Open Letter to the MN Legislators

The following is an open letter signed by community members in regards to the letter that Legislators sent to President Kaler asking to condemn the UMN Divest resolution.

March 22, 2016

Dear Senate Majority Leader Bakk, Senate Minority Leader Hann, Speaker Daudt, and House Minority Leader Thissen, and all the members of Minnesota’s Legislature,

We wish to thank the 120 members of the Legislature who did not sign the February 26 letter interfering with a student-led initiative to vote on responsible investments by the University.

For those of you who did sign the letter to University of Minnesota President Kaler, we respectfully wish to correct the misconceptions of your letter and to discuss wider aspects of the legislative interference in student affairs.

In our experience with the Students for Justice in Palestine, we have not encountered any “hostility” in any aspect of their activism. These are students who are passionate about justice and human rights and many of them know first-hand the injustices meted out to Palestinians within Israel, in the Occupied Palestinian territories and in refugee camps. Working for justice in no way implies hostility or hatred.

We note that many of you in the State Legislature worked for justice in other areas of the world, for example many of you were at the forefront of South African anti-Apartheid activism; many of you worked tirelessly for civil rights in the United States; and many of you continue to work for human rights of Syrian and Central American refugees. If those campaigns had been labeled anti-White, anti-American, or anti-Christian, would you have felt less passionate about their importance? Would the moniker “hostile” have been appropriate to the work that you did? If you worked on any of these human rights issues when you were a student would you have welcomed a legislator admonishing you and attempting to stifle your speech? Yet it appears that many people in the United States feel that Palestinians are less deserving of human rights than other people and that the speech of those working for human rights for Palestinians should be stifled.

Peace between Palestinians and Israelis will come when justice comes, not with more “conversation, cooperation, debate, and discussion.” There has been a plethora of the kind of discussion in which one party, the party in total power dictates the terms, meanwhile expropriating more land and resources from what would have become the Palestinian state, and then complaining that it has “no partner for peace.” This is neither a fair discussion nor a commitment towards peace on the part of Israel. Palestinians, after languishing without human rights or self-determination since 1948, after popular uprisings and after the sham known as “Oslo,” asked for help and solidarity from people of conscience all over the world to work towards a just peace through boycotts, divestment and sanctioning Israel until Israel complies with international law. The Students for Justice in Palestine are part of this growing movement for justice.

Debate and discussion on campus, however, is vital. The free and open expression of ideas is essential for education and civic engagement. The legislature should not attempt to stifle this debate and should in no way insert itself into the activities of the student government. To do so is a breach of the students’ First Amendment rights and equally as important, it is a breach of the trust that this State has put into the process of student government. It is more reminiscent of the actions of a totalitarian governmental body which dictates to students what they can and cannot show political support for. The First Amendment does not exist to allow speech only that the government approves of. If you have concerns about certain speech, it is precisely that speech that must be protected.

We encourage you to personally contact members of the Students for Justice in Palestine and discuss what the “goals of BDS” are. We feel that by accepting the word of anti-Palestinian activists about the definition of BDS, you have disrespected those students who have worked so hard and did such fine research and planning prior to writing the resolution. We encourage you to attend some of the events that the SJP or other non-University organizations regularly put on to educate and inform Minnesotans. Your presence at these events would be welcome; your questions and concerns would be accepted and you will find intelligent and informed discussion. It is far better to have an opinion informed by speaking to and understanding both sides, rather than accepting only one side of the story.

Respectfully,

Signatories Attached

 

Cc:

Dr. Eric Kaler, President, University of Minnesota

Dean Johnson, Chair, University of Minnesota Board of Regents

David MacMillian, University of Minnesota Board of Regents

Thomas Anderson, University of Minnesota Board of Regents

Richard Beeson, University of Minnesota Board of Regents

Laura Brod, University of Minnesota Board of Regents

Linda Cohen, University of Minnesota Board of Regents

Thomas Devine, University of Minnesota Board of Regents

Michael Hsu, University of Minnesota Board of Regents

Peggy Lucas, University of Minnesota Board of Regents

Abdul Omari, University of Minnesota Board of Regents

Darrin Rosha, University of Minnesota Board of Regents

Patricia Simmons, University of Minnesota Board of Regents

 

 

Signatories to Legislative letter

Sylvia Schwarz, St. Paul, Minnesota Break the Bonds Campaign, Jewish Voice for Peace, MN BDS Community
Margaret Sarfehjooy, St. Louis Park, Women Against Military Madness
Barbara Greenwald Davis, Minneapolis, Jewish Voice for Peace
Jordan Kushner, Minneapolis, Civil Rights Attorney
Lisa Albrecht, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Social Justice minor, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis
Mary Beaudoin, St. Paul, Women Against Military Madness
Robert Kosuth, Duluth, Minnesota Break the Bonds Campaign
Alaina DeSalvo, Minneapolis, Jewish Voice for Peace – Twin Cities
Darlene Coffman, Rochester, Southeastern Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers
Art Serotoff, Minneapolis, Jewish Voice for Peace, who makes the further comment:
As a Jew, I want to make clear that I feel this action by MN legislators does not speak for me or even represent a good portion of American Jews. We believe that the settlements in occupied territories are illegal as described under international law and that they are a source of daily terrorism for Palestinians who literally live next door. Further, we believe that Jews and Palestinians can live together as neighbors as they have for hundreds of years. That the current Israeli government is distorting the notion of “defense” and behaving as a colonizer, oppressor and terrorist state to the Palestinian people. For these reasons, we believe that the strategy of international Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions would be an effective tool to pressure the Israeli government (and/or Israeli citizens) to lift the blockade, end the imprisonment of Gaza and make a mutually beneficial peace.
Dorothy Scholtz, Minneapolis, Jewish Voice for Peace – Twin Cities
Fadia AbulHajj, Bloomington, Middle East Peace Now
Beverly Bailey, Minneapolis, Middle East Peace Now
Florence Steichen, St. Paul, Middle East Peace Now
Carol L. Vaubel, MD, Minneapolis, MN, MEPN (Middle East Peace Now) Board Member
Natasha C. Vaubel, Minneapolis, MN, Cultural Director, ACOM (Armenian Cultural Organization of Minnesota)
William Rood, Rochester, MN, Southeastern Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers
Karen Schraufnagel, Minneapolis, Socialist Action, Minnesota BDS Community, Minnesotans Against Islamophobia, University of Minnesota, class of 1988
John Schraufnagel, Minneapolis, Socialist Action
Elizabeth Burr, St. Paul
Sarah Martin, Minneapolis, Women Against Military Madness
Barb Hill, St. Paul, Women Against Military Madness
Hazel Anne Bellamy, St. Paul, Women Against Military Madness, Minnesota BDS Community
Suzanne Al-Kayali, Director, Women Against Military Madness
Josina Manu, Minneapolis
Rose Marie Assad, St. Paul
Wissam Balshe, Blaine, Minnesota Break the Bonds Campaign
Lucia Wilkes Smith, Minneapolis, Women Against Military Madness
Eric Highers, Minneapolis
Jean Chovan, Rochester, Southeastern Minnesota Alliance of Peacemakers
Phillip Benson, Watertown, National Lawyers Guild, Minnesota Break the Bonds Campaign
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