Last Tuesday night, I left the Central Student Government meeting overcome with emotion. It was not because of the pride I felt standing united with my community, but rather because I was told that the Israeli-Palestinian conflict is comparable to the Holocaust. I was told that connecting my faith to a state that is imperfect is a problem of my moral character. I was told that this resolution, one that has divided campus for the past 15 years, will not further tear apart our campus. Meanwhile, I was physically divided from my peers, while standing just a foot away.
I am a pro-Israel, anti-divestment student who has invested many years of my life learning about this conflict from an outside perspective. Of the many things I’ve learned, I’ve come to value the wide variety of narratives that surround the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. It is our responsibility as students at the University of Michigan to acknowledge the opinions and beliefs of others with whom we may disagree. It is important that we, as future leaders, continue to stand behind our own beliefs while actively promoting an environment in which other narratives can be both heard and respected.
On Nov. 15, 2016, CSG voted against a resolution brought forth by members of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality that called for the divestment from “several companies that allegedly commit human rights violations against Palestinians.” While I witnessed discouraging tension in the room, I was impressed by the call from many students to begin challenging the Israeli-Palestinian conflict through means of peaceful conversation between supporters and opponents of the resolution. Though small, the steps taken were meaningful in response to the enmity witnessed after the divestment resolution.
In January 2017, a different resolution was presented to CSG, requesting funds for meetings between proponents and opponents of the original divestment resolution. I participated in meetings with SAFE members and other pro-Israel students. The members of the meeting and I, as leaders in our respective communities, committed to taking accountability for the actions of our peers at events on campus. Specifically demonstrations on the Diag, in order to ensure that each narrative has the opportunity to be expressed peacefully. Setting this example for our communities was an important value of all of those involved in the meetings.
Unfortunately, this year’s upcoming resolution, which follows very closely to the most recent one, is bound to bring back the negative sentiments that students were very eager to leave behind. In years past, there have been incidences of blatant anti-Semitic hate speech and even threats of violence, according to police reports written after the 2014 chamber meeting. I learned of these disturbing incidences as a high schooler — not in Ann Arbor, but from the comfort of my home in the suburbs of Chicago.
I, among many other students on this campus, worry that my identity as a Jew will be unreasonably tied into the conversation of divestment. I fear that my community will be hurt by disturbing acts of anti-Semitism as seen all too often in the recent past. In previous years, anti-divestment students have even been labeled as racist and opponents of social justice solely due to their stance on divestment resolutions.
Such behaviors are destructive for both parties involved, but the culture surrounding divestment resolutions promotes them. Beyond personal fears, I worry that any signs of good faith and the relationships built between supporters and opponents of last year’s resolution will dissolve as a consequence of the upcoming CSG vote. Finally, I worry that the cycle will never be broken.
My peers and I acknowledge and respect the opinions and beliefs of the authors and supporters of this resolution, and I do not seek to invalidate the feelings of nor the issues facing Palestinian students. I simply seek to shed light on the anti-divestment narrative. This narrative by which I stand is wrongfully painted as immoral and privileged during times of divestment on campus. There is no winner nor loser in the conflict in the Middle East; both parties are perpetrators and victims, and both parties suffer the consequences.
Unlike the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, divestment resolutions create a false sense of victory for one party when, in reality, this campus as a whole suffers. The issue at hand, which encompasses long-standing political struggle and conflict, is not one that can be simply resolved through a resolution framed as a campus climate issue. Both those who support and oppose divestment resolutions should be collaborating instead of campaigning, conversing instead of cursing. The more we seek to understand the perspectives of others, acknowledge their right to uphold their beliefs and diminish the accusations and blaming, the better off we are. But that stops the minute we hear the word “divestment.”
If you oppose divestment, like me, and would like to ensure that your voice is heard, please follow this link to sign a petition urging CSG to reject this resolution and focus its efforts on uniting our campus community in more constructive ways.
Ari Spellman is an LSA junior.
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