Members of the University community gathered last night to re-examine the issue of divestment at an open forum sponsored by Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, a group in favor of removing money it says funds the Israeli army’s occupying forces in the occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
Several student groups against divesting from Israel did not attend the forum. The forum came almost two months after SAFE sponsored a controversial divestment conference at the University.
Until last night, several pro-Israel groups believed the event would be postponed for another week, giving both sides adequate time to prepare their arguments, said LSA senior Yulia Dernovsky, co-chair of the American Movement for Israel.
AMI wanted the forum to encompass a broader debate and have an impartial moderator, co-chair and Engineering junior Avi Jacobson said.
“In selecting a moderator, we’d select someone who has no opinion to act as a moderator,” he said. “We think divestment is a method of squashing the debate. By putting this discussion, it gives the movement legitimacy it does not deserve.”
The panel included three members – Muslim Students Association Political Committee co-chair Ashraf Zahr, Rackham student Andrew Ravin and SAFE co-founder Fadi Kiblawi. Both Zahr and Kiblawi supported the divestment movement, while Ravin represented the counter-argument, but stressed that he did not represent the entire pro-Israeli community.
“I am one Jewish individual,” Ravin said. “I am a representative of myself.”
Zahr, an Engineering senior, said his goal for the forum was to dispel several myths surrounding the divestment movement and Palestinian sentiments toward the state of Israel.
“This touches closest to home to a lot of people,” Zahr said, adding he thought the tactics used to discredit the divestment movement were disheartening and disillusioning. Zahr added that in addition to not being anti-Semitic, the divestment movement exists as a non-violent way to pressure the Israeli government to end its military occupation of the West Bank and the Gaza Strip.
But divestment is not the best answer to the ongoing conflict in Israel, Ravin said.
“Divestment is a divisive and destructive solution,” Ravin said. “Terrorist organizations are the real enemy of the state of Israel. Without terrorism, there is no difficulty. Divestment can’t end terror.”
There is an apparent interdependence between Israelis and Palestinians that would suffer from divestment, he added.
Kiblawi said there are many parallels between Israel and the Apartheid state of South Africa. He cited the isolation of Palestinians from the rest of the Israeli population as an example.
“A number of Israeli laws