One year ago on campus, I was a sitting representative during one of the most difficult and challenging issues that I had seen in my four years in student government: a resolution calling on the investigation, and eventual divestment of companies that, according to the resolution, were complicit in human right violations carried out by the State of Israel against Palestinians. In those two weeks, I faced a challenge that tested my conscience and confidence as well as my ability to serve all Wolverines.
As the sole African American representative in that session, I faced an even more difficult reality of choosing between what I felt was best for our campus and going against the views of some within my own community who I fought so hard to represent that year. While I wanted to give my reasoning for opposing the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement last year, the hostility I faced gave me reason to delay that opportunity. However, during these 12 months, I have allowed people to speak on my behalf and took the time to allow current events involving Israel and Palestine to further develop my opinion on BDS and what the actions would do escalate or deflate the conflict. Now that time has passed and the issue is back up for a vote, I decided to take this opportunity to speak about my opinion on this resolution and how it will not bring us closer to a free Palestine and only intensify the conflict.
The 2014 debate, though on paper it seemed to focus on companies like Boeing, Caterpillar and General Electric, caused me to feel that there was a deeper, broader goal within this movement than the author was disclosing based on external activities and tension involving the resolution. My concern regarding the BDS resolution was that it didn’t unite the campus and instead divided it.
All throughout those two weeks, while passion from both sides was high, instead of having a dialogue about it, we saw many people on both sides of the aisle receive a number of biased incidents. That includes myself. Following voting in favor of tabling the resolution, I expected to receive e-mails that would express disappointment or ask me to reconsider my position.
As a representative, all students have a right to send me their questions and concerns with regard to my voting. What I did not expect were some e-mails and a personal altercation from those claiming that they knew where I lived, that raised concern that my safety would be in question and I subsequently reported it to DPS.
I was equally outraged that it was implied that those within SAFE’s leadership were terrorists; this was done by biased websites and social media photos used to skew SAFE’s character. This does not unite a campus on how to confront this conflict. Knowing that I wasn’t alone in this experience, both at Michigan and many other universities where this kind of resolution was brought up, I felt that the movement’s history involved too much controversy and reared from the peaceful movement it aimed to achieve.
Many who feel passionately about this issue are especially drawn to the recent events that have happened in Gaza and the expansion of settlements in the West Bank. Like millions across the world, I was horrified by the persistent casualties and the fear millions of Israelis and Palestinians face on a daily basis. No one should take lightly how and why that conflict began. No one who truly seeks peace sees a permanent occupation of territories as a way to end this conflict.
With that, we also need to have a less biased look at who is truly at fault. There’s enough blame to go around for both sides for their extreme policies that resorted in this conflict. In my opinion, indicting this issue around a select group of companies was biased and oversimplified. Companies like Caterpillar and Boeing have done phenomenal work in the United States and employ fellow Wolverines and thousands of Americans. Boeing has produced breakthrough technology in commercial aviation and has also worked diligently with our Department of Defense to create military aircraft that help protect American men and women in uniform to this day.
The issue is rooted in the disregard for life by the Hamas-controlled government and controversial policies of the current Netanyahu administration. To this day, it seems that both sides hide behind some of their more polarizing views at the expense of their own citizens and forestalling peace. For Hamas, the fault lies in their disregard for their citizens’ safety by allowing thousands of rockets to descend into Israel, knowing that this will force the Israeli government to rightfully act in its defense and put more than one million Gazans, the people they claim to serve and protect, in grave danger. For Netanyahu, while defending the country he governs is his responsibility, despite his recent retractions, it is abundantly clear that — with comments such as his opposition to a peaceful two-state solution and invoking fear of Arab-Israeli citizens voting in the March 2015 election — there are reasons why the prospect of Israel and an independent Palestinian nation remains bleak at this time.
Israel is our closest ally and the most democratic of countries within that region and we must continue to stand by her, especially since her neighbors seem to be in free-fall with the rise of sectarian violence and stateless terrorism. However, with this support it does not, and should not, encourage our ally to simply resolve its conflicts however it sees fit, without any criticism whatsoever.
Boycotting and divesting isn’t going to resort in a peaceful resolution for this conflict, especially if neither side is completely innocent. Instead, it could be seen as a way to settle the score in a never ending conflict, increase isolation and, as a result, cause more tension and violence than we have seen before. BDS may seem like a way of balancing the score, but the consequences in the future only make it worse.
In my opinion, true justice for Palestine is not going to come from divestment or adding additional punishment to either side. If we aim to see Israelis and Palestinians live in harmony during our lifetimes, both sides must eradicate the extremist dogma that is delaying the peace process. Organizations like Hamas need to end the senseless rocket attacks that place its citizens at risk and resume its work to create a united, peaceful and democratic Palestinian government. For the Israeli government, it is crucial for Netanyahu to sincerely pursue a two-state peace solution, halt the expansion of settlements in the West Bank and not seek to use Israeli fear to hinder both. Only then can I envision that peace and justice will come to the region.
I voted against the BDS resolution because I felt that it wasn’t the right direction for peace. If it could not bring our campus together, it could not bring a region broken by war and failed negotiations any closer to justice. We must seek a solution that is best for the sons and daughters of Israel and Palestine rather than avenge the past and even scores. I feel that we can find more productive solutions to this conflict outside of passing a resolution that gives up on the notion of peace and adds more problems to the conflicts than it seeks to resolve.
Christian Mays is a 2014 University alumnus.