Michigan students demand divestment as administration brags about Israel ties

Student activists at the University of Michigan have called for the administration to divest from companies that profit from Israel’s occupation, apartheid and settler-colonial policies.

The university has rejected formal calls for divestment twice since 2000, but students say they’re determined to keep up the pressure.

In the above video, taken at a recent meeting of the Board of Regents, the university’s governing body, student activist Yazan Kherallah identified specific US companies — Caterpillar, Northrup Grumman and Hewlett-Packard — in which the university is invested, and demanded that the administration seek alternative companies in which to invest students’ tuition money.

“Investing in companies that profit from the military occupation and violence, no matter where or why, is unethical … it goes against the core values of this institution, and the legacies of the University of Michigan activists [who] have long fought for liberation and social justice before us … we ask that you divest our tuition from all unethical corporations that facilitate and profit from the military occupation of Palestine,” Kherallah stated.

Mock eviction notices

Last month, students attached mock eviction notices to the doors of dormitories in an action that was meant to highlight the rampant eviction of Palestinian families and the demolitions of their homes in the occupied West Bank including East Jerusalem and inside present-day Israel.

The Michigan Daily, the campus newspaper, reported that the students said “action is particularly crucial because the evictions are part of larger, systematic discriminatory acts against Palestinians that should be condemned by the United States, as well as the University.”

“We really want to get this discussion going on campus and not have it be silenced,” student Zeinab Khalil told the newspaper. “It seems like the University doesn’t act until it’s forced to … we decided to do something that speaks directly to the students.”

In an op-ed in the same student newspaper, the activists — members of Students Allied for Freedom and Equality — stated on 9 December:

While we attempted to parallel this situation onto our campus, it is impossible to understand the violent trauma that comes with the uprooting and displacement of entire families and neighborhoods. We can only begin to try to imagine the physical, emotional and psychological loss that happens when homes and communities — embedded with memory, dignity and livelihood — are reduced to rubble.

“Alliance” with Israeli academe

Last week, the University of Michigan’s president and provost issued a joint statement voicing their opposition to the American Studies Association’s recent vote to boycott Israeli academic institutions. The administrative officials bragged about their “long-standing and productive institutional relationships” with Israeli academe, including with the Technion.

The Technion provides extensive research and development for Israel’s arms industry and has helped militarize the Caterpillar D9 bulldozer, which is used to demolish Palestinian homes (and is the same bulldozer that an Israeli driver used to crush US student and activist Rachel Corrie to death in 2003).

“The University of Michigan is committed to continuing and strengthening its long-standing and productive institutional relationships with Israeli universities and institutes,” the statement from the president and provost says.

It cited “exciting and productive collaborations with counterparts” including “student exchanges with The Technion Israel Institute of Technology, an alliance with Ben Gurion University in renewable energy, and a groundbreaking collaboration in the biomedical sciences called the UM/Israel Partnership for Research that involves the Weizmann Institute of Science, The Technion and Tel Aviv University.”

As The Electronic Intifada has recently reported, several US universities have canceled their memberships in the American Studies Association under intense pressure from Israel lobby groups.

And in a bizarre new threat by Israel-aligned lawmakers following the ASA vote, Alex Kane of Mondoweiss reported on Friday that two New York City legislators are hoping to pass a bill that would “cut money off from private and public schools if they remain in the ASA.” The legislators include Dov Hikind, the infamous New York City politician with ties to the Jewish Defense League, who showed up in blackface to a Purim party in February and was a leading force behind (failed) calls to have a popular event on the boycott, divestment and sanctions (BDS) movement canceled at Brooklyn College the month before.

However, members of National Students for Justice in Palestine (NSJP) say that the actions of universities to condemn the ASA’s academic boycott of Israel and the intimidation tactics deployed by Israel-aligned groups, individuals and politicians only smack of desperation as the BDS movement grows. NSJP states, in part:

We know that supporters of Israeli racism are unnerved, and that they are lashing out at those who have gone out of their way to insist that a politically neutral academic freedom is a myth; that the right to inquire is nested amidst other freedoms – and that what Israel denies Palestinians is the right to have rights.


Nora Barrows-Friedman

Nora Barrows-Friedman's picture

Nora Barrows-Friedman is a staff writer and associate editor at The Electronic Intifada, and is the author of In Our Power: US Students Organize for Justice in Palestine (Just World Books, 2014).