Leaders of the University of Michigan Central Student Government (CSG), including its president and vice president, issued a statement via the CSG Instagram page on Monday condemning Israel’s recent actions in Israel and Palestine .
The statement was released after reports of the deaths of over 30 Palestinians, including ten children, due to Israeli airstrikes in Gaza City. The attack came after rockets launched from the Gaza Strip reached the Israeli city of Tel Aviv.
The statement was signed by CSG President Nithya Arun, CSG Vice President Carla Voigt, CSG DEI Coordinator Zaynab Elkolaly, CSG Cabinet Member Eman Naga, LSA Student Government Vice President Zackariah Farah, SAFE, the Arab Student Association (ASA) and the Muslim Student Association (MSA). It was not approved as a resolution by the CSG Assembly.
In the statement, the CSG leaders said Israel is responsible for the death and destruction of the Palestinian people and property since the state of Israel was established by the United Nations in 1948.
“For the past 73 years, this violence has displaced, harmed, and killed indigenous Palestinians,” the statement reads. “This is not a ‘conflict,’ but emblematic of Israeli settler colonialism, ethnic cleansing, and apartheid.”
The CSG leaders went on to claim that anti-Palestinian and pro-Israel sentiments were rampant in our campus community. The statement acknowledges that CSG has participated in pro-Israel events, such as funding yearly trips to Israel for Jewish students.
“We also must recognize CSG’s prior complicity with Israel’s violence through participation in events such as yearly trips to Israel that supported the settler-state in its apartheid and occupation,” the statement reads.
The CSG leaders ended their statement by calling on the University to divest from Israeli companies and by vowing to use their platform to uplift and represent Palestinian voices and work with Palestinian student groups, such as Students Allied For Freedom and Equality (SAFE).
“The University of Michigan remains complicit by choosing not to divest from Israeli companies profiting off the settler state’s occupation,” the statement reads. “As such, CSG is determined to correct these wrongs by working with SAFE and other organizations advocating for Palestinian liberation to curate actionable steps that will be released at a later date.”
The statement comes less than five years after CSG voted against calling on the University to divest their investments from Israeli companies in 2016. CSG passed a resolution in 2017 calling on the University to form a committee to look into divesting from said Israeli companies, but that resolution was ultimately rejected by the Board of Regents.
The statement drew mixed reactions from the campus community, with some believing that the statement was biased and one-sided, and others believing that CSG did what was necessary to support Palestinian students on campus.
In an email to The Michigan Daily, LSA junior Ben Givner, co-president of Wolverines for Israel, said that he and other members of his organization felt betrayed and misrepresented by the statement. Givner said that he felt as if the CSG leaders were trying to paint Israel in the worst possible light without any context.
“Many students felt betrayed and hurt. Many felt that not only were they being misrepresented by CSG but that the statement radically and disingenuously skewed the conflict to portray Israel in the worst of terms,” Givner wrote. “CSG’s intention to address the situation shouldn’t come at the expense of an honest conversation about current events reflective of realities on the ground. Israelis are currently hiding in bomb shelters, under fire from thousands of missiles shot by Hamas intended to inflict maximum civilian casualties…yet nowhere is Hamas even mentioned in the CSG statement.”
The University of Michigan Hillel, a Jewish social organization on campus, released a statement on Instagram on Tuesday expressing its disappointment in CSG’s post. The statement criticized CSG for not addressing the Israeli side of the issue and for not considering Jewish students’ perspectives or input.
“CSG’s statement criticized organizations like ours, student groups we support, ideas we value, and programs we offer our community and others, without any experience or communication with us,” the statement reads. “We welcome dialogue with the leadership of the CSG to explain what we do and who we are, and share directly with them the impact of their words on Jewish students.”
LSA Junior Alana Wilck, chair at University of Michigan Hillel, wrote in an email to The Daily that University of Michigan Hillel made their statement after receiving concerns from the Hillel community. Wilck said that she hopes University of Michigan Hillel and CSG can create a dialogue where both Jewish and Palestinian voices can be heard to help unify the communities instead of dividing them.
