As students at the University of Michigan, we’re commonly united through phrases like “Go Blue” and take pride in being the, “Leaders and Best.” Our strong sense of community is part of the reason why so many students choose to attend the University.
This past week, a resolution was introduced to Central Student Government that hurts this sense of community and unity that many hold valuable to their Michigan experience. Students Allied for Freedom and Equality has introduced “A Resolution to Call Upon The University of Michigan to Appoint a Committee to Investigate Investments in Socially Irresponsible Companies that Violate Palestinian Human Rights.” As a representative on the CSG Assembly, it concerns me that a resolution that was so divisive last year has resurfaced. This is a resolution that I cannot support and that my fellow Wolverines should not support.
There’s no denying that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is a triggering, tough and difficult issue to discuss. There’s also no denying this resolution is attempting to turn this historical conflict into one where students conflate the Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement with all social justice efforts. This leads to a fractured campus community in which students are only pushed to further extremes on the spectrum of the conflict. While every student on this campus has the fundamental right to have their voice heard, I cannot support movements such as BDS and #UMDivest, which present a one-sided narrative and do not allow for collaborative or constructive dialogue.
Divestment has historically been used at our University with regard to South African apartheid, the tobacco industry and, most recently, the oil and coal industries. In 2005, the University’s CFO provided the basic outline for determining whether or not divestment is appropriate. This framework should be followed when asking the University’s Board of Regents to divest the University’s endowment, which is not made of student tuition, from a socially irresponsible set of investments. I challenge the appropriateness of SAFE’s request through this process laid out by the University CFO.
The statement from the CFO reads: “We will ask the Regents to appoint an ad hoc committee to investigate the ethical and moral implications of our investments only when the following conditions have been met:
• The concern to be explored must express the broadly and consistently held position of the campus community over time.
• There must be reason to believe that the behavior or action in question may be antithetical to the core mission and values of the University.
• There must be reason to believe that the organization, industry or entity to be singled out may be uniquely responsible for the problems identified.”
Regarding the first point of this statement, there’s clearly no broadly and consistently expressed position of the campus community regarding divestment on this issue. Last year, when SAFE introduced a similar resolution, hundreds of students with a wide range of opinions attended CSG’s meetings and spoke during the community concerns portion of the meeting in an attempt to persuade Assembly members to vote one way or another.
When looking at the second statement, take into account one of the University’s core missions — the pursuit and dissemination of truth and knowledge. Passing a resolution as controversial as the one proposed would steer the University in the opposite direction. Rather than opening the door for dialogue in which people can learn, BDS is dissuading individuals from being able to express and form new opinions at the University. Voting yes for this resolution sends a dangerous signal internally — to the members of our own campus community, and externally, to our peer institutions along with local and national lawmakers — that decisions can be made with limited information and the suppression of a wide range of opinions and knowledge.
Finally, the third prong deals with responsibility for the identified problems. While the companies targeted in this resolution have been identified by BDS as infringing upon the human rights of Palestinians, this resolution fails to shed light on the positive work that these companies perform to help those in the West Bank and the Gaza Strip such as building homes, hospitals and schools. Claiming that these four companies are uniquely responsible for issues in the Middle East is a baseless accusation being treated as fact.
While BDS is a movement that is attempting to hurt a country thousands of miles away, in reality, it’s only hurting our campus community right here at home. SAFE has created an atmosphere in which only one narrative is given legitimacy, and where dissent, discussion or dialogue is silenced. This threatens the ability of members of our campus to operate as an open and intellectual community. Last year, SAFE held events such as a depiction of a West Bank checkpoint and delivered hundreds of dorm residents “mock eviction notices” that suggested they had been evicted from their dorms. These actions show that this student group aims to educate community members through fear and intimidation rather than through information and fact. SAFE is a student organization on our campus that’s actively creating a polarized campus atmosphere.
As a CSG representative and member of the Jewish community, I cannot support a resolution that undermines the ability of community members to create a united, inclusive campus. I cannot support a resolution that places absolute blame for a complicated conflict on one side. I cannot support a resolution that provides a platform for anti-Semitism to thrive. What the University of Michigan needs are solutions that bring multiple parties together for constructive dialogue and action. We will not do this by annually proposing divisive resolutions that spark conflict.
I ask you to join me in defeating this resolution, but more importantly, I ask for your support in creating solutions that strengthen our community.
Will Canning is a CSG representative and Business junior.