UMN president condemns ‘harmful’ BDS referendum

University of Minnesota President Eric Kaler is condemning the national Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) movement after the student body passed a referendum in its favor. 

The resolution had previously failed to pass the Minnesota Student Association, but the “UMN Divest” campaign, which is supported by Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP), recently managed to force a campus-wide referendum in the All-Campus Election after collecting the requisite 600 signatures. 

[RELATED: Texas A&M student gov passes resolution condemning BDS] 

According to The Minnesota Daily, the SJP-sponsored BDS referendum passed Sunday by a margin of just 3.4 percent, with 3,392 students voting in favor of the measure and 3,175 voting against it. 

The language of the referendum, however, has sparked criticism from some Jewish leaders in the state, since it called for divestment from companies that maintain and establish “private prisons and immigrant detention centers” or violate “Indigenous sovereignty,” in addition to companies that are “complicit in Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights.” 

“This was a referendum that was launched on three-days’ notice and with extremely biased language specifically so students didn’t have time to get educated and would be led to vote yes simply by the question’s framing,” Benjie Kaplan, executive director of Minnesota Hillel, told Twin Cities Jewfolk

Kaplan went on to assert that he has “learned that those launching these attacks are not interested in debate,” but simply “use BDS as a way of spreading their narrative.” 

Additionally, President Kaler forcefully condemned the referendum in a statement on Monday, calling it “flawed because it convolutes three issues.” 

“I want to state clearly that the university does not endorse--and I personally oppose--the action advocated in the referendum, which echoes, in part, the language and sentiment of the [BDS] movement,” he continued, saying his “concerns are heightened by the fact that the global BDS movement does not seem to distinguish between opposition to the policies of the government of Israel and opposition to the existence of Israel.” 

[RELATED: BDS among ‘greatest threats to academic freedom’ today] 

“In the past, I have stood firmly and vocally against anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents on our campuses,” the statement concluded. “I stand now against the results of this referendum and its potential harmful impact to our campus climate.” 

After the results of the vote are verified through a routine review process, it will head to the Board of Regents for discussion. 

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