Hundreds of anxious students and local community members filled an emotionally charged Michigan Union Ballroom last night, when the Michigan Student Assembly soundly defeated a proposal advocating the creation of a committee to examine University investments in companies that do business with Israel.
The overwhelming margin against the resolution — 11 representatives voted in favor, while 25 voted no — came as a surprise to many MSA officials and observers, who had said in the lead up to the vote that they expected a close outcome.
“I felt good with the outcome of the resolution especially given the recent developments in the peace process between the Israelis and the Palestinians,” said MSA General Counsel Jesse Levine
Although MSA expected a high turnout, scheduling the meeting in the Kuenzel Room of the Union instead of MSA chambers, the turnout was so high that the meeting had to be relocated a second time to the larger ballroom and began an hour and half late.
The animosity and nervous energy in the room was palpable, leading to spontaneous altercations throughout the ballroom and cramped hallways of the Union and causing the Department of Public Safety to remove a heckler during an address by former MSA Vice President Jennifer Nathan. Raucous cheers and applause, as well as numerous parliamentary questions, punctuated the meeting, making it difficult at times for MSA President Jason Mironov to control the large crowd.
Proceedings involved a speaker’s list, with advocates of both sides taking turns voicing their opinion. Speakers included students, University professors and community members.
If passed, the resolution would have instructed the MSA External Relations Committee to send a letter urging the University Board of Regents to create an advisory committee to investigate the moral and ethical implications of the University’s investments in companies that directly support the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Opponents of the resolution argued that its effect and intent went beyond merely forming a committee, instead targeting Israel and ultimately seeking divestment from the country. They cited language in the proposal that condemned the state of Israel and pointed to human rights abuses and violations of international law.
After hearing these concerns from Mironov and other members of MSA, MSA representative Matt Hollerbach and other authors of the resolution made a motion to strike every clause but the last three from the resolution, in hopes to find more support for the formation of a committee. With this move, the resolution was eliminated of any direct condemnation of Israel and called for an “advisory committee consisting of members of the University Senate, students, administration and alumni.”
Students Allied for Freedom and Equality president Carmel Salhi emphasized that the resolution called for the formation of a committee to investigate University investments.
“There are investments that many students on this campus find morally and ethnically questionable,” Salhi said.
RC junior Ashwini Hardikar explained that the resolution was not to encourage the University to immediately divest from Israel, but called for an investigation into potential human rights violations.
“It’s not an issue of whether or not you’re pro-Israel or pro-Palestine. It’s a question of whether or not human rights violations have been committed,” Hardikar said.
Other proponents of the resolution echoed these sentiments.
“This resolution is about academic freedom, and the right to know whether the businesses that the University invests in realize international human rights principles and business ethics,” said Nadine Naber, professor of American Culture and Women’s Studies.
But Mironov said that the language of the resolution proposed a verdict before the trial.
“If it were simply a resolution to create a committee, it wouldn’t have 14 clauses condemning the state of Israel,” Mironov said prior to the elimination of 12 clauses.
Opponents of the resolution also complained that it unfairly singled out Israel for condemnation.
While the audience seemed evenly split between both sides, opponents of the resolution were noticeably not sporting their “Stand with Israel” T-shirts, which have generated some controversy. In addition, supporters of the resolution asked Blaine Coleman, a sharp critic of the state of Israel, not to attend the meeting out of a fear that his strong opinions could damage their chances of success.
The result of the vote invoked even more emotion from both supporters and opponents of the resolution.
“You can’t silence this issue any more. We know that this occupation is immoral and unethical, and we won’t be silenced any longer,” said LSA freshman and member of Amnesty International Nafisah Ula.
Vice-chair and co founder of the Israeli Students Organization Ziv Ragowski said he hoped the debates would open up talk between Palestinians and Israelis.
“People are recognizing the (desire) of both nations to move towards peace and to end the bloodshed,” Ragowski said.