MADISON, Wisc., April 14 (JTA) The continuing campaign to get the University of Wisconsin system to divest from companies doing business with Israel suffered another defeat this week, this time at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. The campus’ Teaching Assistants’ Association a union of some 1,800 voting members representing about 3,000 graduate students, according to a member at the organization’s office voted to amend and reword a resolution that originally had called for divestment from Israel. The new resolution, according to a report in a student newspaper, the Daily Cardinal, called on the UW system to divest from companies that have military contracts with oppressive regimes around the world. It did not mention Israel by name. Mark Goldberg of Houston is project assistant in UW-Madison’s Chicano and Latino studies department and a member of the TAA. He is Jewish. He and several other Jewish TAA members, including Jewish Law Students Association president Elizabeth Herman, organized against the resolution, encouraging people to attend the meeting and publishing a long letter to the editor in the April 12 edition of the campus’ other student newspaper, the Badger Herald, criticizing the resolution. In a telephone interview with The Wisconsin Jewish Chronicle on Wednesday, Goldberg said he had felt “upset” when he first heard about the resolution last month, and when he saw it first introduced at a TAA general membership meeting on March 15. “It was not historically accurate, nor in line with what is going on in the region now, with a move for peace and a two-state solution,” Goldberg said. Herman added that she didn’t understand why the TAA, which doesn’t have a contract with the university now, was “spending time discussing Israeli policies.” But the result of Tuesday’s vote satisfied them both. Goldberg said he thought the new resolution “really gets at the complexity of history and what human rights means in general. I don’t think it was right to single out and target Israel.” “My goal going in there was to take Israel off the table,” Herman said. “Whatever the TAA wanted to do, I was fine with it as long as it was not finding ways to demonize Israel with the resolution.” In the end, a non-Jewish member of the TAA, Jake Gates, proposed the amended resolution at the meeting, and did so before the Jewish students were able even to speak. It was accepted and approved quickly, Herman said. “It made us happy that we got to avoid the debate,” she added. The originator of the resolution was Mohammed Abed, who is a member of the Al-Awda/Palestinian Right to Return Coalition. This organization has been the prime sponsor and organizer of the Wisconsin divestment campaign. This effort so far has managed to get a call for divestment from the faculty senate at one University of Wisconsin campus, Platteville on Jan. 25; but it failed at another university campus, Whitewater, on Feb. 1. Abed told the Daily Cardinal that “we will keep coming back” with this effort; but Goldberg told the Chronicle that he didn’t think the resolution will be presented to the TAA again, and if it is, the organization’s focus on bargaining with the university will quash it. The students had kept in touch with both Greg Steinberger, director of the Hillel Foundation University of Wisconsin, and Paula Simon, executive director of the Milwaukee Jewish Council for Community Relations, on the divestment resolution. Steinberger said he was pleased with the result. “The TAA has allowed itself to worry about issues important in its labor struggle, and not be distracted by a very small group of extremist students with a specific anti-Israel agenda,” he said. Simon praised the Jewish TAA members for “stepping up, organizing themselves, developing the response they felt was appropriate. Their voices were significant, and they made a huge difference.” And she pointed out that the vote was one more sign that “divestment initiatives do not resonate” with most groups in the country. “They’ve failed at city councils, they’ve failed at university campuses. They don’t represent the mainstream sense of how to resolve these issues,” she said.
Divestment vote fails in Wisconsin