The University of Minnesota President, Eric Kaler, took offense at a recent Boycott, Divestment and Sanction (BDS) movement-sponsored resolution at his university. When the student body narrowly passed a resolution, with language similar to typical BDS movement rhetoric, Kaler criticized the resolution.
The resolution called for divesting from any Israel-related institution or company involved in the alleged Israeli oppression of Palestinians, which struck a chord with Kaler. His response to the resolution was the following:
At the University of Minnesota we promote a climate of open, thoughtful and civil debate among our students, who bring great passion and energy to their positions, causes and elections. That is important to me, and I respect the right of our students to express their opinions through ballots or other initiatives. All in our community have the right to do that regardless of their points of view.
But I also have a point of view on this issue. The outcome of the non-binding referendum on the All-Campus Election ballot demanding the Board of Regents, among other things, “divest from companies that are . . . complicit in Israeli violations of Palestinian human rights,” is one of those times. Two years ago, when a similar resolution was proposed on our Twin Cities campus, I expressed my opposition to it.
I think the form of the ballot is flawed because it convolutes three issues, but I want to focus on the first part of the referendum. 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 Boycott Divestment Sanctions (BDS) movement. The BDS Movement, while not directly mentioned in this referendum, has called for a comprehensive academic, cultural, economic and consumer boycott of Israel. In general, our University should be extraordinarily 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 and the citizens of the country in question.
My 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.
We live in divisive times, both in our country and internationally. This referendum, while narrowly approved, exacerbates those divisions and thus may damage our ability to come together as a University community in common efforts as we hope for — and work for — peace and reconciliation in the Middle East. We won’t solve this problem alone, but surely we can be better than a place where unhelpful rhetoric is hurled from side to side.
I urge all members of our University community to seek to find common ground. In the past, I have stood firmly and vocally against anti-Muslim and anti-Semitic incidents on our campuses. I stand now against the results of this referendum and its potential harmful impact to our campus climate. We must work at civil dialogue and mutual self-respect, and I encourage those on both sides of this issue to engage in precisely those conversations.