Divest push gets faculty response

A group of faculty members are circulating a letter to President Kaler urging him not to divest.

by Kristina Busch

A group of University of Minnesota faculty members are urging President Eric Kaler to oppose a petition to divest school funds from companies that interact with Israel.
Students for Justice in Palestine and other student groups are calling for the University to divest from four companies it says supply equipment to the Israeli army. But some University faculty members are concerned about the petition’s wording, which calls Israel an occupied land.
Several faculty members drafted a letter saying the petition’s support of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement, which implores Israel to conform to international law, is problematic because BDS does not speak out against attacks on Jewish Israelis.
“The BDS movement, which is behind this petition, is not interested in furthering the peace process or in the advancement of a two-state solution for the Israel-Palestine conflict,” said psychology professor Jonathan Gewirtz, who is signing the letter. “Instead, it represents a highly deceptive and intimidating campaign that aims to delegitimize the State of Israel.”
SJP President Rula Rashid said the companies Caterpillar, Raytheon, Elbit Systems and G4S are in violation of United Nations international laws.
“We’re calling on the Minnesota Student Association to support a revolution asking to divest from companies that are complicit in human rights violations,” she said.
The website for UMN Divest, a campaign SJP created, said the four companies contribute to the destruction and occupation of Palestinian homes and land.
By investing in these companies, the University is not observing its social responsibility investment policy, she said.
The faculty letter said the divestment resolution, which supporters of UMN Divest will present to MSA on Tuesday, is one-sided and suggests that Israel shouldn’t exist.
Rashid said the target of the resolution isn’t Israel or its residents but the four companies.
“We’re trying to shed light on the fact that Palestinians are being oppressed,” she said.
Avoiding politics
Regent Richard Beeson said the Board of Regents is attempting to be socially responsible by taking into consideration the need to work with women and minority-owned investment management firms.
But the Board ultimately wants to avoid making any sort of political stance in the Israel-Palestine conflict, he said.
“Traditionally the investment policy has not been used as a means to make political statements,” Beeson said. “Obviously, the investments are made to be legal and compliant with laws.”
Most of the University’s stock investment is handled through third-party index funds, he said.
While the University does directly invest in some companies, it does not have holdings in any of the four companies the divestment campaign targets, Beeson said.
The University put $100 million into an index fund that an investment firm manages, he said.
The firm, Blackrock Russell, has a small holding in Caterpillar and Raytheon, Beeson said.
“If we divest ourselves out of the Blackrock Russell index fund, we would have to replace it with other stocks, and the cost of that management would go up,” he said. “We would have a lower return for our scholarship fund for a higher cost.”
And the faculty member letter says the claims that divestment would promote neutrality in the conflict are baseless because of its language, which calls Israel occupied.
But Rashid says the only way to remain neutral is to divest.
“Since our tuition money is invested in these companies right now, we’re automatically taking a political stance,” she said. “You can’t really separate politics and human rights anymore … but at the end of the day, taking the money out is being neutral.”