A controversial referendum at the University of Minnesota that targeted the school’s relationship with companies that invest in Israel passed 3,392 to 3,175 – a margin of 217 votes. It was the third attempt by UMN Divest since 2016 to have such a resolution passed.
The resolution is non-binding and the Board of Regents will determine what comes next. After the result was posted, U of M President Eric Kaler put out a forceful statement of opposition to the referendum and result because, in part, the question on the ballot convoluted three separate issues.
“I want to state clearly that the University does not endorse — and I personally oppose — the action advocated in the referendum, which echoes, in part, the language and sentiment of the Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement,” said Kaler, who points out that the BDS Movement was not mentioned directly in the referendum. “My concerns are heightened by the fact that the global BDS movement does not seem to distinguish between opposition to the policies of the government of Israel and opposition to the existence of Israel.”
The language of the referendum read: “Should the students of the University of Minnesota demand the Board of Regents divest from companies that are 1) complicit in Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights, 2) maintaining and establishing private prisons and immigrant detention centers, or 3) violating Indigenous sovereignty?”
“This was a referendum that was launched on three days-notice and with extremely biased language specifically so students didn’t have time to get educated and would be led to vote yes simply by the question’s framing,” said Benjie Kaplan, the executive director of Minnesota Hillel which helped coordinate the response to the referendum. “Having now been through three different BDS attempts I have learned that those launching these attacks are not interested in debate, they use BDS as a way of spreading their narrative, and then they use the misinformation they spread to polarize the communities most invested in the conflict rather than seek out constructive dialogue and understanding.”
Said StandWithUs Midwest Campus Coordinator Liora Bachrach:”I’m proud of the students who came together against this campaign of hate, but deeply disappointed that such a misleading referendum was allowed to go to a vote.”
In a statement about the referendum passing from IfNotNow University of Minnesota, which said it doesn’t take a stance on divestment, wrote in an e-mail: “The response to this referendum says something deeply troubling about our priorities as a Jewish community. Jewish students want moral leadership from our institutions, and that starts with ending their support for the occupation.”
A spokesperson for the university said in an e-mail that, “The students who proposed the referendum can continue to advocate for the referendum if they choose, but there are no automatic next steps beyond what has already occurred.” She added that Kaler’s statement stands as the University’s response.
“We live in divisive times, both in our country and internationally. This referendum, while narrowly approved, exacerbates those divisions and thus may damage our ability to come together as a University community in common efforts as we hope for — and work for — peace and reconciliation in the Middle East,” Kaler said. “We won’t solve this problem alone, but surely we can be better than a place where unhelpful rhetoric is hurled from side to side.”
Kaplan was encouraged by Kaler’s statement.
“It is always great to know that even though BDS is destructive for campus climate, great minds within the University administration fully understand its true goals and will not stand for it,” he said.