A month after having a boycott, divestment and sanction resolution against Israel taken off the agenda by the University of Minnesota student government, the organization Students for Justice in Palestine tried again on Tuesday afternoon. After nearly four hours of debate, Students Supporting Israel prevailed again by a vote of 45 to 18. There were 7 abstentions.
The end result of the evening of debate was that four companies that SJP wanted listed in the divest resolution were stripped out. All four were companies that did business in Israel, and the resulting resolution called for the university to responsibly invest its funds.
“The final result was positive, but the four-hour process was grueling and painful for the Jewish students who came, watched online and followed on Twitter,” said Sami Rahamim, the president of SSI. “We saw this really dangerous thing where identity politics completely dominated the situation.”
The end result [Tuesday] night could have been at reached at anytime if the BDS side would’ve sat down with Sami.
A statement from the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas, University of Minnesota Hillel and Students Supporting Israel read, in part: “As they did on March 8th when divestment was first stricken from the [Minnesota Student Association] Forum agenda, MSA members again wisely voted to reject singling out Israel and oppose the BDS movement, which marginalizes members of the Jewish and pro-Israel communities, and makes students feel unsafe. By voting as they did both on the amendment which UMN United brought forward, and on the amended resolution, MSA decisively agreed that subjecting Israel to demonization, delegitimization, and double standards is wrong and divisive.”
UMN United is the student led coalition that has brought together communities at the University of Minnesota in opposition to the UMN Divest campaign.
“These BDS battles on college campuses have become an unfortunate proxy war,” said Ethan Roberts of the JCRC. “It’s really unfair to the kids. They came for an education.”
The work of SSI started in late February, when the initial BDS resolution came before the MSA. Rahamim said the work of getting UMN United up and running was “revolutionary.”
Within three days, UMN United was up and running,” he said. “Everyone knows what we’re about. We aren’t just Jewish students or pro-Israel. BDS is divisive. That’s why we went with the name United; to be the opposite.
“We’ve tried to live that in our conversations, leading up to the first vote, between the votes and that will continue after. We’ve brought in a diverse coalition of students that recognize the BDS movement has an anti-semitism problem and drives the sides further apart.”
For his part, Rahamim had been trying to bring the two sides together to discuss the issue in a more constructive manner before this meeting came to pass.
“The end result [Tuesday] night could have been at reached at anytime if the BDS side would’ve sat down with Sami,” Roberts said.
Rahamim is hoping that this chapter is closed and the student groups can move forward.
“I’m clinging on to hope,” he said. “It’s been a serious challenge for me and the student leaders. Our mental well being is damaged as far as stress levels.
“There’s a lot to be concerned about. We have to find a way to have the conversation in a constructive way.”