On March 15th, the University of Michigan Student Assembly soundly voted down (25-11) a proposal to create a committee to investigate the university’s investments in companies doing business with Israel. Kudos go to Alana Kuhn and Jessie Risch, co-chairs of the American Movement for Israel, as well as UM Hillel student Governing Board President Monica Woll, Governing Board rep Michelle Gorman and Andrew Yahkind, who mobilized the campus to stand with Israel and against the unfair, inaccurate misinformation being disseminated by the anti-Israel activists.
The 7:30pm meeting had to be moved twice to accommodate the crowd of students who wanted to show support for their side. They finally ended up filling the 500 seat ballroom, with many students standing in the back and aisles as well. The meeting lasted until 1am with students from both sides taking turns to passionately voice their opinions.
According to Alexis Frankel, program director for the Univ. of Michigan Hillel, the student daily paper, The Michigan Daily, may have inadvertently motivated increased attendance by pro-Israel students by predicting in a large front page article the day of the vote that the anti-Israel proposal would likely pass. Students who normally don’t get involved in such issues were so concerned to read of the “likely” success of the proposal that they showed up in huge numbers, demonstrating their pro-Israel support by wearing blue sticky tape all over their shirts and pants, on their foreheads or as armbands. Many students also sported blue streamers in their hair and T-shirts made by the American Movement for Israel (AMI) that said, “It’s not JUST a committee.”
Frankel noted, “The shirts made by AMI were homemade and spray painted with the slogan in blue….it had a great grassroots look which really strengthened the visual impact of their message.” The pro-resolution supporters wore black shirts with the Palestinian flag that said: “Divest from Israeli Apartheid.”
According to Frankel, “The Israeli Student Organization was also present and one of their members, Arik Cheshin, who served in the territories with the IDF (Israel Defense Forces), spoke passionately to the assembly about Israelis’ commitment to peace and about the one-sided wording of the resolution that neither placed accusations of human rights abuses in their proper context (such as the reason roadblocks are erected in the first place), nor made any mention of the vast suffering inflicted on Israeli civilians by Palestinian groups.”
UM Hillel is the umbrella group for over 33 Jewish student groups on the University of Michigan campus, including AMI and the Israeli Student Organization. Hillel staff offered logistical and moral support to the students throughout their organizing efforts. “While we were there to offer students support in whatever capacity they needed, it was the students themselves who took the initiative and lead in organizing this tremendous response. It was very empowering for them and inspiring for us as staff to witness” said Frankel.
Frankel commented that the successful defeat of the anti-Israel proposal was also greatly aided by the fact that many of the student representatives in the assembly came to the debate already well informed about Israel, and so were not easily swayed by inaccurate, misleading anti-Israel propaganda. Student body president Jason Mironov spoke eloquently against the resolution and MSA rep. Stu Wagner was also key in organizing opposition to the resolution. This underscores the importance of pro-Israel activists getting involved in student government so that fair, informed people are in positions of power to vote on important issues.