Stop Silencing Us: Chronicling the Shameful CSG Vote

On Tuesday night, Central Student Government approved resolution A.R. 7-019, which paves the way for the UM Board of Regents to set up an ad hoc committee to investigate multiple companies, who, according to the resolution, help supply weapons “that violate Palestinian Human Rights.” The bill is sponsored by Students Allied for Freedom and Equality (SAFE) who have attempted to pass a divestment initiative on this issue for nearly a decade. However, in a shameful display of hypocrisy and betrayal of their liberal values, CSG decided to support a resolution that only props up one “marginalized” group in order to push down another.

The session began with speaker Alexandra Contis naming the guest speakers for each side of the resolution, with many CSG members quickly moving to stop Professor Victor Lieberman, an expert on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict here at the university, from speaking against the resolution. LSA representatives and other students claimed that if Lieberman were allowed to speak it would create an “unfair power gradient” between professors and students in the debate, creating an unfair forum with no other professors speaking for the resolution. In addition, many students who supported the bill claimed many professors support the resolution, but would not speak out in fear of losing their jobs. Despite obtaining broad and wide ranging respect as a historian of Southeast Asia and on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict particularly, CSG declined to hear the expertise of Professor Lieberman for reasons that are as perplexing as they sound.

It is sad and ironic that the resolution supporters, despite holding up signs saying “Stop Silencing Us,” silenced the one person who could give the proper context on the issue.

Ultimately, their reasons did not amount to anything legitimate. Having one professor speak on a topic he has expertise in does not create an “unfair power gradient”, all it does is silence someone from giving an informed historical perspective on a particularly tense issue. CSG and SAFE showing their support for his absence indicates that many of them would rather hear things that confirm their own opinions than actually have an open forum for debate and discussion. At no point did anyone from Hillel or any other Jewish group advocate for any of their guest speakers to leave or not speak. While there may not have been a professor amongst them, many of those groups were committed to keeping an open forum for debate and voting. The fact that students who advocate so openly for free speech and inclusion would so quickly silence someone else is thoroughly disturbing. It is sad and ironic that the resolution supporters, despite holding up signs saying “Stop Silencing Us,” silenced the one person who could give the proper context on the issue. His notes would eventually be given to and read by public policy Senior Samuel Lawrence, but the symbolic damage had already been done.

The night continued with extremely divisive and harrowing debates full of personal testimony. It was heart-wrenching and upsetting to witness, and I acknowledge fully that both sides of this conflict have committed and experienced acts of violence, none of which I will ever be able to fully comprehend. Much of it was a distraction from the true effect of this bill — to force the university’s hand to condemn Israel, and to make a repulsive statement to Jewish students on campus.

Much of the debate centered around the Boycott, Divestment & Sanction movement, which, as the name suggests, is an effort to boycott, divest, and sanction anything relating to Israel and their “illegal occupation” of the West Bank. Politics aside, the movement has resorted to intimidation of Jewish students on campuses across the country, and encouraged many to create a following to pass similar resolutions. It has also increased anti-semitism across the country, raising alarms from many important groups, including ADL.

This points to something that is simply impossible to avoid: if CSG and members of SAFE truly cared about divestment, then it has more to do with condemning Israel and less with human rights.

However, SAFE continuously claimed that they had absolutely nothing to do with the BDS movement, in spite of open support from the BDS and mentions of BDS in current and former resolutions. Numerous supporters of the resolution from SAFE made the claim that this resolution is only concerned with divestment, and therefore is not apart of the broader BDS movement.  However, as Vice-speaker Ali Rosenblatt said eloquently, this is simply “BS.” SAFE also tried to avoid being labeled as anti-semitic, and I commend them for making an honest attempt to write a divestment bill of Israel that had nothing to do with Judaism.  However, as Ford School representative Andrew Watkins explained, what is not always anti-semitic in language is anti-semitic in action, and that regardless of a specific “whereas” clause saying the resolution was not anti-semitic, its goals and aims stem from a deeper movement, rooted in anti-semitic ideologies. As CSG President Anushka Sarkar explained, Israel was mentioned “18 times” despite the fact that other countries such as Lebanon and Syria have committed human right abuses against Palestine. This points to something that is simply impossible to avoid: if CSG and members of SAFE truly cared about divestment, then it has more to do with condemning Israel and less with human rights.  

As debate continued late into the night, several CSG members wanted to vote by secret ballot, in order to protect the “integrity” of the vote without leading to further intimidation. In particular, a “blacklist” was mentioned, run by a group called “Canary Mission,” which posts a list of students, professors, and other individuals that promote “hatred of the USA, Israel and Jews on college campuses in North America.” This is a serious problem and I absolutely condemn any blacklist that attempts to intimidate or bully people into abandoning their beliefs. However, CSG needs to answer to the students, and the representatives perpetuated the blacklist as a way to avoid having to be accountable for their votes.

If these students seriously cannot stomach the idea of dealing with detractors for their votes, then, with all due respect, those students never should have been involved in CSG. There are hundreds of  people in public office who constantly get threatened for things they are passionate about. Yes, CSG representatives are college students, but one of the most important features of democracy is the ability to know how our representatives vote, so we can hold them accountable for their actions. It provides a record that those who run for public office have to be responsible for. That way, if our candidates or representatives are not voting the way we would like, we can vote them out of office. The fact that our student representatives abandoned this principle for one vote that they supposedly felt extremely passionate about is shameful and a disgrace to the constituents they are supposed to represent. It takes away from their power to know whom they are voting for and find representatives that advocate for our goals and agendas.

The people who claim to accept all identities voted for a resolution that attacks my identity, and the identity of a group that has consistently been marginalized throughout history.

Perhaps this will come off as harsh or angry, but there is no way I can sugarcoat the pain and anger that both myself and many in the Jewish community feel. The people who claim to accept all identities voted for a resolution that attacks my identity, and the identity of a group that has consistently been marginalized throughout history. Yes, I am white, and while there are certain forms of marginalization I can never understand, it does not mean that I nor other Jewish students experience anti-semitism in ways that are just degrading and horrifying. All this proposal did was validate the marginalization of Jews by a group of people who identify with openness and acceptance of people of all races, cultures, and identities. That was a political philosophy I fell in love with in high school, and now, as a freshman, I have come to realize that those who would promote ideals of acceptance would just as quickly belittle and downgrade me for simply being Jewish and believing in a Jewish State. The pain I feel is impossible to put into words. Ultimately, I hope that in future years my new campus will prove me wrong and show that this campus and our representatives care about promoting all races and identities, rather than saying it only for show.

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About Noah Garfinkel

Noah is a Senior with a major in History and a minor in Chinese. He is currently the Editor-in-Chief for the Michigan Review and a member of the AEI Executive Council at Michigan. He is also a sprinter for The Michigan Running Club. In his free time he loves to read and play basketball.