Here we go again.
After failed efforts a couple of years ago, several student organizations on the University of Minnesota campus, led and orchestrated by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), are attempting to coerce their hateful and divisive agenda on campus. This time they managed to get Israel Divestment as a referendum on this year’s student all-campus elections ballot to be held today (Monday, March 5) through Wednesday. The referendum asks: “Should the students of the University of Minnesota demand the Board of Regents divest from companies that are 1) complicit in Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights 2) maintain and establish private prisons and immigrant detention centers, or 3) violate indigenous sovereignty?”
This referendum is problematic for multiple reasons. Most glaringly is its Israel-obsession focus. If the authors of the referendum were, in fact, serious about the topics raised by the three questions, then why is it that they have chosen to single out only one country for their opprobrium? The referendum’s singular focus on the only Jewish state and the most thriving (not to say only) democracy in the Middle East, while “surprisingly” overlooking many far more serious crises and violations of human rights occurring elsewhere, is telling. The referendum oozes double standards. The willingness to make false assertions about Israel coincides with a stunning silence about the merciless deaths of more than 400,000 Syrians at the hands of the Bashar al-Assad regime, on the northern border of Israel itself, over the past five years, along with the creation of millions of refugees fleeing that murderous government. The referendum is also silent about the many other gross violations of human rights perpetrated by the Arab governments in the region — violations far worse than anything Israel has ever done. Singling out Israel and ignoring the Syrian catastrophe is a particularly egregious form of selective indignation.
The referendum’s real goal is thus not to remedy human rights violations. It is to delegitimize the State of Israel.
In fact, it is a long-standing goal of the BDS (boycott, divest, and sanction) movement and its supporters, to destroy the Jewish state, rather than to work for a peaceful solution between Israelis and Palestinians. The rallying cry of SJP, BDS and their ilk is “from the river (Jordan) to the (Mediterranean) sea, Palestine shall be free.” This is revealing in so far as it calls for no place for Israel in that space. What BDS is about is thus the destruction of Israel, not living side by side it; it is about a Jewish-free Palestine, not Justice in Palestine.
The link between the BDS movement and antisemitism has been borne out by numerous studies showing, for example, that the occurrence of BDS activity was “very strongly correlated” with the occurrence of antisemitic expression on campus, with 95% of schools with BDS activity having incidents of antisemitic expression, compared with “only” 33% of schools with no BDS activity. In addition, schools with more incidents of BDS activity have tended to have more incidents of antisemitic expression. Indeed, studies also found that “BDS activity…[was one of] the strongest predictors of incidents that target Jewish students, the factor with the most deleterious effect on campus climate for Jewish students.”
The BDS movement propagates a new type of antisemitism, one that seeks to deny Jews, as such, the right to self-determination in the land of their origins. In the name of self-determination, BDS seeks to deny the very same right to one people, the Jewish people.
The tactics we see now — broad, sweeping claims backed up by few specifics — are familiar in efforts by the BDS movement. They have created tensions and divisions on many campuses around America and targeted one group of students on campus. BDS resolutions and campaigns often promote a hostile environment for many Jewish or pro-Israel students where they are promoted. We agree with the University of Minnesota President, Eric Kaler, who, in response to an earlier resolution offered in 2016, articulated that “[O]ur university should be wary about such boycotts, given our core values of academic freedom and our commitment to the free exchange of ideas, uncertainty about the impact of such efforts, and concerns that we may be unfairly singling out one government.”
As faculty, we stand for academic inquiry and critical thinking and we seek to promote those values amongst our students. This referendum is simplistic, discriminatory, without adequate detail, and likely to be quite divisive. We are confident that the referendum should be and will be rejected on this campus.
Oren Gross, Irving Younger Professor of Law
Mikhail Shifman, Professor of Theoretical Physics
Brian H. Bix, Frederick W. Thomas Professor of Law and Philosophy
Renana Schneller, Classical and Near Eastern Studies
Richard Painter, S. Walter Richey Professor of Corporate Law
Alex Kamenev, Professor of Physics
Bruno Chaouat, Professor of French and Jewish Studies
Alex Lubet, Professor of Music
Stephen M. Wiesner, Professor of Medical Laboratory Science
Jonathan Paradise, Associate Professor (emeritus), Classical and Near Eastern Studies
Gilliane Monnier, Associate Professor of Anthropology
Gilbert Tostevin, Associate Professor of Anthropology
William W. Malandra, Professor (emeritus)
Bernard M. Levinson, Professor of Classical & Near Eastern Studies