“While the statement was meant to show support for the violence that the Palestinian community is facing, it used inflammatory language and a one-sided narrative that caused many Jewish students to feel upset and unseen,” Wilck said. “It also ignored the pain being felt by Jewish students on campus right now whose friends and family are impacted by this conflict and violence. In these violent and upsetting times in the Middle East, CSG should be encouraging dialogue and relationship-building among students, not fostering further division and anger.”
Other groups, however, were relieved that CSG took a stand in support of Palestinian students.
A U-M student and former executive board member of the Arab Student Association (ASA) said she believes Palestinian voices were being silenced on campus. She was grateful that the CSG leaders took a stand in favor of Palestinian students. This student, who agreed to speak with The Daily under conditions of anonymity for fear of retaliation by graduate schools or future employers, will be referred to by the pseudonym “Jane” in this article.
Jane said she didn’t think it would’ve been productive for CSG to have consulted Jewish or Pro-Israel organizations before posting their statement, as she believed it would offset the power difference between Israel and Palestine.
“In the past, some of these (Pro-Israel) student groups have wanted to reach out… (and) have dialogues with these students (and) with SAFE and ASA and MSA,” Jane said. “But I don’t see that as something productive because it’s like asking someone to reason with their oppressor.”
Recent LSA alum Sophia Filipe reiterated Jane’s statement. Filipe said the University fell short in creating a safe environment for Palestinian students to discuss their side of the issue and felt the CSG post was a step in the right direction.
“I think in our school setting, we have a lot of other places in which Jewish and pro-Israeli students can voice their concerns and do have a space to be heard and feel validated,” Filipe said. “If you look at our institution, if you look at our country, we are stark advocates of Israel, so that space for compassion support and solidarity doesn’t exist nearly as freely for Palestinians.”
In an email to The Daily, the SAFE executive board issued a statement saying that Palestinian students were often dismissed or subjected to censorship due to their activism on campus. The SAFE executive board wrote that the University campus must do better in its support of Palestinian students and they hoped to work with CSG to make those changes.
“We see the CSG press release as a long-overdue statement of solidarity with the Palestinian struggle, and we appreciate the acknowledgment of the hardship Palestinians and their allies continuously face, as well as an acknowledgment of CSG’s own complicity in perpetuating an anti-Palestinian environment on campus,” the statement reads. “Palestinians across campus, as well as alumni, are proud to see their student government take a strong stand in support of our liberation.”
Engineering junior Amirah Aabed, who is Palestinian herself, said she immediately ran to her parents and grandparents when she saw the CSG leaders’ statement. Aabed said the CSG post was the first time she had seen a student club or organization speak out against the Israeli government and for the Palestinian people.
“I was actually very proud of CSG and I wasn’t expecting it, but I was proud of them for unapologetically using their platform to spread awareness and to tell the story of oppression like it is,” Aabed said. “It was probably the first time in my life where I saw an article from a school organization that …. spread the truth from this perspective, and it was really a breath of fresh air to me.”
On the contrary, recent Public Policy alum Tal Lipkin, who is Israeli herself, said the post was dangerously oversimplified and neglected to mention Palestinian violence towards Israel. Lipkin said the statement was incredibly one-sided and failed to represent the entire student body.
“You just can’t boil down 100 years of conflict that’s so complicated into a two-page (statement),” Lipkin said “there was zero mention of the civilians (of) Israel that have been targeted and affected … civilians were hospitalized and … civilians died.”
Controversy within CSG
Additionally, the statement was controversial within the CSG Assembly. LSA Representative Alex Nguyen released a statement on Instagram on Wednesday saying he was contemplating his role as representative over the CSG leaders’ statement. In an interview with The Daily, Nguyen said that the Assembly members weren’t consulted prior to the statement being released. Nguyen said he believed the statement, particularly the portion where CSG mentioned trips to Israel, was antisemitic, and that because of his role as a representative, he was unfairly associated with it.
