In the wake of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat’s death, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality has renewed calls for the University to divest from companies supporting the Israeli occupation of the West Bank and Gaza Strip.
SAFE, a pro-Palestinian group, held a forum last night in the Michigan Union to discuss ways to persuade the University to divest.
SAFE expanded its scope last night by criticizing the defense firms that deal with Israel for their role in the U.S.-led war in Iraq.
“The goal of divestment is to put pressure on … the Israeli government to force (its) hand in providing a peace deal and ending the occupation at the same time,” said SAFE president and LSA senior Carmel Salhi.
“A lot of the same companies that we’re focusing on with the Israeli occupation … also provide the weaponry in Iraq,” Salhi said.
SAFE co-chair and LSA senior Tareq Dika said the group plans to bring a resolution to the Michigan Student Assembly and then to the University Board of Regents.
According to SAFE, the University holds more than $11 million of stock in companies that sell military equipment to Israel — including Raytheon, General Electric, United Technologies, Lockheed Martin and General Dynamics.
Dika rebutted the claim that divestment threatens the University’s bottom line, saying that its investments in the targeted firms are only a small chunk of its total holdings.
“The University can invest in companies that have nothing to do with Israel and Iraq,” he added.
“They’re not only active in one occupation but in more than one and in any they can get their hands on,” Dika said. “These companies have obvious ethical issues in multiple areas of the world.”
Salhi said educating students about Palestinian suffering is one tool that can be used to put pressure on companies that deal with Israel.
“They would rather save face than show their undying support for Israel,” he added.
American Movement for Israel vice-chair and LSA sophomore Jennifer Gonik said SAFE’s campaign unfairly places all the blame for the Palestinian-Israeli conflict on the Jewish state.
“I think the goal is to have real dialogue to eventually work out a peaceful solution,” she said.
Gonik said she did not think SAFE shared this goal.
“I think if you want real dialogue, you wouldn’t be promoting a divestment campaign, which is a one-sided attempt to demonize Israel,” she said, adding, “They have a right to speak their minds.” Campus rallies were frequently suggested as a means of education, with many proposing that SAFE hold a mock checkpoint on the Diag.
One attendee suggested that SAFE frame U.S. support of Israel as a threat to national security.
But Dika said he did not want to use the scare tactics of the opposition to promote his cause. He accused pro-Israeli groups of McCarthyist tactics — branding pro-Palestinians as terrorists to discourage people from associating themselves with groups like SAFE.
“Any group that supports this issue is going to be called anti-Semitic,” Dika added.
Some questioned whether MSA members would be receptive to an issue that some may perceive as irrelevant to students.
But Dika said that even if some MSA candidates promised to address only issues that directly involve students, “too bad, they’re going to have to have to deal with us.”
Divestment campaigns have been successful in the past in persuading the University to divest from tobacco companies and from businesses that dealt with apartheid-era South Africa.
Attempts to convince organizations to divest from Israel have been largely unsuccessful, although the Presbyterian church decided to do so last summer.