Letter: Vote no on the UMN Divest referendum

Letter to the Editor

At 8 a.m. Monday morning, undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Minnesota received an email from Student Unions and Activities that linked to the all-campus election ballot. There, they found a political statement disguised as a question at the end of their ballot. This question attempts to co-opt students into supporting the divisive Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement. This is a movement which has been discredited by leaders across the political spectrum as an obstacle to the mutual respect which comes from conversation, cooperation and compromise, and not continued conflict. 

Students are understandably confused why this question is even on the the all-campus election ballot with zero additional context or even one public forum to discuss this very complex issue before voting began. Of course, conversation becomes impossible when the referendum question was only approved on the afternoon of Friday, March 2. 

Furthermore, contrary to the Daily article posted just this morning, 12,000 professional students were excluded from voting by the question’s BDS proponents. There is something fundamentally unfair about a process which allows the proponents to select their own voters and gives no notice or explanation to the 12,000 students who were denied their opportunity to be heard.

Our friends in our Jewish community, which is slightly more than 1 percent of the University’s student population and is already under siege from a rise in bias crimes, resent being targeted because of their heritage and religion. Student leaders from Minnesota Hillel, the campus’ Jewish student center, have also been clear that they are strong supporters of the University’s socially responsible investment policy which they championed before the Minnesota Student Association two years ago. 

They, along with a broad coalition of allies, simply oppose discriminatory divestment that targets the world’s only Jewish state, which is the Middle East’s only true democracy, for boycott, divestment and sanction. 

This is not the first time the campus has been forced by the proponents of this referendum to engage in this divisive debate. In spring 2016, MSA’s Forum rejected a BDS resolution targeting companies specifically in relation to Israel. An amended resolution passed, which called for global socially responsible investment. Once Israel was removed from the resolution, the UMN Divest coalition quickly revoked their endorsement, exposing that their true intentions were not to call on the University to support socially responsible investment, but to target Israel.

Strangely enough, UMN Divest still maintains that their campaign passed through MSA in 2016. We are not aware of any efforts between then and now for UMN Divest to follow up on their “success” of passing the socially responsible investment resolution, which leads us to believe that this is simply another attempt to attack Israel.

We urge students to vote “no” on this divisive campaign because teaching hate will never lead to peace. We instead want all students to work together toward positive solutions that will benefit Israelis and Palestinians, but most of all, that will benefit everyone on our campus.

This letter was lightly edited for clarity and style. 

This letter was authored by Theo Menon, a Minnesota Student Association government and legislative affairs coordinator, and Apostolos Kotsolis, president of the Hellenic Student Association and candidate for At-Large Representative.