Talk with any student in the midst of writing papers, completing readings and studying for final exams, and you’ll hear that the winter term rarely unwinds gracefully.
The circumstances were no different in the Michigan Union last night, when members of the Michigan Student Assembly deferred voting on a controversial resolution supporting University divestment from Caterpillar Corp. – an American-based manufacturer that supplies its bulldozers to the Israeli government.
After outcry from several representatives and students, sponsors of the resolution decided to withhold voting on the resolution until the assembly reconvenes next fall.
The resolution, which culled extensive debate from constituents during last week’s assembly meeting, came weeks after Palestinian sympathizers decried the death of American peace activist Rachel Corrie as a murder by bulldozer operators of Israeli Defense Forces. The resolution said MSA should press the University to investigate Caterpillar Corp. and rescind its $500,000 investment in the company if the investigation finds its bulldozers have been used to destroy more than 7,000 Palestinian homes – many of which are believed to have belonged to families of suicide bombers, constituents said.
The resolution also said the demolition of Palestinian homes violates the 1949 Fourth Geneva Convention, an international statute outlawing the decimation of property and “collective punishment” of “protected persons” living in the occupied territories – persons whom many constituents defined as Palestinians.
But despite a chamber room brimming with students still slated to speak on the resolution, the assembly voted to table the legislation until the fall term.
“I’m not disappointed,” incoming American Movement for Israel Co-chair Meredith Mercer said, referring to the assembly’s decision. “Voting on it now or in the fall isn’t going to really matter one way or the other.”
Mercer joined several other AMI members in solidarity against the resolution, citing that Israel’s use of Caterpillar bulldozers is not expressly for the demolition of Palestinian homes.
“Caterpillar is a free company, they’re allowed to trade with whoever they want,” said incoming AMI Co-chair Jonathan Goldberg, who spoke out against the divestment from Caterpillar Corp. “Bulldozers are not just used for house demolitions.”
In addition to citing that Israeli destruction of Palestinian homes is a necessary defense against suicide bombers, opponents of the resolution also said the Geneva Convention sanctions those demolitions despite contrasting claims by the resolution’s supporters.
And while opponents of the resolution said divestment from Caterpillar Corp. would convince the University to divest from all Israel-affiliated companies, supporters of the resolution said the resolution was not anti-Israel.
“This is definitely not a part of any campaign to divest from Israel,” said MSA Health Issues Commission Co-chair Lorena Estrada, who sponsored the resolution. Estrada added that the legislation was meant to “be a check on the U of M administration” by encouraging it to question the location of its investments.
Estrada, who agreed with her fellow co-sponsors to table the resolution, added that the legislation’s intent was to dissociate from Caterpillar because of its inhumane practices – not to encourage divestment from Israel in general. Other assembly representatives echoed her statements.
“I agree with the decision of the assembly (to table to resolution),” co-sponsor and Rackham Rep. Eric Reichenberger said. “We all must be sure we give it the proper attention it deserves.”
“The resolution was tabled because the climate in the room was steered away from the resolution’s goal, which is to bring up an issue of corporate responsibility and human rights,” Communications Committee Chair Courtney Skiles said. “People were arguing instead about the situation between Arab and Israeli students here on campus.”
Skiles said she hopes when representatives gather in the fall, they will be able to treat the resolution as a humanitarian issue and not characterize it as an item pitting ethnic groups against one another.