At their weekly meeting Tuesday, Central Student Government voted 34 to 13 to reject a resolution that would have called on the University of Michigan to divest its investments in several companies that allegedly commit human rights violations against Palestinians.
The resolution charged that University investments in these companies are unethical because they oppress Palestinians due to their business practices in Israel or products they produce. It would not have automatically ensured divestment from the investments, but rather would have called on the University’s Board of Regents to form an ad-hoc committee to investigate the University’s investments in the area.
“Israeli state policy infringes upon Palestinian human rights,” the resolution read. “The University of Michigan’s investments in the aforementioned companies, which are involved in socially irresponsible and unethical activities in Palestine, not only personally impact Palestinian students at the University of Michigan, but also calls into question the University’s commitment to invest in socially responsible companies.”
The resolution also stated that divestment would defund the “weapons and equipment used in Israel’s illegal occupation of Palestinian territories and in violation of international human rights law.”
However, some opponents of the resolution charged that voting in favor of divestment would gesture to the student body that a decision had been reached on the issue for the assembly as a whole, dividing communities and ending dialogue on the issue.
LSA junior Joe Goldberg, a CSG representative, said he voted against the resolution because it challenges what he stands for as a member of the Jewish faith with a complicated relationship with Israel.
For the debate on the resolution, CSG moved its meeting from its chambers in the Michigan Union to the Modern Language Building to accommodate nearly 200 student attendees. Many hundreds more watched a Michigan Daily livestream of the proceedings. The more than four-hour long meeting, which also considered other CSG business, drew many speakers on both sides of the resolution.
History Prof. Victor Lieberman, who teaches classes on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and has addressed the body on the past few occassions divestment has been discussed, spoke out against the resolution. He charged that it did not meet the three prongs for divestment outlined by the University — that the institution must be uniquely responsible for the problem, there were moral or ethical issues surrounding the support of that institution, and consensus at the University against that group.
The University has only divested twice in its history: from South Africa over “serious moral or ethical questions” raised by its policies of apartheid and from tobacco companies in 2000. In 2015, CSG voted to formulate an ad hoc committee to investigate the University’s investments in fossil fuels, a precedent the resolution drew on in its argumentation.
“I’m an Indian Hindu, so I have no real personal stake in this besides my own concerns. But Mathma Ghandi went ahead and said with a small group of people, India needs to lead,” Mulperi said. “I really think that is the most important thing for all to realize that these discussions will never occur unless as…a small group of thoughtful, committed students change the world.”
LSA senior Devin Jones, who said he was a Palestinian citizen, told the story of his mother and grandfather, born in the same house on the same street, but facing drastically different political climates in their lifetimes.
“But she was born in a different state… We were not indigenous to our own land because we were on the wrong side of a battle, a battle that wasn’t our fault,” Jones said. “Basically, we were stripped of our Palestinian identities and forced to become Israeli citizens.”
Public Policy senior Matt Fidel said for him, the resolution does not represent peace, and instead is seeking for a scapegoat in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.
“Divestment emboldens the radical wings of Israeli and Palestinian governments, which oppose peace,” Fidel said. “Divestment drives our campus apart at a time when we need to come together the most…it will only fan the flames of conflict both over there and right here on campus.”
“We should all pray for a day when peace can be achieved between Israeli and Palestinian citizens. We should pray for a future when Israeli and Palestinian families do not have to face the threat of daily violence. We should pray for a future when Palestinians are able to live in an independent Palestinian state free of any Israeli interference.”
After the resolution failed, many CSG representatives discussed why they voted in favor of the resolution. During this, several attendees began to shout and chant. CSG Vice President and LSA senior Micah Griggs allowed Jones to speak to the body.
“When you argue on the claim that we did not know what we were talking about, that you are somehow better than us…that is the epitome of privilege,” Jones told the crowd. “[I am] paying tuition, in which a portion of my tuition goes to companies that go to the oppression of my people…You have to live with this. You have to stare me in the the face.”