Enough of the divisive rhetoric. Enough of the unequal coverage. Enough of the half-truths that have dominated the conversation. Enough of sitting quietly on the sideline, waiting for the facts to win the day — that clearly is not happening.
I am a Zionist. I support the existence of Israel. I believe in a two-state solution, where Israel remains a majority Jewish state. And after millennia of persecution, diasporas and attempted genocides, I am not going to apologize for the way I feel. I am not going to forget that Israel was born in the aftermath of the Holocaust. And I am not going to dismiss the fact that Israel’s boundaries exist in their current form because all of her neighbors have tried to wipe her off of the map, repeatedly.
The conversation on campus these past two weeks about divesting from companies doing business in Israel has been hurtful, it has been filled with inaccuracies and it has done nothing to support peace or reconciliation between the opposing sides. Students Allied for Freedom and Equality has vilified the Central Student Government, slurred the students that oppose its resolution, and misrepresented its own agenda. It’s time the truth is told.
To begin, SAFE’s voice was not “silenced.” SAFE has now presented its proposal twice to CSG, and twice our student government voted “no.” I understand a group may be frustrated that its proposal did not pass. But when a group’s proposal (twice) does not pass a democratically elected representative student body, which (twice) acted firmly in line with its rules of procedure, the group has not been silenced. It has been heard (twice). And in this case, it has been heard louder and clearer than most groups ever are.
Second, the CSG was right to vote the way it did. One of the three requirements for divestment is that the view must be “broadly and consistently held on campus over time,” and reflect “a broad campus consensus.” SAFE asked CSG to affirm that its resolution possessed this type of support. This is something the CSG could not do, because this type of support does not exist. In its resolution, SAFE offered zero legitimate evidence that its proposal enjoyed a consensus. The only support it provided were citations to three Michigan Daily pieces — pieces members of SAFE authored — that showed nothing in the way of campus consensus for its view. In stark contrast, two weeks of a divided campus and six and a half hours of divided debate point in the opposite direction.
Third, SAFE’s resolution is not about human rights. It is about delegitimizing and weakening the State of Israel. If SAFE cared only about human rights, then it is beyond suspect that it only pushed for divestiture from companies having dealings with Israel. If SAFE cared only about human rights, it would have included companies doing business with tens, if not hundreds, of other countries. China is an obvious example. So is Israel’s neighbor, Syria, who has killed more than 100,000 civilians since the start of its civil war. And so are the Palestinian extremists, who shoot rockets daily at Israeli civilians. But these offenders are notably absent from SAFE’s resolution on human rights.
I am not saying Israel has not violated human rights laws. To the contrary, I am sure that she has — as is true with every nation (see: waterboarding, United States). But Israel is a true and functioning democracy, the only one in a region that is largely hostile to its right even to exist. One does not need to be an expert in international affairs to know that Israel’s record on human rights is not even in the same ballpark as many of the countries to which the University’s, as well as all other universities’, investments are linked. Claiming that this resolution is strictly for human rights, under the dubious pretense that “you need to start somewhere,” is as offensive as it is calculated.
If this resolution were for any company operating in a country that violates human rights, then I would support it. But it is not. And that omission is not innocent.
Fourth, SAFE’s strategy is not one that encourages peace or reconciliation between the opposing sides. Rather, it is one that has further divided our campus, made students on all sides feel uncomfortable and intimidated and led to threats aimed at members of the CSG. It is a strategy that calls one side a villain and ignores any of its own culpability for the sorry state of current affairs.
If SAFE was interested in peace and ending the occupation, a much more prudent strategy would have been to reach out to the opposing side and discuss a bilateral action. Both sides want human rights to be respected. Both sides could make steps towards peace. But proposing a divisive resolution, which could not have passed CSG no matter who presented it, and which paints a complex story in black and white, is not a strategy interested in peace.
I was at the CSG meeting this past Tuesday. I heard the speeches from both sides. If any of the students who spoke can be taken at their word, this campus is ready to sit down and discuss real solutions. I know for a fact that pro-Israel students are currently trying to meet with SAFE and open a dialogue with the goal of producing real, viable results. If SAFE is serious about peace — which would go a long way toward protecting the human rights of both sides — I would expect them to agree to this.
But continuing to lob uneven rhetoric and insults is not a genuine path towards peace. And as long as SAFE continues to push a resolution that singles out Israel, thinly veiled under the banner of human rights, peace will not be achieved. Not on this campus. And not in this conflict.
And that is the truth.
Aaron Schaer is a second year law student.