worry that in the incoming year, efforts will be made by CSG to once again silence the Palestinian community and perpetuate injustices against them, and overall ignore the voices of marginalized students on campus. 

Over 50 years since the beginning of the occupation, numerous human rights watchdogs have documented the iron grip that Israel holds on Palestine via repression and structural discrimination. In the West Bank, the Israeli military continues to exercise excessive force to suppress Palestinian protest. Despite official investigations of these occurrences, the perpetrators of such state-sanctioned violence are rarely held accountable. This is particularly disturbing when we consider the highly differential military capacity between institutionally-supported Israeli soldiers and the forces of Palestinian resistance — a reality that creates a hierarchy of power in which the subaltern is continually silenced, subjugated and dehumanized.

These unequal power structures are evident in the landscape of Palestine, which is dotted with Israeli settlements and checkpoints. In violation of international law, over 125 settlements have been built on expropriated land to house over 650,000 settlers —many of whom are heavily-armed religious extremists. Israeli settlers enjoy the benefits of civil Israeli law, which are not extended to Palestinians living in the same territory. This inequitable provision of government benefits and resources sustains a heavily stratified system that is further demonstrated by the severe restriction on movement of Palestinians. These impositions — which far exceed what is necessary to preserve order and security — strangle the movement of people and goods traveling through the occupied territories.

We can no longer ignore or contest the realities of oppression these persistent patterns of systemic abuse create under the guise of mutual conflict. When Israel wields its institutional power to disproportionately disadvantaged Palestinians — who must resist despite having fewer material resources and less international support — the powerful are not being persecuted by those who protest their regime of domination. Rather, the powerful are actively enabling and excusing oppression. These patterns reproduce themselves on campus.

Oftentimes, the discourse around #UMDivest focuses on religion, however this interpretation serves to distract from the root of the issue: the Israeli government’s illegal occupation of Palestine. It is important to distinguish the Israeli state from the religious community that it represents. Our criticisms of the Israeli government’s actions in Palestine do not equate to an attack on the Jewish faith or the existence of Israel, and the #UMDivest movement does not make any anti-Semitic claims or comments. Furthermore, the occupation of Palestine does not discriminate between Muslim, Christian and Jewish Palestinians — and neither does #UMDivest’s campaign against the occupation. To pass the #UMDivest resolution is not an attack on Jewish students. Rather, it is a symbolic show of support for Palestinians of all faiths and backgrounds. 

CSG claims to support marginalized communities. This past election has brought this claim into the spotlight, and it has been challenged time and time again. CSG can prove that they are truly in support of marginalized communities on campus by validating the existence and presence of Palestinians students at the University. These students should not have to live with the knowledge that the money they pay for their U-M education directly contributes to the oppression of their community in Palestine.

For many who argue against divestment, one of their main arguments is the fact that it is too closely related to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement. BDS is a Palestinian-led movement launched in 2005 that urges for the “boycott, divestment, and sanctions against Israel until it complies with International Law and Universal Principles of Human Rights”. Because of the occupation and colonization of Palestinian land by Israeli forces, a multitude of human rights violations have occurred for decades. The boycott portion of BDS calls for the withdrawal of Israeli and international companies involved in these violations. The sanctions urge governments to end military trade and free trade agreements with Israel while also expelling the nation from international forums such as the United Nations and FIFA. What the Palestinian community at the University is trying to accomplish by pushing divestment is simply the investigation of companies supported by the University that are tied to the human rights violations of Palestinian civilians. Divestment is not BDS, nor does it call for complete boycott and disengagement from Israel — though it does derive its central idea from the “Divestment” portion of the BDS stipulations. While we make no statement on our stance regarding BDS, the common misconception that divestment equals BDS as a means to denounce the divestment resolution is inadequate. Divestment also builds on a long, storied legacy of student activism against the University's investments in South African apartheid and racial segregation. The #UMDivest movement is focused on this campus and the concerns of students on it. 

The Regents of the University do not seem to understand this. Even after student governments on all three campuses they govern passed pro-divestment resolutions — the Flint campus unaninmously passed their version of divestment Wednesday night— the Board refuses to face the issue head on, despite a clear and broad display of student concernWhen CSG's resolution passed last November, making national headlines and giving voice to Palestinian students for the first time in the Univeristy's history, the Regents didn't deign to comment publicly. Instead, a few members of the board released an online statement without discussion at a formal meeting or even reaching out to SAFE.  This response is evidence the silencing of Palestinian students pervades our highest chambers.   

As a platform for students of color on campus, we cannot stand by when we see the threat of injustice. This year, #UMDivest was supported by an outpouring of students of color. Coalitions of color have made it clear that divest is an issue of human rights, and Michigan in Color stands by the Palestinian community in a time of heightened attacks on their progress.