Schneider: UMN Divest debates detract from the real issues of financial neutrality and human rights

Some have argued that UMN Divest is discriminatory and targeting Jewish communities on campus; this reasoning is ill-founded and diverts attention from the real issues.

Ellen Schneider

Last week, a petition demanding the University of Minnesota divest from companies who support Israel received over 600 signatures. As a result, a referendum was placed on the all-campus election ballot for the election on March 5 through 7. It has attracted some heated discussions from students, and generated numerous complaints to the All Campus Election Committee, as some feel the initiative unfairly targets Israel.

While divesting from companies which support Israel is certainly a component of the initiative, it’s certainly not the sole focus. It calls for divesting from private prisons and immigrant detention centers, companies which violate indigenous sovereignty.

Despite what Minnesota Hillel and other groups who filed complaints imply, this initiative is not a discriminatory one. The focus is not diminishing the voices of Jewish communities on campus, or belittling their cultural significance. It is on preventing our University from being involved in human rights violations. Insinuating anything else is frankly, a stretch.

The argument that Minnesota Hillel is making simply doesn’t make sense. It is a futile attempt to distract this issue from its focus, which is to prevent this University from conniving with companies which break international laws.

The notion that this somehow disproportionately affects Israeli people is also moot. This is not the first time that the University has divested from corporations or nations which routinely commit violations to basic human rights, nor will it likely be the last. In fact, the University has previously divested from both South Africa and Sudan for their breach of international laws, and in those instances, there was little resistance from students. They were more concerned with the fact that there were people being stripped of their rights, and our University was financially involved in it.

The University divested from Sudan in April of 2007, after a growing student-led movement demanded it. It was a widely held notion that being complacent in such atrocities didn’t sit well with students, and action on the part of the University was required. I see no reason why it should vary in this instance.

Advocating for the rights of some does not somehow diminish the rights of others. I don’t believe that the Jewish community is being discriminated against by this referendum, nor do I believe it makes the University a less inclusionary place. This issue is not one of anti-Semitism or prejudice practices, it is striving for a University which is financially neutral and is not apathetic to the transgressions of human rights. While I do agree that this issue could benefit from increased awareness and open dialogue and debate, I think a more productive focus would be on the affects this decision would have on campus life and beyond.

I realize that Israel is the only Jewish democratic nation in the world, but I don’t believe the intention behind promoting divestment stemmed from anything biased against the Jewish people. The emphasis should remain on whether we want our University rid of any ties to companies disposed to trampling the rights of people and the financial burden that may have.