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Cara Tolmas, Head of Programming for I-LEAD

Two weeks ago, BDS (Boycott, Divest, and Sanction) brought a motion to the CSG (Central Student Government) demanding that the University of Michigan stop investing in companies that do business with Israel. The BDS believed that UMich should divest because Israel harms Palestinians with the companies that UMich invests in, such as Caterpillar Inc. machinery. The CSG originally voted to indefinitely postpone this vote, feeling ill-prepared to make such a decision. However, last Tuesday, March 25, the CSG reopened the vote, ultimately voting against the motion. Cara Tolmas, the co-chief of programming for I-LEAD (Israel Leadership, Education, Advocacy, and Dialogue), a pro-Israel group through Hillel, was very involved in gathering support for the pro-Israeli side. Cara is very passionate about Israel, always planning events and meetings on campus. Cara had a lot to say about how she thought the vote on Tuesday went, lets meet her:

 

Her Campus: What made you want to become so involved in I-LEAD?

Cara Tolmas: After my experience living in Israel last year and then making the transition to university, I knew I wanted to stay involved with my passion for Israel. Hillel provided great resources for this and after attending a few I-Lead meetings, I knew that was the group that I could benefit from most as well as contribute to most.

 

HC: What would you say the biggest challenge was facing the CSG revote?

CT: I would say the biggest challenge facing the CSG revote was to not only gathering support but educating people. Many people had pre-conceived notions regarding [the vote], others had no idea what BDS was, so I think the hardest part was educating people and telling them what it means and what it really was all about.

 

HC: Do you feel as though the CSG made the right decision to reverse the previous vote to indefinitely postpone?

CT: Although I feel like the BDS resolution is not a matter for the Central student government to vote on, I feel like given the circumstances, they made the right choice to revote as many students on this campus felt silenced. Perhaps there should have been another forum of some sort for students to better voice their opinions and not feel silenced, without bringing the matter to the CSG.

 

HC: Do you feel that as a university, Michigan handled the situation properly?

CT: Not particularly. On a logistics note, the university should have changed the venue of the CSG meeting knowing how many people were coming. Additionally, they shouldn’t have changed the speaking rules to a raffle draw at the last minute. There should have been an equal number of pro-BDS and anti-BDS speakers. I also don’t think the university did a good job of letting people know there would be security and it just seemed like they didn’t want to have much to do with CSG and BDS resolution. I agree it’s for the students to have free speech and voice their opinions but given the situation seemed to escalate quite a bit I think there should have been more involvement

 

HC: How do you plan on handling similar situations in the future, should they arise?

CT: Hopefully something to this extent doesn’t happen in the future but if it does, I think the best way to handle a situation like this is to educate people as best as possible, have sufficient and clear communication between CSG, the university, and the students, as well as a little more university involvement. The key to handling situations like this is to teach the students about whatever is going on so students can make better decisions and not just follow along what they think is right. I think there should also be a way to differentiate what should and should not be brought up to the CSG. In this case, maybe setting up a separate council to discuss and educate people would be best.

 

HC: How do you feel the night went overall? Would you consider it a success?

CT: One could consider it a success if you voted against BDS. However, one could also consider it a success for the attention that the whole situation drew. I don’t think rules were completely followed leading up to the night and thus 3/4 of the main room was filled with pro-BDS students while the anti-BDS students were shuffled into overflow rooms and even weren’t allowed in when the overflow rooms were filled. Because the CSG members were only in the main ballroom they only saw that representation while the significant amount of anti-BDS students that attended were not seen. Additionally, I don’t think an equal number of anti-BDS speakers were able to speak as the pro-BDS speakers. Otherwise I think CSG handled the night well, voicing their opinions during the debate time and they seemed to have done their homework and cared about the decision they were making.

 

HC: Did you think making a definitive vote on the matter at hand was imperative?

CT: I think it was necessary in order for the pro-BDS people to no longer feel silenced.

 

The views expressed in the interview above solely express those of Tolmas and not of HC UMich, who is not taking a stance on the recent CSG vote.

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