The student government (CSG) of the University of Michigan delivered a defeat to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement against Israel on Tuesday, Nov. 15. By a vote of 34-13, with 3 abstentions, CSG rejected the latest in a number of divestment resolutions that had been introduced the previous week by Students Allied for Freedom and Equality, a pro-BDS campus group.
JUF's Israel Education Center provided strategic guidance throughout the process, consulting with UM Hillel -- led by Executive Director Tilly Shames -- students, campus partners and other organizations including the Israel Action Network, Israel on Campus Coalition, and Hillel International, whose Midwest Regional Director of Israel Education is located at JUF and works collaboratively with the IEC team.
"We commend the students, staff and faculty involved in countering this resolution," said IEC Executive Director Emily Briskman. "They met throughout the year with CSG members, and worked tirelessly to prepare speeches, talking points and information for the UM campus community."
Students held two information sessions for members of CSG at Hillel with Professor Victor Lieberman. Their goal was to educate CSG senators about Israel and about the pitfalls of BDS. Members of SAFE disrupted the first info session, but the students pushed forward and held a second session to ensure the senators had the information they needed.
Some 400 people attended the final vote, where both groups gave guest presentations. Hillel again engaged Prof. Lieberman, while SAFE invited Kristian Davis Bailey, an anti-Israel, pro-BDS activist who believes all of Israel is occupied territory. Throughout the hearing, staff members from Hillel International and IEC were in touch to strategize based on potential outcomes.
The CSG's vice president allowed the authors of the bill to make a statement after the hearing. One of the authors, along with members of SAFE, began screaming, shouting, and verbally harassing members of CSG for defeating the bill. They also berated the Shames and CSG representatives by making statements like, "What difference does it make if I engage in dialogue with a Jew? That doesn't change anything."
"The way that we're going to get to peace is with joint cooperative resolutions," said Michigan student Eli Schrayer during the debate. "I don't think that divestment is the right thing."
"BDS failed again, but the vitriol, anti-Semitism and hate that so often surrounds it reared its ugly head," Briskman said.
Emily White is program director for JUF's Israel Education Center.