Michigan students pass call to probe Israel investments

University of Michigan students react to a fellow student speaking in support of a resolution to investigate university investments, 14 November. (Twitter)

The student government at the University of Michigan passed a resolution recommending the university’s governing body investigate its investments in Boeing, Hewlett Packard and United Technologies, companies that profit from Israel’s violations of Palestinian rights.

The victory follows years of attempts by student activists to pass such a measure.

Student senators voted in support of the resolution with a vote, by secret ballot, of 23 in favor and 17 against, with five abstentions. The meeting, which stretched from Tuesday evening into early Wednesday morning, was reported to be the longest in student government history.

Over the years, efforts to pass Israel divestment resolutions have included contentious debates, protests and impassioned speeches by students and members of the public inside packed halls during student government hearings.

Israel advocates, meanwhile, have pushed hard against measures to support Palestinian rights on campus. A student speaking in opposition to the resolution on Tuesday evening claimed that divestment measures would bring “extreme divisiveness” to the university, reported campus newspaper The Michigan Daily.

During a 2014 divestment hearing at the University of Michigan, Zionist students and speakers appeared to be well-coached and on message, reported The Electronic Intifada’s Ali Abunimah, who was present.

That initial resolution was “tabled indefinitely” by the student government, leading to a week-long sit-in and protest by University of Michigan students.

A similar resolution was voted down a year later, following intense student organizing campaigns, teach-ins, mock checkpoints and direct actions on campus.

Accountability

The campus group Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE) has been at the forefront of the divestment push.

In a press release, SAFE members said that the campaign, dubbed #UMDivest, “has uplifted the voices of Palestinians on campus for 15 years” and has been supported by more than 40 student groups, 20 members of faculty and “countless current students and alumni.”

“We need to continue the coalition building that we have been doing throughout SAFE’s history,” Andrea Sahouri, co-chair of SAFE, told The Electronic Intifada.

“This is not just a Palestinian issue – a violation of human rights threatens the rights of everyone,” she said.

More than 110 alumni of the University of Michigan signed a letter of support for the resolution, saying that the university “should be held accountable to the actions of each and every one” of the many corporations in which it holds investments.

“As lifelong members of the Michigan family, we have the right and obligation to demand that our investments be ethically sound and at the very least, investigated,” the alumni state.

The University of Michigan has previously divested from apartheid South Africa in 1978 and against the tobacco industry in 2000, reports Michigan daily MLive.

In 2015, the student government passed a resolution to force the administration to investigate its investments in the fossil fuel industry.

“Students care”

Students say that after years of working to get a resolution passed, they will now work to make sure the administration begins investigating its investments in companies complicit in Israel’s occupation.

“I’m just hoping the administration can realize that this is what their students care about, and should take action on,” Sahouri said.

Meanwhile, student activists celebrated their long-awaited victory.

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Although there are severe backlashes, like the tonwnship of Frankfurt a. M in Germany forbidding renting spaces to organisations who fight for BDS and the city of Munich who planning to do the same, banks in Europe who refuse to allow any longer BDS organisations having bankaccounts with their banks and numerous other actions to block BDS, the BDS movement can't be stopped. It will take a long , long time. The israeli government is much more difficult to fight as was the case with South Africa, finally they will surrender. It is unstoppable because it is a grassroot movement without any central organisition. If one BDS movement gets a severe backlash, other BDS movement have success. It can't be beaten. Finally the movement will be victorious and whatever black ops of the israelis or legal actions, finally it will turn out that these efforts to stop BDS are all in vain.

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To all the students who risked so much and stood so tall, know that your message reaches beyond the campus, beyond borders. You will be targeted by blacklisters and propaganda operations. The university may seek to punish you. But you refused to submit to these forces, and you did the right thing. Step by step, we are all making a difference.

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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).