Students from a wide coalition at the
recently launched a divestment
campaign to urge the administration to pull its investments in four companies
that profit from University of Minnesota ’s violations of Palestinian rights. Israel
Meanwhile, funds for student activities at
were threatened by the college’s
board of trustees if a boycott amendment was passed. Vassar College
, a major Zionist group is pushing
local lawmakers to ban chapters of Students for Justice in New York City . Palestine
, over the course of just several
weeks, more than 500 student signatures were collected and more than 35 campus
groups pledged their support for a divestment resolution to be submitted to the
student government. University of Minnesota
But on 8 March, student leaders voted to strike the planned presentation of the divestment resolution from the meeting agenda altogether. Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) at UMN says the resolution “was neglected before a discussion even took place.”
Hours before the student government voted to reject consideration of the resolution, the university’s president, Eric Kaler, published an open letter to the campus community deriding the boycott, divestment and sanctions (
BDS) movement and the divestment resolution itself as “unfairly
singling out one government and the citizens of the country in question.”
Kaler added that the global
BDS movement “does not seem to distinguish between opposition
to the policies of the government of and opposition to the existence of Israel .” Israel
It was revealed that more than 80 state legislators had earlier demanded that Kaler “publicly and resolutely oppose this resolution before this perilous vote is taken.” SJP says the politicians’ pressure was “an unprecedented reach into student affairs and discussion.”
Students say that Kaler took claims from
advocates at their word instead of
doing a minimum of research into what the Israel BDS campaign actually represents. SJP stated
they are disappointed — but not surprised — by Kaler’s statement.
“President Kaler fails to distinguish between the actual goals of our campaign
and the false accusations that have been attributed to the larger BDS movement,” SJP remarks.
Rula Rashid, president of the SJP chapter at UMN, told The Electronic Intifada in a recent interview that “not one person” knew about the state lawmakers’ contact with the university’s president until much later — “not even the president of student government.”
She added that the president “has never [before] stepped foot into student government” affairs.
For Kaler to tell the students “essentially not to vote for [the resolution], that’s not okay,” Rashid said.
Since the launch of the divestment campaign in February, SJP, faculty members at the
were the target of attacks.
Anti-boycotters defaced campaign
materials with swastikas and claimed that the campaign foments a
hatred of Jewish people. University of Minnesota
At the beginning of the month, Israel advocates on campus countered the divestment resolution with a resolution of their own, one that urged the student government to adopt the US State Department definition of anti-Semitism which conflates criticism of Israeli policies with anti-Jewish bigotry.
That definition is based on a “working definition” of anti-Semitism once considered by a European Union body but later dropped.
Rights group Palestine Legal said that “if adopted, the counter-resolution would likely result in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination against supporters of Palestinian rights” by, for example, prohibiting the Minnesota Student Association “from ‘facilitat[ing], promot[ing], or participat[ing] in any activities that directly or indirectly promote’ anti-Semitism as defined to include viewpoints critical of Israel.”
The counter-resolution was struck down along with the divestment resolution by the student government.
Rashid said that students are undeterred and are currently working on expanding their campaign. “What happened created a stronger solidarity on our campus,” she noted.
“I’m not sure if they knew this, but it fired us up even more. This is something that makes people want to speak out against it. If they think it’s over because they shut it down once in forum, they’re in for a surprise.”
The next student government forum will take place in April, and students say they will bring the divestment campaign back into discussion.
Listen to the full interview with Rula Rashid via the media player above.
In other news on campus divestment and intimidation of student activists, the student association at
in Vassar College , was
recently threatened by the college’s board of trustees over a boycott
campaign. Poughkeepsie, New York
A resolution in favor of
BDS passed on 6 March. But the board threatened to “remove”
student control of approximately $900,000 in funds for student activities if an
amendment strengthening the resolution was passed.
The resolution’s amendment would have prohibited Vassar funds from being used to purchase items from nearly a dozen US, Israeli and multinational corporations that profit from Israel’s human rights violations. The amendment failed to obtain a mandated two-thirds majority.
Radhika Sainath, staff attorney at Palestine Legal and cooperating counsel at the Center for Constitutional Rights, told The Electronic Intifada that this is part of an uptick in efforts by outside political groups to stop
BDS organizing on college campuses across
the . US
“Vassar’s student government was told in no uncertain words that if they took a principled stance for human rights that they would lose nearly a million dollars,” Sainath said.
She added that a similar incident recently occurred at the
, when a law firm pulled
$250,000 in student activities funds after the campus Harvard Law School activism group backed a talk on the
suppression of Palestine advocacy in the Palestine . US
Zionist group pushes to ban SJPs
Sainath also pointed out that in
, the Zionist Organization of
America is currently pushing local legislators to investigate and possibly ban
23 separate chapters of Students for Justice in New York City at City University of New York
(CUNY) campuses. Palestine
A leading right-wing Zionist organization, ZOA repeats spurious claims that
solidarity organizing on campus and
criticism of Palestine is akin to “anti-Semitic hatred.” Israel
, the ZOA seems to think that the
First Amendment doesn’t apply to students supporting Palestinian rights at
CUNY,” Sainath said. New York City
ZOA is one of several pro-Israel groups funded in part by Republican party mega-donor Sheldon Adelson, who recently pledged to pour tens of millions of dollars into Israel advocacy and anti-
BDS initiatives on US campuses.
Adelson, along with a handful of other wealthy pro-Israel individuals and companies, is currently being sued by Palestinians for his role in financing Israeli war crimes.
ZOA’s allegations have prompted
council members to draft
legislation in response. If passed, a law would “require CUNY officials to
report all incidents of bias at its campuses to the council,” according to
the Jewish Telegraphic Agency. New York City
The CUNY administration says it will track claims of bigotry on its campuses.
In a letter to CUNY leadership, Jewish Voice for Peace urges administrators to “resist these attempts by the ZOA to shut down debate” and notes that SJP activists have been targets of harassment, intimidation, threats and racist slander by anti-Palestinian groups and individuals in incidents that have been neglected by the CUNY system.
Legal advocates and students say that such attacks on student organizing and attempts to legislate speech on college campuses are rising in response to the growing popularity of global
solidarity activism and
condemnation of Palestine ’s violations of human rights. Israel
“What we’re seeing is that rather than allowing students to freely engage in debate and the democratic process,” Sainath remarked, “Israel’s staunchest supporters are throwing everything but the kitchen sink to stop it.”
In an effort to resist the current waves of anti-BDS legislation across the
, Palestine Legal, the US Campaign
to End the Israeli Occupation and Jewish Voice for Peace have launched Right to Boycott, an online resource
for boycott activists. US
> The article above was written by Nora Barrows-Friedman, and is reprinted from Electric Intifada.