Sunday, February 21, 2010

"Divestment Week" at University of Michigan's Dearborn campus:

"BDS movement gains at U of M Dearborn"

By Nick Meyer

February 19, 2010


DEARBORN — As more people join the movement to liberate the beseiged Palestinian territory of Gaza, the need for more direction in finding focused, practical solutions has increased.

Photo: The Arab Student Union lead efforts during Divestment Week at U of M - Dearborn

One of the most encouraging aspects of the campaign for activists is the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which is aimed at "making the occupation costly" for Israel, as well-known local activist Huwaida Arraf has stated.

The movement was the inspiration for Divestment Week at the University of Michigan-Dearborn, which ran from Monday, February 15 to Thursday, February 18 and was coordinated by the Arab Student Union (ASU).

The week kicked off with a mock checkpoint display in the main hall of the UM-D College of Arts, Sciences and Letters (CASL) Building as two ASU members dressed up as Israeli soldiers alongside signs stating "Stop!" in Hebrew, Arabic, and English.

While the members couldn't physically stop students walking by on the way to class, they used the opportunity to inform curious passers-by about the daily hardships Palestinians go through ecause of the disruptive and often humiliating practice of stopping citizens for hours at a time at checkpoints in Palestine.

Photo: Students set up mock check points on campus to protest occupation in the Palestinian territories

"People have been supportive so far," said Mahde Abdallah, Director of Recruitment for ASU. "At first they're like 'What's this all about?' but then we explain it to them and most people sign up our petition right away."

The petition Abdallah spoke of is part of a joint project with University of Michigan-Ann Arbor students and will be presented to the University of Michigan Board of Regents with the stated goal of forming an advisory committee for researching potentially unethical investments by the university.

David Skrbina, a philosophy professor at Michigan-Dearborn, said that the ability to form such a committee is already on the books at the university and usually pertains to specific situations such as the South African apartheid issue and also in 2000 when the university divested from more than $6 million in stocks in tobacco companies.

A potential advisory committee would look into possible divestment from stocks in companies that provide military support for Israel as it continues its occupation of Gaza. Many of the stocks the university holds in such companies are estimated to be valued in millions of dollars according to Skrbina. Israeli weapons-producing companies Skrbina said the university supports from a report obtained last year include Boeing and L3 Communications.

While Skrbina acknowledges that the quest to form such a committee will be an uphill climb because he said Michigan President Mary Sue Coleman has already stated that she is anti-divestment, he added that being persistent and increasing awareness about divestment are of the utmost importance.

"In 1978 after several years of discussion, the university finally caved in and agreed to divest from South African companies," said Skrbina. "Certainly that case and process took several years but it did succeed because students and faculty kept the issue burning in peoples' minds and kept them alive, forcing the university to form a committee and eventually to support divestment."

Skrbina said that evidence suggests that Michigan's decision to divest from South Africa triggered a chain reaction among other universities that was a crucial step in ultimately ending apartheid in that country.

He also said that the Gaza issue might take perhaps even longer because of the influence of "vested interests" that oppose divestment but also said he was confident that the Israeli apartheid structure would eventually be dismantled.

"We're in it for the long run because we know we're in the morally right position and we have the strength of world opinion behind us," he said. "It's only a matter of time before Israeli apartheid is ended."

Other events held during divestment week included movie screenings of the film "Occupation 101" about the conflict and plight of the Gazans, an event hosting members of "Action Gaza," a grassroots initiative to support Palestine, as well as a divestment forum featuring Skrbina, who has helped gain support among UM-Dearborn's faculty.

Another goal of the week was to get a resolution passed by Michigan-Dearborn's student government supporting divestment. Last year, the effort fell short, but a change in leadership on UM-Dearborn's student council had ASU members feeling confident that it would be passed next week for 2010 as it was in 2005 and 2006.

For more information on the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, visit or