Fight Back! News

News and Views from the People's Struggle

UMN Divest Coalition presents pro-Palestine divestment proposal to board of regents

By Mira Altobell-Resendez

Group gathers holding signs. They are captured from the back so signs are not readable. One person is holding a Palestinian flag on a flagpole that has "Free Palestine" printed on it.

Minneapolis, MN – On May 10, the UMN Divest Coalition gathered 100 people, who first rallied outside the McNamara Alumni Center and then packed the meeting room of the board of regents at the University of Minnesota, despite intimidation from campus police.

Following the seven months of genocide in Gaza being carried out by Israel with material support from the United States, the UMN Divest Coalition held a Gaza solidarity encampment on the University of Minnesota East Bank campus to protest the institution’s complicity. Modeled after the one at Columbia University in New York, the UMN Divest Coalition’s encampment put pressure on the university administration to respond to their demands of divestment, or else the encampment would remain standing during commencement ceremonies for graduating students.

After two weeks of a sustained encampment and other protests on campus led by the Coalition, including the arrests of nine activists by the University of Minnesota Police Department, Interim President Jeff Ettinger and other senior advisers held several meetings with the leaders of the Coalition. During the third meeting, he made a promise to organizers to address the following demands:

The UMN Divest Coalition was placed on the agenda for the May 10 Board of Regents meeting near the end of the schedule. However, members began showing up at the McNamara Alumni Center at 6 a.m. to be first in line to sign up for the public comment forum regarding Interim President Jeff Ettinger’s proposed operations budget for the coming fiscal year, which includes up to a 5.5% tuition increase for university students.

19 out of 20 speaker slots were filled by the Coalition and supporters of their campaign to give additional insight to the board regarding the use of their finances, particularly those that are invested in the apartheid state of Israel and companies complicit in human rights violations.

Co-president of Students for Justice in Palestine Donia Abu informed the board of regents of the personal toll that this issue bears on her life, stating, “Thousands of my tuition dollars and other students’ tuition dollars are invested in companies that build the bombs and machinery that are being used to kill my family.” Abu has had 12 family members killed in Gaza since October 7 and is raising money to help her other relatives evacuate.

Once the latter half of the agenda was reached, it was time for a delegate of each organization in the UMN Divest Coalition to present the proposed policy change to the board within their allotted five minutes, among these leaders from Students for Justice in Palestine, Students for a Democratic Society, Young Democratic Socialists of America, and Students for Climate Justice. They began their address by affirming that the purpose of their presentation to the board was “to raise our moral concerns with the University of Minnesota’s investments, the university’s lack of transparency in regards to their investments, as well as their known ties to weapons companies.”

What followed were suggestions for concrete steps the university could take to seriously begin the path towards divestment from companies and institutions complicit in war crimes and other human rights violations, such as Israeli universities and weapons manufacturers. The proposed actions are as follows:

“We ask that a vote be taken by the Board of Regents at the nearest opportunity to direct the Office of Investments and Banking to use all resources in their power to divest the University of Minnesota endowment from all companies complicit in war crimes and human rights violations according to Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, including but not limited to weapons companies such as Lockheed Martin, General Dynamics, Boeing, Honeywell, and their subsidiaries. The process and progress of divestment should be clearly communicated through regularly scheduled meetings with Students for Justice in Palestine, as a part of the University of Minnesota showing accountability and (re)building trust with the student body. We also request that the university publicly disclose the percentage of its holdings that are invested in these companies annually.”

Directly after this plea for the board of regents to recognize the humanity of Palestinians was a presentation from University of Minnesota Hillel, a Zionist community organization on campus that claims to represent all Jewish students. Hillel’s delegates spent their allotted five minutes recounting “feeling scared” for their safety on campus the last seven months, opposing divestment, and implying that members of the Coalition have connections with Hamas.

Outside of the meeting, a spirited rally took place. Gillian Rath of SDS stated, “We cannot trust the word of the university. If this administration says they're going to begin the process of divestment, give us a seat at the table, and help us gain amnesty, we need to make sure they do.”

This rally was attended by members and supporters of the UMN Divest Coalition who were barred from entering the building by campus police and building security, which has not happened in recent years.  UMN SDS has regularly attended and disrupted board of regents meetings for several years without interference upon entry. All entrances to the building were monitored by security guards and armed police officers who would allow entry of two to five people at a time at the discretion of their colleagues monitoring the board room where the meeting took place. Those who were let into the building could only take the elevator to the board room if it was operated by building staff. One University of Minnesota student was threatened with arrest if she were to enter the building to retrieve her purse she had set down before being ushered outside from the lobby.

This is only the beginning of the fight the UMN Divest Coalition and its allies are waging to divest the University of Minnesota from Israel and all companies responsible for human rights violations, to end its complicity in the decades-long deadly Zionist occupation of Palestine.

#MinneapolisMN #FreePalestine #UMN #UMNDivestCoalition #UMNSDS #SDS #SJP