MINNEAPOLIS — An international movement is putting significant financial pressure on Israel to end its apartheid policies and illegal occupation of Palestine.
But politicians and legislators are pushing back, trying to make the movement illegal and quash the free speech rights of participants especially those of students.
Over the past 11 years, the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement has launched successful boycotts of Israeli products made in illegally occupied territories. It’s even convinced artists from musicians to circus performers to cancel their trips to Israel. In recent years, dozens of student governments have passed resolutions urging their college campuses to divest from Israeli bonds.
While the BDS movement represents a grassroots effort to force Israel to acknowledge the human rights of the indigenous Palestinian population, political mega-donors like casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and other wealthy sources have opened their wallets to stop the movement.
Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called BDS a “campaign to delegitimize Israel” and insisted that the Jewish people were being specially singled out for criticism. Even “liberal” presidential candidates like Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders echoed his sentiments in statements linking anti-Zionism to anti-Semitism. And state legislators are interceding at the local level to try to block the efforts of students on college campuses.
The Students for Justice in Palestine chapter at the University of Minnesota is no stranger to this. Last year, members received disturbing threats after another campus organization, Students Supporting Israel, accused them of supporting “terrorists” for speaking up on behalf of a murdered unarmed Palestinian youth.
When they approached the student government about passing a resolution urging their school to stop investing in companies that violate human rights beyond Israel, they might have expected similar pushback from other students.
Instead, over two dozen lawmakers from Minnesota’s state legislature signed a letter to the university’s president, Eric Kaler, opposing the resolution.
I spoke with Rula Rashid, president of the SJP chapter at U of M, to find out why the movement is important to her, and how a student resolution can prompt such a state government intervention.
Shortly after our interview, the group tweeted some good news: “The resolution passed!”
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