With over 600 signatures, UMN Divest referendum may reach ballot

UMN Divest has gathered over the required number of signatures for a divestment referendum to be added to next week’s ballot, despite complaints.

An initiative demanding the University of Minnesota to divest from companies who support Israel is gaining support from some students, while others oppose the push.

As of Wednesday night, a petition for the divestment referendum, which may be added to the all-campus election ballot upon review and approval from the All Campus Election Commission, reportedly has over 600 signatures. The minimum number of signatures needed is 400.

On Sunday, Minnesota Hillel, a campus Jewish student group, filed a complaint to the ACEC about the petition, claiming it unfairly targets Israel and does not provide adequate time for discussion.

The ACEC could not be reached for a comment.

The petition, which is being organized by student group coalition UMN Divest, calls for a referendum in next week’s all-campus election that would push a student vote for the University to divest from companies that — according to UMN Divest — support Israeli occupation of Palestine and associated human rights violations.

“We believe that this University shouldn’t be invested in companies that commit human rights violations,” said Malak Shahin, president of Students for Justice in Palestine, a group supporting the petition.

The companies UMN Divest has highlighted in its petition are Raytheon, G4S and Boeing.

Still, students in Minnesota Hillel had issues with the referendum.

“The process of introducing this referendum has bred discrimination and silencing of the Jewish community, and we sincerely hope the greater campus community will support us in our efforts to create a more inclusive dialogue around this issue,” said Leeore Levinstein, president of Minnesota Hillel in an email statement.

The proposed referendum in its current format reads as:

  • 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) maintaining and establishing private prisons and immigrant detention centers, or 3) violating Indigenous sovereignty?

Minnesota Hillel’s complaint to ACEC about the petition claimed it unfairly targeted Israel and didn’t allow enough time for conversation.

“It concerns our community that Israel, the only nation in the world where the majority of its citizens are Jewish, is the only nation named in this referendum for censure,” the complaint said.

The complaint also said the referendum’s wording asked students to make decisions about an “incredibly complex conflict, thousands of miles away, without any opportunity for nuanced education or discussion.”

In 2016, SJP and other student groups ran a similar campaign, demanding the University divest from companies involved with certain Israeli interactions with Palestine.

The movement targeted four companies — two of which are the same as this year’s movement — Caterpillar Inc., Elbit Systems Ltd., G4S and Raytheon.

The original 2016 resolutions didn’t reach a vote, but the Minnesota Student Association passed a general resolution calling the University to divest from companies violating human rights.

If the referendum is placed on the ballot and passes, it will be sent to the Board of Regents for discussion.

The all-campus election will be held March 5-7.