Yesterday, University of Minnesota student organizers introduced a resolution in the Minnesota Student Association (MSA) calling on the University to divest from four companies that profit from human rights abuses of Palestinians. If successful, the #UMNDivest campaign, spearheaded by Students for Justice in Palestine, would add University of Minnesota to the growing list of university student bodies that have passed divestment resolutions to support Palestinian freedom and human rights.
At the same time, Students Supporting Israel introduced a counter-resolution, calling on MSA to adopt a troubling definition of anti-Semitism that conflates criticism of Israel and Israeli government policies with anti-Semitism. If passed, the counter-resolution would likely result in the unconstitutional stifling of protected student speech and expression.
In a letter to MSA members, Palestine Legal warned that if adopted, the counter-resolution would likely result in unconstitutional viewpoint discrimination against supporters of Palestinian rights by, for example, prohibiting MSA from “facilitat[ing], pormot[ing], or participat[ing] in any activities that directly or indirectly promote” anti-Semitism as defined to include viewpoints critical of Israel. Use of the definition in the university context – where unfettered debate and academic freedom is valued – has been widely condemned, including by one of the definition’s lead authors.
Calling for universities to conflate anti-Semitism with criticism of Israel is a tactic increasingly used by Israel advocates to suppress the First Amendment-protected speech and advocacy of Palestinian human rights activists. Palestine Legal has documented a number of incidents in which false accusations of anti-Semitism have been used to silence Palestine advocacy.
For more information on the re-definition of anti-Semitism, see Palestine Legal’s FAQ on Efforts to Re-define Anti-Semitism to Silence Criticism of Israel. Click here for Palestine Legal’s letter to MSA.