“(CSG executives) try to act like it’s the United States federal government where the executive says something that it’s not representative of the entire government itself,” Nguyen said. “But it does represent the entire (Central Student) Government, and that’s where I think the executive has too much power, is that they don’t realize that what they say affects the entire government and not just themselves.”
Nguyen said since the CSG post was made, he had received several phone calls and emails with people who were angry over the rhetoric and felt CSG leadership was antisemitic.
Public Policy Representative Emma Sandberg also released a statement on Instagram on Thursday condemning the CSG leaders’ statement, claiming it to be one-sided and criticizing it for deliberately not including Jewish students. In the statement, Sandberg wrote that she believed by issuing this statement, CSG is simply creating more campus division instead of bringing students together.
“Notably, the CSG President, Vice President, and DEI Coordinator chose to release a divisive statement on an international issue that they have no control over, yet did not bother to release a statement on the recent investigation into the late Robert Anderson’s sexual abuse of countless students on campus,” Sandberg wrote. “As elected officials, their job is to unify students on campus and create a safe and supportive community where students of all backgrounds can get along. In this respect, they have failed.”
LSA representative Noah Zimmerman told The Daily he also felt as though the signers of the statement were trying to speak for the entire Central Student Government. As a Jewish student, Zimmerman said, the language of the statement was problematic and bordered on antisemitism.
“A lot of Jewish students, and a lot of non-Jewish students as well, believe that the statement did cross a line of going into antisemitism,” Zimmerman said. “That’s kind of where the concern is… (it’s) not so much in the goal of what they were trying to achieve, but some of the things they brought up and some of the language within the press release itself.”
LSA senior Annie Mintun, Speaker of the CSG Assembly, said the CSG executive team issuing statements and press releases without the consultation of the Assembly is customary for CSG. Mintun expressed general support for amplifying the voices of representatives rather than just the executive team.
“I do generally believe that the Assembly should have more of a role in being able to draft press releases, especially since we do have a communications committee, and should have some control over the Instagram account,” Mintun said. “However, that’s always been the way it is.”
Mintun added that she had considered creating a separate Assembly Instagram account to speak on behalf of the Assembly members.
Mintun said she hoped this statement showed that CSG is committing to represent marginalized communities on campus. Mintun also emphasized that, while CSG does serve to represent all students, CSG members run on campaign platforms that highlight certain issues and certain groups.
“I hope that the statement shows that the single Central Student Government administration that’s currently in power is making an effort to represent the most vulnerable students on campus,” Mintun said. “I think a lot of the anger from the statement has been that CSG claims to represent all students, and while we certainly are representatives of the student body, most of us were elected on the platforms we ran … (Carla and Nithya)’s platform was very clear on their stance on Palestine.”
In an email to the Daily, CSG President Nithya Arun wrote that the statement was made solely by the executive team due the time-sensitive nature of the issue and the fact that the executive team runs the CSG social media platform. Arun wrote that the executive team decided to issue a statement in order to bring light to better represent Palistinian students whose voices, she said, were not always represented by the University.
“People have traditionally remained silent on the ill treatment of the Palestinian people and remain complicit by doing so.” Arun wrote. “Therefore, we decided to stand in solidarity with the Palestinian community whose voices have been suppressed both at the University and in mainstream political discourse.”
Arun said that while she acknowledged that CSG’s statement upset some Jewish students on campus, the intention of the statement was to support Palestine and Palestinan students. She said CSG will use all necessary resources to combat anti semitism on campus.
“We also acknowledge that some Jewish students have felt unsafe in the wake of this statement,” Arun wrote. “That was not the intention. We recognize that anti-semitic sentiment exists and will endorse, advocate for, and fund any initiative that ameliorates this sentiment as we strongly condemn hate in any form. With this being said, we refuse to submit that the statement we released was anti-semitic.”
Any student or University affiliate who wants to have their voice heard on this issue or any issue pertaining to Central Student Government can attend the Community Concerns segment during the next CSG meeting on 5/18. The sign-up link can be found here.
Summer News Editor George Weykamp can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Note: This article and its headline have been updated as to not refer to the events in Israel and Palestine as a “conflict.”