6 THURSDAY, MARCH 8, 2018
Editorials & Opinions
Divest debates detract from the real issues
UMN Divest referendum should not pass
Some have argued that UMN Divest is discriminatory and targets Jewish communities.
ast week, a petition demanding the University of Minnesota divest from companies who support Israel received over 600 signatures. As a result, a referendum was placed on the allELLEN SCHNEIDER campus election ballot columnist for the election on March 5 through 7. It has attracted some heated discussions from students, and generated numerous complaints to the All Campus Election Committee, as some feel the initiative unfairly targets Israel. While divesting from companies that support Israel is certainly a component of the initiative, it’s certainly not the sole focus. It calls for divesting from private prisons and immigrant detention centers, companies that violate indigenous sovereignty. Despite what Minnesota Hillel and other groups who filed complaints imply, this initia-
tive is not a discriminatory one. The focus is not diminishing the voices of Jewish communities on campus, or belittling their cultural significance. It is on preventing our University from being involved in human rights violations. Insinuating anything else is frankly, a stretch. The argument that Minnesota Hillel is making simply doesn’t make sense. It is a futile attempt to distract this issue from its focus, which is to prevent this University from conniving with companies which break international laws. The notion that this somehow dispropotionately affects Israeli people is also moot. This is not the first time that the University has divested from corporations or nations that routinely commit violations to basic human rights, nor will it likely be the last. In fact, the University has previously divested from both South Africa and Sudan for their breach of international laws, and in those instances, there was little resistance from students. They were more concerned with the fact that there were people being stripped of their rights, and our University was financially involved in it. The University divested from Sudan in April of 2007, after a growing student-led movement demanded it. It was a widely held notion that being complacent in such atrocities didn’t
sit well with students, and action on the part of the University was required. I see no reason why it should vary in this instance. Advocating for the rights of some does not somehow diminish the rights of others. I don’t believe that the Jewish community is being discriminated against by this referendum, nor do I believe it makes the University a less inclusionary place. This issue is not one of antiSemitism or prejudice practices, it is striving for a University that is financially neutral and is not apathetic to the transgressions of human rights. While I do agree that this issue could benefit from increased awareness and open dialogue and debate, I think a more productive focus would be on the effects this decision would have on campus life and beyond. I realize that Israel is the only Jewish democratic nation in the world, but I don’t believe the intention behind promoting divestment stemmed from anything biased against the Jewish people. The emphasis should remain on whether we want our University rid of any ties to companies disposed to trampling the rights of people and the financial burden that may have. Ellen Schneider welcomes comments at email@example.com.
Why flip phones should make a comeback Smartphones may be sleek, but flip phones offer all the basics and aren’t distracting.
ometime last week, I was sitting around a conference table shooting the breeze with some officemates when one of them pulled out this sleek, blue, cameraincluded flip phone. I was floored. UMA VENKATA I had been babbling columnist to my friends about a collective return to flip phones for the few weeks before this meeting of my dreams. Ever since the iconic movie “Spotlight,” a part of me couldn’t forget about the unspoken cool of Mark Ruffalo, fulfilling moral integrity with what might just be a 2001 gem of a Nokia. I really think going back to the Motorola Razor as the apex of everyday tech would be a positive move, but most people are taken aback at the idea. Ever since the original iPhone, the gorilla-glass domino effect has produced faster, smarter technology that upends the way the en-
tire world does business — gets news, pays bills, finds directions, pursues romantic interests, hails cabs, for example. Smartphones instrumentally caused dynamic shifts in our social and economic modus operandi. That’s because a lot of things about smartphones are really, really convenient. I’ve never actually remembered to bring my insurance card to Boynton, but they’re perfectly fine with a photo on a camera roll. I can respond to email on the go, get headline updates, Google things as a hobby and beat my friend in our daily race to the New York Times mini-crossword. And now, we’ve even made it past UofM Secure. But there are disadvantages, too. Pediatricians report that children are now starting school without the basic motor skills to hold a pencil. Dating apps like Tinder tend to instill the idea that people and sex are a judgmental buffet. Concentration takes a surprisingly hurtful blow with every notification — University of California Irvine research found that it takes 23 minutes to pick it back up. I, too, have a smartphone. In high school, a friend gave me his old iPhone 5 — and if anyone tries to tell you that iPhones only last two years, don’t believe the hype. This thing works just fine (although the Snapchat update got bad reviews, so I’m pretty sure it’s not worth the Hail Mary.) The idea that we all need the newest
phone is, quite frankly, a social construct. And maybe even the newer it is — the faster and easier it is to use — the more it distracts us from eating our vegetables: fun phones can often interrupt focus on our work or even the people we’re standing in front of, talking to — not to mention the ease of access during meetings and lectures. Flip phones are already making a niche comeback. The market’s trying to phase them out completely, so it’s roughly the same price as to have a smartphone. Still, this kind of consumer base has spoken: Nokia has the 3310 “Brick,” which is the Zeus of a phone. It’s at Best Buy. If I can logistically afford the detachment, I want the flip-phone ethos. If you need to contact someone, call them. If they’re busy, they won’t pick up. Leave a message — the voicemail robot lady is our friend. Remember, we made it to the moon with the technology of the sixties. Texting won’t be gone — in middle school, you and I knew when to hit 3 like there was no tomorrow. Maybe the reason Mark Ruffalo’s character and all his colleagues did so much good work was because their jobs didn’t entail updating Twitter every half hour. And I’m sure new phones make great gifts.
