By JORDAN WOHL, Guest Writer
A year ago, I was the most excited that I had ever been. I was wrapping up my senior year of high school in Massachusetts and was about to fulfill a lifelong dream of becoming a student at the University of Michigan. I was thrilled to see what opportunities I would have as a freshman, but I also knew leaving home would be difficult. Coming from a Jewish upbringing, I was very aware of the heightened levels of anti-Semitism on college campuses and was worried that the college environment, which prides itself on being a “safe space” for students, was not going to be safe for me as a Jewish student. Nonetheless, I entered college with an open mind, and ready to experience life as a Wolverine.
Eager to showcase my leadership abilities on campus, I applied to become a fellow for UM-Dearborn Student Government. Being a political science major, I knew student government would be a perfect opportunity to learn and to help bring positive change to the school I love. Coincidentally, the first resolution that was thrown into my lap as a fellow was a call for the university to consider divestment from Israeli companies and companies that do business with Israel. I was immediately concerned by the strong anti-Israel language in the resolution, and suddenly, that worry of being a Jewish student at UM-Dearborn began to manifest when one of the sponsors of the resolution shared that an outside anti-Israel organization assisted in writing the resolution.
Now, I strongly support a two-state solution; I believe in the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination just as much as I believe in that right for the Jewish people. In a perfect world, I envision an Israeli state and a Palestinian state living side-by-side in peace. With that being said, I do not believe this recently passed resolution brings us any closer to that goal, nor do I believe its backers share my hope for the future.
The movement to de-legitimize Israel and isolate it in economic, cultural, and political arenas is a movement that is, at its very core, deeply anti-Semitic. Supporters of divestment will tell you that they have the support of Jewish students. What they will not tell you is that this support is from a group called Jewish Voice for Peace, a fringe organization whose hateful policies are rejected by a vast majority of American Jews. They will not tell you about Israel’s past gestures for peace – multiple offers to exchange land, withdraw Israeli citizens, and give the Palestinian people political and economic autonomy – because doing anything less than demonizing Israel does not fit within their agenda.
But by only seeking to boycott, divest from, and sanction Israel and Israeli companies, these campaigns not only single out the most democratic state in the Middle East, but also the only Jewish state in the world. Why not divest from companies operating in China, which persecutes ethnic and religious minorities? Why not divest from companies operating in Saudi Arabia, where women’s rights are nearly non-existent? Why not divest from companies that operate in Iran, where gay men and women are hung from cranes in public squares to great fanfare? If this resolution was truly about achieving justice for Palestinians, why not divest from Lebanon and Jordan, which have, respectively, destroyed Palestinian refugee camps and revoked the citizenship of millions of Palestinians?
By focusing exclusively on human rights violations linked to the State of Israel and companies that operate within it, this resolution puts the blame entirely on Israel while deflecting attention from countries and organizations that have have committed truly egregious human rights abuses towards the Palestinian people.
My concern about the hate this anti-Israel campaign would bring to our campus accelerated on Friday, March 10, 2017, when the divestment resolution was brought to debate in student government. I was the only Jewish student there because student government at UM-Dearborn meets on Friday nights, a time when Jews around the world power down their electronics and celebrate the Sabbath with friends and family. By holding student government meetings on Friday nights, the Jewish students at UM-Dearborn are prohibited from meaningfully contributing to critical debates on campus, including one that directly targeted the Jewish state. I accepted the fact that by attending weekly meetings, I would continuously be breaking one of my religion’s oldest customs. I presented the situation to our student government members and asked that they change the meeting time so that Jewish students could attend and voice their concerns. Despite all efforts, our student government decided to deny Jewish students the ability to attend and speak out against a resolution that directly targeted us for our faith. That night, when I should have been welcoming in the Sabbath, I sat in the student government meeting and watched as nearly every representative voted in favor of this one-sided, hate-filled resolution.
History has taught us what happens when a group sweeps into power with a political agenda. In the weeks before this resolution was passed, student government members actively promoted the anti-Israel campaign. There were fliers, emails, and tabling, all in support of divestment. In the student government office hangs anti-Israel artwork, visible to anyone who walks past. It is my hope that next year’s representatives consider that they were elected to represent all of the students on our campus, not just the students who voted for them.
In order to celebrate the peace, inclusion, and diversity that defines our campus, every student must have a seat at the table. By proposing and voting on divestment resolutions without a whole population of students being properly represented, our student government runs the risk of creating strong divisions within our community. The vote is over, and now, we must look ahead. I hope our campus can unite against hate, and I challenge the students, faculty, and administration of UM-Dearborn to strive to create a safe place for all students.