University of Minnesota Student Association passes watered-down divestment resolution
The University of Minnesota (UMN) divestment coalition, initiated by the school’s Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), celebrated the success of the resolution, which passed on April 13.
The resolution’s success shocked SJP members, who have faced strong opposition on campus since the inception of its divestment campaign.
SJP began preparing for divestment last September and launched the campaign in February, which called for the removal of investments by UMN from Caterpillar, Elbit Systems, Group 4 Securicor, and Raytheon. With the support of 36 student organizations and the release of a video explaining their cause, the resolution was successfully presented to the Minnesota Student Association (MSA) on March 1.
The divestment campaign was, expectedly, not met with a warm welcome. The coalition was forced to strip the resolution of all mention of specific countries and companies in order for the MSA to even consider voting on it. On April 12, the significantly altered version of the original resolution was presented to UMN’s student government, and passed.
Despite its success, the resolution’s passing is being heralded by divestment supporters as the first step to getting a more comprehensive one.
“Passing divestment, even though it was watered down, has done enormous work in breaking down walls on campus in regards to what we do and don’t talk about. I also think it has shown many stakeholders across campus what students are capable of…It helps us start a step ahead in the upcoming years,” Halimah said.
The presentation set off a series of attacks on the divestment team and their supporters, which SJP representative and divestment leader Sara Halimah describes as an attempt to “conflate criticism of Israeli policies and illegal occupation with hatred of Jews and anti-Semitism.”
Divestment supporters have been individually targeted via social media with rape and death threats, and labeled as terrorists and Nazis. The divestment group has also been called “the premier Jew hating group” who allegedly “make hating Jews cool.” In another attack on the movement, the UMN Divest logo, which features an olive branch as a symbol of Palestinian heritage, was defaced. The olive branch was replaced by a swastika, and the deformed logo was plastered on various forms of social media in an attempt to mar the image of the divestment campaign.
SJP at UMN denied any allegations of anti-Semitism in a press releasethat called for the halt of attacks on their members and peaceful campaign.
The divestment campaign has also been condemned by the university’s administration. The President of the university himself released a statement in which he did not distinguish between the central goals of UMN Divest and anti-Semitism, which only resulted in the perpetuation of accusations of racism. This was immediately followed by the striking of the divestment vote from the MSA agenda, which significantly delayed the divestment campaign.
The campaign even received negative attention from U.S. lawmakers. A letter signed by 81 members of the Minnesota state legislature called on the university president to “publicly and resolutely oppose this resolution.”
All of these incidents, however, did not stop SJP at UMN from continuing to push forward with its divestment plans.