Ken Marcus, a Trump nominee to the Department of Education, whose lack of commitment to civil rights and Title IX Hillel International overlooked in favor of his anti-divestment crusading. We can only imagine what Hillel might accomplish if it invested the same resources and dedication to social justice that it does to defending the state of Israel from student criticism. So, yes, Hillel, there are many ways to make positive change. We offer this referendum, a value statement by the students here who will vote on it March 5-7, to address the human rights and social justice issues which impact many campus communities. Our proposal that the University of Minnesota act on its stated values and “consider social responsibility” in its investment decisions is a proposal for such positive change. If Hillel wishes to actually show up for marginalized people and stand against the prison industrial complex, violations of Indigenous sovereignty, and oppressive military occupation, its leadership might propose their own referendum, rather than attacking this one. Until then, we invite Hillel and the entire campus community to read the text of our referendum one more time, and to ask themselves if they really want to try to justify the oppression of Palestinians again this year — or if it is time to prioritize human dignity by divesting from private prisons, treaty violations and the Israeli military occupation.
tion becomes impossible when the referendum question was only approved on the afternoon of Friday, March 2. Furthermore, contrary to the Daily article posted just this morning, 12,000 professional students were excluded from voting by the question’s BDS proponents. There is something fundamentally unfair about a process that allows the proponents to select their own voters and gives no notice or explanation to the 12,000 students who were denied their opportunity to be heard. Our friends in our Jewish community, which is slightly more than 1 percent of the University’s student population and is already under siege from a rise in bias crimes, resent being targeted because of their heritage and religion. Student leaders from Minnesota Hillel, the campus’ Jewish student center, have also been clear that they are strong supporters of the University’s socially responsible investment policy that they championed before the Minnesota Student Association two years ago. They, along with a broad coalition of allies, simply oppose discriminatory divestment that targets the world’s only Jewish state, which is the Middle East’s only true democracy, for boycott, divestment and sanction. This is not the first time the campus has been forced by the proponents of this referendum to engage in this divisive debate. In spring 2016, MSA’s Forum rejected a BDS resolution targeting companies specifically in relation to Israel. An amended resolution passed, which called for global socially responsible investment. Once Israel was removed from the resolution, the UMN Divest coalition quickly revoked their endorsement, exposing that their true intentions were not to call on the University to support socially responsible investment, but to target Israel. Strangely enough, UMN Divest still maintains that their campaign passed through MSA in 2016. We are not aware of any efforts between then and now for UMN Divest to follow up on their “success” of passing the socially responsible investment resolution, which leads us to believe that this is simply another attempt to attack Israel. We urge students to vote “no” on this divisive campaign because teaching hate will never lead to peace. We instead want all students to work together toward positive solutions that will benefit Israelis and Palestinians, but most of all, that will benefit everyone on our campus.
