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November 5, 2019 4:18 pm

‘Disturbing’ Anti-Israel Event at University of Minnesota Highlights Need for Better Outreach, Campus Jewish Leader Says

avatar by Caleb Galaraga

A ‘Free Palestine’ sign on display with the University of Minnesota’s gopher mascot. Photo: Students for Justice in Palestine via Facebook.

Hundreds of members of Students for Justice in Palestine (SJP) converged on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities this past weekend for the anti-Israel organization’s ninth annual national conference, an event a campus Jewish leader called “disturbing.”

Under the banner of “Beyond Struggle: From Roots to Branches Towards Liberation,” the three-day gathering began with a celebration of the host SJP chapter’s success in passing a pro-BDS measure last year.

As the student arm of the boycott movement targeting Israel, which a recent report on antisemitism noted is a main driver of Jew-hatred on campus, SJP is looking to mainstream its advocacy, aided by the emergence of new public figures like Congresswomen Rashida Tlaib of Michigan and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. Both lawmakers have publicly expressed support for BDS.

“With the emergence of Palestinian voices and those in solidarity with the Palestinian people in this more electoral space, as organizers, it’s important to understand to be tactical and strategic in how we engage with these spaces,” SJP conference attendee Alex Salah told the Minnesota Daily.

Benjie Kaplan — executive director of the University of Minnesota Hillel — described the SJP conference as “disturbing,” but noted it was only one more reason why Jewish groups should intensify their outreach activities.

“We have to better on our end produce messages and programs that tell a more rounded and nuanced story,” Kaplan told The Algemeiner.

Students Supporting Israel and Reservists on Duty members protest the SJP national conference at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities. / Source: SSI

Students Supporting Israel (SSI), which, together with Reservists on Duty, organized a protest at the site of the SJP conference, asserted that SJP violated state law by covering the windows of the facilities where the activities took place. SSI cited the Minnesota Code of Ordinance, which says that at certain public facilities “filling existing window openings or covering them with any materials is prohibited.”

On the second day of the conference, the SSI chapter at the University of Minnesota held a vigil for the victims of the October 2018 Pittsburgh synagogue massacre.

“It was important for us as Jewish students on this campus to come together and support ourselves in this time of struggle and conflict on [our] campus,” said David Dobkin, vice president of SSI-University of Minnesota. He added that the group wanted the school to have a “safe and welcoming climate” for all.

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