For years now, Students Allied for Freedom and Equality has brought resolutions to Central Student Government, calling on the University to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s violations of Palestinian human rights. SAFE students have faced harassment, slander and blacklisting in response to this activism. Despite this, we refuse to be silenced — and our movement continues to grow. As students committed to freedom, justice and equality, we are launching the 2017 #UMDivest campaign. We call upon the University of Michigan to withdraw its investments from companies that violate Palestinian rights.
The Israeli-Palestinian conflict is widely portrayed as a distant issue that’s difficult to take a position on due to its complicated and controversial nature. Nothing could be further from the truth. Israel’s systematic oppression of the Palestinian people directly impacts Palestinian students at the University.
Millions of Palestinians have lived under Israeli military occupation for 50 years. In East Jerusalem and the West Bank, Palestinian homes are continually demolished by Israel and replaced with Jewish-only settlements. Palestinians there live under martial law and can be imprisoned indefinitely without charge. In prison, Palestinians are often subjected to torture. In the occupied Gaza Strip, Palestinians face a crippling Israeli siege and blockade, punctuated by Israeli bombing campaigns and invasions that have killed thousands of civilians. The United Nations says Gaza will be unlivable by 2020.
These are only some of the inhumane acts that Palestinians face on a daily basis, all documented by the United Nations and numerous human rights organizations. To us, they aren’t anonymous victims on the news. They are our family and friends.
This is a clear-cut case of apartheid: a regime of racial segregation, oppression and violence similar to the old regime of South Africa. Inspired by the successful struggle of Black South Africans against apartheid, Palestinians launched the international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement in 2005, calling upon people around the world to boycott Israel until it ends its violations of their rights. The movement has grown since then, and resolutions similar to #UMDivest have passed in several student governments including Stanford, Northwestern and seven of California’s nine public universities.
#UMDivest calls upon the University to divest from companies that supply Israel’s apartheid regime. Boeing and Lockheed Martin, for example, provide aircraft and weapons to the Israeli military. Hewlett-Packard provides the electronic identification system used at Israeli military checkpoints to restrict Palestinians’ freedom of movement. The for-profit prison company G4S provides security systems at prisons in which Palestinians are detained without charge and tortured. As long as the University invests in these companies, Palestinian students are paying tuition to a university that profits from violence against their own people.
Opponents of divestment say we need “dialogue” instead of divestment and that divestment creates a hostile campus climate. But the campus climate is already hostile to Palestinian students and will be as long as the University’s investments materially violate their rights. How can we have “dialogue” if one side refuses to recognize the basic humanity of the other?
In fact, SAFE students have been met with continual intimidation and silencing for their activism. SAFE demonstrations on the Diag are routinely met with harassment, with one incident in 2015 involving a member of CSG. In 2014, CSG voted to indefinitely postpone discussion of divestment, despite the attendance of hundreds of students supporting the resolution. And recently, numerous members of SAFE were placed on a blacklist website that targets Palestine activists across the country, publishing their personal information and attempting to falsely tie them to terrorism. Israel itself has committed millions of dollars to a confidential campaign targeting BDS activists around the world, with one veteran Israeli analyst describing its tactics as “black ops.”
In this context, opponents of divestment are calling for “dialogue” between oppressor and oppressed, while opposing any meaningful action to end this oppression. Talk is cheap: Those who claim to support peace and coexistence must oppose Israel’s systemic violence and expulsion of Palestinians.
Divestment won’t single-handedly liberate Palestinians. It will put economic pressure on Israel to stop its human rights abuses and show students’ real solidarity with an oppressed people. It’s time for the University to stop excluding Palestinian lives from the progressive values it claims to hold. We urge everyone who cares about human rights to learn more on our Facebook page or by contacting us at firstname.lastname@example.org, and allies can sign our statement of support.
Change starts with us. We can continue to allow our tuition dollars to fuel oppression, or together we can take a stand and make our University live up to its core values. It’s time to divest.
Students Allied for Freedom and Equality is an activist student organization whose foremost objective is to promote the right of the Palestinian people to self-determination.
Did reading this piece inspire you to share your own opinions? Do you have something to say about an issue you care about? Learn how to submit an op-ed or letter to the editor here.