Uma Venkata welcomes comments at firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR Why you should vote yes on the UMN Divest referendum Approximately 24 hours after the UMN Divest referendum was officially launched, a representative of the Minnesota Hillel wrote to us, saying that “the Jewish community feels targeted and marginalized by the one-sided attack on the Jewish state of Israel.” We recommend that Hillel read the highly publicized wording of this referendum again. We find it highly problematic that Minnesota Hillel claimed in this letter to speak for the entire Jewish community on campus, while taking a very particular stance on divestment from military arms companies due to their involvement in the Israeli occupation of Palestine. Hillel cannot speak unequivocally for all Jewish students, many of whom oppose the Israeli government’s policies. In a statement Sunday, the organization’s director denied that Hillel claims to speak for all Jewish students — and then proceeded to tell students how to vote on the referendum. He also wrote that Hillel “unequivocally stands with the Vote United: Vote No campaign” — interesting wording given that this campaign is in fact an initiative of Hillel’s own board. Minnesota Hillel claims to be a “pluralistic, welcoming and inclusive” place for the Jewish community on campus that “advance[s] social justice.” Yet Hillel’s official Standards of Partnership, adopted in 2010, systematically and explicitly exclude Jews who are deemed too critical of Israeli government policies and the occupation. Palestinians live under Israeli military law in the West Bank while Israeli settlers in the same territory enjoy the rights of citizenship under civil law. Palestinians living in Israel and East Jerusalem also face discriminatory laws. While Hillel may object to divestment from arms companies that profit from this occupation, it should not presume to speak for the entire campus Jewish community. Members of that community are involved in our efforts for divestment, and in the composition of this letter. Minnesota Hillel does not represent their views on Palestine. The email continues that Hillel wishes to “explore how we could instead work for positive change on campus.” We are genuinely heartened to hear Hillel has an interest in showing up for marginalized communities, especially considering its inaction on other issues faced by its own members, as well as the campus at large. With the exception of leaping into action whenever a public statement in support of human rights for Palestinians under occupation is made on campus, Hillel has been remarkably silent on issues of social justice that impact other marginalized groups on campus, and has neglected issues that impact Jewish students as well. Minnesota Hillel has made no objection to Hillel International’s recent endorsement of
This letter was lightly edited for clarity and style. This letter was authored by members of Students for Justice in Palestine. Malak Shahin is president of the University student group.
Vote no on the UMN Divest referendum At 8 a.m. Monday morning, undergraduate and graduate students at the University of Minnesota received an email from Student Unions and Activities that linked to the all-campus election ballot. There, they found a political statement disguised as a question at the end of their ballot. This question attempts to co-opt students into supporting the divisive Boycott, Divest and Sanctions movement. This is a movement which has been discredited by leaders across the political spectrum as an obstacle to the mutual respect which comes from conversation, cooperation and compromise, and not continued conflict. Students are understandably confused why this question is even on the the all-campus election ballot with zero additional context or even one public forum to discuss this very complex issue before voting began. Of course, conversa-
This letter was lightly edited for clarity and style. This letter was authored by Theo Menon, a Minnesota Student Association government and legislative affairs coordinator, and Apostolos Kotsolis, president of the Hellenic Student Association and candidate for AtLarge Representative.
very year, the University of Minnesota and the All-Campus Elections Commission has a referendum mechanism where the student body may vote on a statement sponsored by student groups. If the majority of the student body approves the statement, the passage will petition the administration to act in favor of it. The ACEC recently placed a controversial referendum on the ballot that demanded the Board of Regents divest from companies “complicit in Israeli violation of Palestinian rights ... maintaining and establishing private prisons and immigrant detention centers … or violating indigenous sovereignty.” We understand the concerns the authors of the referendum have against the various human rights violations by many actors, including the state of Israel. However, the philosophy of divestment oversteps support against human rights violations into a far more nuanced and multifaceted discussion that necessitates further debate and discussion. For this reason, we do not support the passing of the UMN Divest referendum. First, this referendum was approved for the ACEC shortly before the ballot went live. The full text was not publicly available until closer to March 5. The election ends on Wednesday, with some students being able to vote on the referendum until Thursday morning. This presents an issue that all referendums or student body policies should avoid, regardless of the content. This referendum lacks discussion and debate. Whether one supports or opposes a policy, it is always better for discourse to occur in order to achieve a more well-rounded outcome. Discourse allows individuals affected by the policy to become more well informed and knowledgeable on the subject of the policy. This should be the case for all elections. The primary and general election process is extensive and exhaustive in state and federal elections for this very reason. The time granted for the student body to debate and review the referendum was not long enough. Now, we find ourselves in the midst of a vastly polarizing issue with no platform or venue to productively reconcile or address the differences in opinion. That should not be the case. Another challenge with the passage of the referendum is that the decision still relies on the Board of Regents. The passage of the referendum in no way ensures the advocacy will be implemented into policy. The efforts of various groups, including Students for Justice in Palestine, no matter how well-intentioned, may very well bear no fruit. We believe the better approach is to target education and knowledge about the issues facing Palestinian human rights, proposing tangible actions that have a far greater likelihood of success. Human rights isn’t a zero-sum game. It isn’t necessary to administer a policy that makes a group on campus feel marginalized for the slight possibility of holding a moral high-ground that will, in reality, not affect change in a highly complex issue. Divesting from Israel is a difficult process. The interconnectedness of our world makes it nearly impossible for us to stop investing in the state completely. Companies like Coca-Cola are known for supporting Israel. Boycotting such a substantial corporation, especially considering the vast funding they provide to the University of Minnesota, should warrant a greater debate than this referendum has received. If the goal is to support the rights of the various groups mentioned in the referendum, there are far more impactful things that students can and should do to help them, rather than simply drawing a line in the sand.
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