Divestment revisited

Apr 23, 2003 at 12:00 am

Wayne State University’s Student Council last week voted 9-7 to adopt a resolution demanding the college divest from Israel because of that country’s treatment of Palestinians. Basically, the resolution asks the school’s Board of Governors to stop investing in companies doing business with Israel, including Coca-Cola Co., UPS and AOL. The move’s not likely to happen, if for no other reason than university leadership’s opposition to divestiture.

WSU’s student government is apparently the first in the nation to adopt such a resolution; schools including the University of Michigan, Harvard and Princeton defeated similar measures.

The resolution is hoped to “bring light to the unjust war and illegal military occupation of the Palestinian people,” explains Ben Duell, spokesman for Students’ Movement for Justice, the group that proposed the resolution and held debates on it. The idea comes from a student movement in the 1980s to encourage universities to divest from South Africa in an attempt to help force an end to apartheid.

David Gad-Harf, executive director of the Jewish Community Council of Metropolitan Detroit, says the resolution stings local Jews, especially alumni of the university. “This particular movement has hit a raw nerve in the Jewish community. It goes well beyond criticizing a specific policy of Israel. The divestiture movement undermines the very legitimacy of the state of Israel,” Gad-Harf says.

Many Jewish students couldn’t participate in the debate because it was held on Passover, despite requests that it be rescheduled, he says. “All this does is antagonize people who support Israel and are in the so-called peace camp,” says Gad-Harf.

The university’s large Muslim and Arabic population may make its student leaders more outspoken on the matter of Israeli politics, acknowledges Duell. But he insists the issue is not religious; a Jewish activist wrote the resolution and there are Jewish people in SMJ. Yet nationwide, many in the divestiture movement have compared Israel to South Africa and Nazi Germany, sparking angry debate.

Duell says accusations that the WSU resolution is anti-Semitic are “Zionist slurs.”

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