MSA Avoids Divestment and Anti-Semitism Arguments


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Madison Dibble

The Minnesota Student Association voted to strike two controversial resolutions from the agenda during Tuesday night’s forum, one regarding divestment from Israel and another regarding anti-Semitism on campus.

These two resolutions have divided the student body, along with the faculty, religious leaders, and financial donors to the University. President Kaler spoke out against UMN Divest’s resolution Tuesday morning, writing, “In this case, my concerns [of anti-Semitism and academic freedom] are heightened by the fact that the Global BDS [Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions] movement does not seem to distinguish between opposition to the policies of the government of Israel and opposition to the existence of Israel.”

Gabriel Levy, Students Supporting Israel’s (SSI) treasurer, was hopeful that Kaler would speak as he did, stating, “It shows that even non-biased elements that make their judgments based on facts come out against BDS as a harmful element and a detriment to a college campus.”

Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) was not thrilled with Kaler’s condemnation. “For our president to attempt to silence our voices and stifle our efforts before our student representatives have even had a chance to vote on the resolutions is disappointing. It says a lot about our administration and their willingness to listen to the student’s voice.”

SJP also spoke out against President Kaler’s use of the State Department’s definition of anti-Semitism, tweeting, “The State Department definition of anti-Semitism is not meant to be used on U.S. campuses.”

SJP led UMN Divest’s resolution to divest from companies linked to Israel, including Caterpillar, Raytheon, Elbit Systems, and Group 4 Securicor (G4S).

This divestment resolution laid the groundwork for UMN United’s resolution introduced by SSI condemning anti-Semitism.

Listing multiple examples of anti-Semitic acts on college campuses and an increase of violence against Jewish people in Europe, SSI resolved that the MSA resolution must include protections for Jewish people in the same way that they have supported “efforts against any form of hatred based on religion, race, ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, ability, nationality, citizenship status, class, or identity on our campus”.

With these is rather anticlimactic, but there were a plethora of reasons that MSA chose to avoid the issues.

CLA Student Senator, Trish Palermo, stated that this highly divisive issue should not be voted on because, “MSA is not the appropriate deliberative body.”

Other concerns were raised that MSA is too small of a percentage of the student body to make these decisions and that a referendum in the upcoming year may be a better alternative. There was also the concern that some representatives would not feel safe voting one way or the other.

On the other side, many representatives felt that MSA was the only place for this discussion to take place.

Rula Rashid, President of SJP stated, “If we strike down two resolutions, two identities, two groups of people, who do students go to in the future?”

The vote to strike both resolutions from the agenda passed by a vote of 34 to 31 with 11 people abstaining.

Sami Rahamim, President of SSI stated, “SJP brought this campaign to divide the campus. I understand why MSA didn’t want to be party to that.”

While the emotional appeals of both sides fueled the debate, the impact that would be felt the most on campus is a financial backlash. According to Stuart Mason, the University’s Chief Investment Officer, the University invests in large, passively managed investment groups.

“To sell those index funds, and engage an active manager, who selects specific stocks, whom we could instruct not to own specific companies can be done,” Mason wrote in an email, “However, it is very expensive (7-10 times the current cost) and runs the risk of having those portfolios under-perform the benchmarks we are trying to achieve.”

Mason concluded that no action will be taken without permission from the Board of Regents, but with President Kaler’s condemnation and MSA’s decision to strike down the resolutions from the agenda, it is not likely that the university will change any of its investments in the near future.