In support of Palestinians and the #UMDivest movement, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality and more than 250 allies formed a human circle around the Diag proceeding Central Student Government’s first assembly in an open space in near-freezing weather. The crowd also included a large cluster of anti-divestment University of Michigan students who countered with their own lobbying and speeches against the resolution.
SAFE introduced the resolution to divest University funds from corporations allegedly complicit in human rights violations against Palestinians. The resolution calls upon the University’s Board of Regents to appoint a committee to investigate “the ethical and moral implications” of investing in such companies. SAFE’s activism on divestment — a movement in its 13th iteration on campus — ramped up in the last month, with groups like Latinx umbrella organization La Casa supporting SAFE in full force last week. The resolution failed last year with a vote of 34 to 13.
University of Michigan-Dearborn’s student government passed its version of the resolution in March.
CSG convened the assembly on the Diag with the intention of gathering perspectives and spurring discussion on the body’s ongoing campus climate initiatives. The meeting changed course when LSA senior Hafsa Tout, CSG representative and co-sponsor of the resolution, submitted the resolution with SAFE this past Sunday. SAFE said during the meeting Tuesday they were unaware assembly would not meet the week of Thanksgiving, and had to rush the resolution as a result.
Gathering on the Diag approximately 30 minutes before the meeting, SAFE members and allies encircled CSG’s tent on the Diag with Palestinian flags and signs with messages such as, “Divest is anti-racist” and “CSG listen to marginalized voices.”
SAFE member Reema, an LSA senior who wanted remain undisclosed for safety concerns, felt the mass attendance would enable the assembly to better understand the support behind the divest movement.
“We wanted to make sure that CSG representatives saw hundreds of bodies on this campus that are supportive of us and that are diverse and that we’re all here together to support our resolution,” she said.
A business freshman attended the rally in solidarity and agreed with Reema.
“The fact there’s people that are Latinx, non-Muslims, non-Arabs and Arabs here just goes to show that people from so many backgrounds are here for them — they definitely have (momentum) if there’s so many people here,” she said.
Both sides leaned on familiar arguments. Pro-Israel students began discussing the divestment resolution during community concerns, placing the resolution against the backdrop of what they called the “hateful” international Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement led by Palestinian activists.
LSA senior Joshua Blum, chair of Hillel’s governing board, referenced anti-Semitic acts against the Jewish community at large in recent months, emphasizing discrimination their community still faces in everyday life.
“While many members of our community hold the privileges and advantages of being white, we’re also impacted as a minority on this campus and in the country,” he said.
Former CSG representative Gaby Roth, an LSA senior, said she opened dialogue with SAFE members after the failed resolution last year, but still came to the conclusion the larger implications of the divestment movement and its values are problematic.
“After the resolution failed, I joined together with other representatives, Palestinian students and members of the pro-Israel community to listen to each others’ narratives in order to take constructive action,” she said. “Because of what I’ve learned this past year, there are parts of this resolution that I agree with. But it is crucial as leaders of this campus you understand that #UMDivest is part of a larger, boycott divestment (and is) telling of the questionable, inappropriate implications of this resolution.”
An LSA sophomore, who asked to remain anonymous due to safety concerns, began the 24 pooled minutes of pro-divestment speaking time during community concerns by explaining #UMDivest is not aligned with the larger BDS movement. She responded with the same quip SAFE has used in years past, explaining the group calls for the “D” for divestment and “not the BS” of boycott and sanction.
SAFE’s resolution is almost identical to last year’s version in singling out Hewlett Packard, Boeing, United Technologies and G4S as “companies that supply weapons and equipment to Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories in violation of international human rights law.” This year’s proposal also leans upon the University’s Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategic plan to argue divestment represents a campus commitment to inclusion by uplifting marginalized voices of Palestinian students.
SAFE also detailed its members’ safety concerns, referencing a blacklist they have been placed on for pro-Palestinian activism.
After first reads, CSG representative Zeke Majeske, an Engineering junior, expressed concerns that the corporate partnership between the Department of Aerospace Engineering and Boeing would be placed in jeopardy by the resolution to divest. SAFE was not able to respond to the query due to restrictions on comments.
“It’s not just about us getting jobs after college,” Majeske said. “Part of us being one of the top two or three aerospace departments in the country is us having them as a partner.”
The assembly will vote on the resolution next Tuesday at the Modern Languages Building to accommodate larger crowds.
CSG also passed resolutions in support of a four-point plan on resources for undocumented students, authored by Student Community of Progressive Empowerment, and to provide an extension to library hours for the Harlan Hatcher Graduate Library on Sundays.