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March 24, 2005 - Image 16

Resource type:
The Detroit Jewish News, 2005-03-24

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Student Power

Jewish students mobilize to counter call
for U-M to divest from Israel.

"I realized that
although some
Jewish students do
not play an active
role in campus
affairs, that is more
than fine. In a
time of need, the
Jewish community
does not hesitate to
appear and prove
themselves, which
is what is truly

— Monica woa
West Bloomfield


Special to the Jewish News

Ann Arbor
ast Tuesday night was a "Hail
To The Victors" moment at
the University of Michigan.
Pro-Israel students successfully con-
vinced their student government to
decisively defeat a resolution that
would have created an "advisory
committee to investigate the moral
and ethical implications" of U-M
investments in companies that do
business with Israel.
The Michigan Student Assembly
(MSA) overwhelmingly rejected the
divestment proposal from the
Palestinian-focused Students Allied
for Freedom and Equality (SAFE) by
a vote of 25-11 with five abstentions.
The March 14 victory was all the
sweeter since that morning, the cam-
pus newspaper, the Michigan Daily,
had predicted the resolution was
likely to pass.
"U of M's Jewish community truly
proved itself on Tuesday night," said
Monica Woll, a West Bloomfield
sophomore who chairs the U-M
Hillel governing board. "So many
students who could normally not be
paid to attend any Jewish event
proudly attended the meeting sport-
ing blue and white T-shirts and anx-
ious faces," said Woll.
"I realized that although some
Jewish students do not play an active
role in campus affairs, that is more
than fine. In a time of need, the
Jewish community does not hesitate
to appear and prove themselves,
which is what is truly important."
More than 600 students, faculty
and community members, almost
evenly divided on the issue, packed
the ballroom in the Michigan Union.
The meeting started 90 minutes late
so a room big enough to accommo-
date the crowd could be found. The


late start actually increased the atten-
dance as other meetings let out and
students used their cell phones to
call friends to come. The three-hour
meeting ended just past midnight.

Divestment Roots

Divestment has been a hot issue on
the U-M campus since the Second
North American Conference of the
Palestine Student Movement (PSM)
was held on campus in 2002. At that
time, President Mary Sue
Coleman made it clear that
U-M would not divest
funds from companies
doing business in Israel.
Nonetheless, last month
the student government at
U-M Dearborn passed a
divestment resolution, prompting U-
M spokeswoman Julie Peterson to say
in a written statement that "there are
no plans to ask the Board of Regents
to pursue divestment." Recent efforts
to introduce a similar resolution at
U-M Flint have stalled, with the res-
olution reportedly being redrafted to
include a full review of human rights
concerns that will not mention Israel
by name.
Nationwide, PSM has led the
largely unsuccessful divestment
movement, which has seen only a
handful of campuses, mostly small
ones, support the effort.
"Across the country, divestment
has been resoundingly defeated," said
Aaron Goldberg, associate director of
the U.S.-based Israel on Campus
Coalition, a partnership of the
Charles and Lynn Schusterman
Family Foundation, Hillel: The
Foundation for Jewish Campus Life
and 30 other organizations.
The MSA's rejection of the divest-
ment resolution "sends a very strong
message on where students on cam-
pus are today generally and the
resources the pro-Israel students have

at their fingertips," said Goldberg.
"Generally, politics are local, but this
can have a profound impact because
these votes cut the legs out from
under the divestment movement.
"The proponents of divestment
live in a world that doesn't reflect
reality, but rather one of smoke and

Students Mobilize

About a dozen students involved in
pro-Israel activities, many
student government mem-
bers, came together to lead
the U-M campaign against
the divestment resolution.
"The main players on
the anti-divestment plan-
ning side were active pro-
Israel members of Michigan's student
government, American Movement
for Israel board members, the Hillel
executive board as well as any Jewish
student who felt that he or she could
contribute in some manner," said U-
M Hillel's Woll. "No one was turned
away; everyone that wanted to have a
part in the planning was welcomed.
Jennifer Gonik, a West Bloomfield
sophomore who serves on the MSA
and is a vice-chair of the American
Movement for Israel, was involved
from the beginning and knew the
task would be difficult. "If the U-M
campus is liberal, the MSA is super
liberal. If those behind divestment
could get support anywhere, the best
hope would have been MSA," she
"[The anti-divestment group] met
several mornings at 7:30 a.m. to
decide on a message and how to stick
to it," said Gonik.
The main theme was "It's not just
a committee," to drive home the
point that the goal of the resolution
was to vilify Israel rather than simply
set up a committee to investigate the
situation. The students were aided by


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