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.
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