Op-Ed: The aftermath of divestment

Sunday, November 19, 2017 - 7:07pm

In the early morning hours on Wednesday, the University of Michigan Central Student Government narrowly passed a resolution that asked the Board of Regents to create a committee to investigate alleged human rights violations against Palestinians. I had followed the issue closely, and I sat in that room listening to hours of debate. There were specific aspects of the broader discussion around divestment that I, as a Jewish student, found problematic and hope to address. 

From the get-go, I want to make clear that it is not my intent to relitigate the resolution just hours after its passage. Rather, I hope to reflect on the language that was used and the lasting consequences that such a narrative could have for all students on this campus.

I was stunned to read an op-ed in The Daily that calls on students to vote for divestment as a way to fight white supremacy. The piece, through the use of context-free statements and parsed paraphrasing, serves to generalize the pro-Israel community through false associations and factual omissions.

First off, the attempted association of American Zionism with President Donald Trump, though a convenient strategy for proponents of divestment, overtly misrepresents the overwhelming opposition of Jewish Americans to the Trump administration. The piece also glossed over the fact that Jewish Americans shared a similarly negative sentiment regarding Steve Bannon’s appointment.

In addition to these claims, the association of Richard Spencer with the pro-Israel cause is inappropriate and offensive to Zionists. Any attempt to use Spencer’s past words in an attempt to portray modern Zionism is obviously disingenuous — this was a man who organized a despicable rally, in which attendees infamously shouted, “Jews will not replace us,” among countless other egregious and nasty slogans.

As such, Richard Spencer is obviously not representative of modern Zionism, as further outlined by Anti-Defamation League CEO Jonathan Greenblatt: “Richard Spencer’s movement is based on hate, racism, negativity and exclusion” and “Zionism is a positive movement and is not intended to be ‘against’ anyone.” Painting Richard Spencer as the face of contemporary Zionism is sheer lunacy and out of touch with the millions of Zionists across the political spectrum.

These demeaning conflations need to be called what they are: a political strategy, employed by proponents of divestment, to peddle a one-sided and context-free narrative of what Zionism really is. Jonathan Greenblatt further explains that Jewish Voice for Peace, the author of Monday’s op-ed, has utilized this tactic before, with “no hesitation to piggy-back on Spencer, and try to link his base, hate-filled and exclusionary ideology, with the proactive, affirming and empowering of Jewish nationhood.” The tactic of “zooming in” on Richard Spencer and implying a meaningful connection to Zionism is downright wrong.

It seems conspicuous that JVP opted to utilize a figure like Richard Spencer, as opposed to outspoken Zionists across the political spectrum — ranging from Bernie Sanders and John McCain to former President Barack Obama and Pope Francis.

It is great to disagree passionately about the issues — intellectual back-and-forth has been a hallmark of my brief time here at the University. However, that does not require slandering and misrepresenting those with whom you disagree. Intellectual honesty surely warrants integrity in how you choose to represent others’ beliefs, and that was seemingly absent in this debate.

The divestment vote may be over, but anti-Semitism is far from it. Being serious about combatting anti-Semitism means understanding that, regardless of your perspective on the conflict, nobody truly benefits from blatant misrepresentation and inappropriate conflations of what Zionism is. It is not conducive to the level of campus dialogue sought by all parties, and it certainly is not conducive to a lasting peace.

Brett Zaslavsky is an LSA freshman.

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