Last week the Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) chapter at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities released a statement calling for divestment from companies profiting off of human rights violations and violations of international law. The press release states: “We call for the Divestment of four specific companies: Elbit Systems, G4S, Caterpillar, and Raytheon. The University of Minnesota’s investments in these companies shows implicit support for the decisions and actions of these companies, as well as their consequences, which include the killing of civilians, and violations of their basic human rights.”
SJP’s push to divest at the University of Minnesota is part a broader movement on campuses across the country. The press release clarifies the movement’s roots: “The call to divest is a response to the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement- a global campaign to pressure Israel into complying with international law and to recognize Palestinians’ rights.”
The push for divestment has not come without controversy. In response to SJP’s press release, UMN United formed to stand unapologetically against the divestment movement, bigotry, and anti-Semitism. Sami Rahamim, a spokesperson for the organization and President of Students Supporting Israel told Alpha News that the divestment movement is aligned with the global BDS movement, “which is predicated on the zealous and ahistorical belief” that Israel is an “an apartheid-ethnic cleansing-racist nation.” Rahamim adds, “The global BDS movement is committed either explicitly or implicitly to the elimination of Israel” and adds that the campaign sidetracks student government from focusing on other important issues.
When asked why SJP is making this push, spokesperson Sara Halimah stated, “UMN Divest is a student-led campaign against our University’s financial investment in companies that profit off of Israeli human rights violations in the occupied Palestinian territories as documented by the United Nations and various international NGOs. This is a campaign supporting human rights for all, particularly those whose human rights are being violated.” No mention is made in the press release or in Halimah’s statement of Palestinian human rights and violations or its ties to terrorist groups Hezbollah and Hamas. Those who disagree with the policy likely disagree with SJP’s failures to recognize Palestinian human rights and international law violations.
SJP cites the United Nations as one of the primary organizations documenting the human rights violations of Israel. However, they fail to recognize that according to Fox News, the United Nations quantifies approximately 100,000 deaths in the Syrian civil war (in which illegal chemical weapons were used) to be less of a threat to human rights than Israel. Four resolutions condemning Israel were passed by the Human Rights Council during a session that concluded late last March. Just one resolution was passed against North Korea and Syria. In his 2015 speech to the United Nations, Israeli Prime Minister Bibi Netanyahu borrowed a line from famous baseball player Yogi Berra to call out the UN on its hypocrisy, stating, “When it comes to the annual bashing of Israel at the UN, it’s déjà vu all over again.”
A vote by the Minnesota Student Association on a proposal to divest is likely to come to pass in the next few weeks. If passed, the proposal holds no legal weight. The University’s administration is not required to divest, as it has autonomy over University finances. Simply stated, the vote is seen as a student body recommendation to the University.