Call to create divestment committee passes at University of Michigan-Dearborn

Last month thousands of people watched in person and online as the student goverment at the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor debated a resolution calling for divestment from companies profiting from Israeli occupation.

Despite garnering impressive support, and a one-week-long sit-in by members of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE), the resolution was ultimately rejected.

But last Friday, without much fuss, the student government at the University of Michigan-Dearborn (UM-Dearborn) passed a similar resolution by a wide margin.

The resolution calls for the creation of an advisory committee to investigate companies eligible for divestment because of occupation profiteering.

The initiative was proposed by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) and endorsed by the Arab Student Union, the Muslim Students Association, She’s the First, Voice for Choice, Students for Islamic Awareness, the Biomedical Engineering Society, Mentors for Brighter Days, and Latinos United, campus newspaper The Michigan Journal reports.

The paper notes that UM-Dearborn’s student government “has called for divestment on four previous occasions: in 2005, 2006, 2010, and 2012” and the “more recent resolutions called for the collection of signatures on petitions to create a committee to review the investments.”

Call for more debate

UM-Dearborn SJP sent this statement welcoming the vote and explaining the resolution to The Electronic Intifada.

SJP is however critical of procedures used that limited debate and input from the resolution’s authors:

On Friday, UM-Dearborn’s Student Government voted 17-5 to pass a divestment resolution similar to that presented by SAFE at UM-Ann Arbor.

The resolution called to create a committee to investigate the University’s financial holdings and recommend divestment from corporations that are involved in human rights violations; specifically, it mentioned General Electric, United Technologies, Heidelberg Cement, and Caterpillar Inc. as four companies whose involvement with the Israeli military makes them eligible for divestment.

However, Student Government amended the resolution so that the last part – the part that explicitly recommended divestment – was removed, and while the resolution still clearly points out that corporations complicit in the occupation should be divested from, in effect it really only calls for the creation of the review committee.

We were not asked our opinion on this amendment; it was proposed and voted on by the senators without any input from the authors of the resolution. One senator attempted to introduce an amendment that SJP would have preferred, but before he had a chance to do so, the Speaker moved to close discussion.

While we are, of course, happy that the resolution passed by such a large margin, it seemed that Student Government was eager to get it over with. Instead of fostering a genuine debate about the issue, Student Government employed rules that limited each speaker to one five-minute session, with exceptions for additional one-minute periods to answer questions. Many supporters of the resolution had time to speak, as did two members of Hillel Metro Detroit, but the overall discussion time was severely limited. There was not an opportunity to discuss the amendment or defend our position on the original resolution, for example. We feel that everyone in the room would have benefited from a fuller and richer discussion, and of course, can’t underestimate the importance of debate (and action) on such issues on college campuses.

Despite the lack of real discussion, this divestment resolution still represents an important step forward. Now that Student Government has called for an advisory committee to review the University’s financial holdings, our next goal is to see this committee created and begin its investigation. We are confident that this committee will see the necessity and urgency of divesting from the Israeli occupation, and that the University of Michigan’s Board of Regents will eventually have to listen to the thousands of voices calling to end our financial complicity.

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Ali Abunimah

Ali Abunimah's picture

Co-founder of The Electronic Intifada and author of The Battle for Justice in Palestine, now out from Haymarket Books.

Also wrote One Country: A Bold-Proposal to End the Israeli-Palestinian Impasse. Opinions are mine alone.