University of Minnesota spent about $1 million with companies that have ties to Israel (2024)

The University of Minnesota has spent about $1 million so far this school year on purchases from companies that have ties to Israel, money that largely went toward research projects and efforts to power the U's library systems.

The figures reflect purchases made during the first nine months of the fiscal year and together account for less than 1% of the U's $4.5 billion budget, according to information provided to the Star Tribune in response to a data request.

Like other colleges across the nation, the University of Minnesota is facing calls to reconsider its investments in response to the war between Israel and Hamas. On Oct. 7, Hamas launched a surprise attack on Israel that killed an estimated 1,200 people and resulted in hundreds being taken hostage. Israel responded by invading the Gaza Strip, where the Palestinian death toll is nearly 35,000, according to statistics released by the United Nations.

Pro-Palestinian activists have been encouraging the U and other colleges across the country to cut ties with Israel, in sometimes contentious protests, arguing that Israel's actions amount to a genocide. Some Jewish organizations have called boycotts discriminatory and instead encouraged campus leaders to invest in both Israelis and Palestinians.

The encampment at the U ended last month when university leaders agreed to release some details about their endowment investments and continue talks about whether divestment is appropriate.

The largest portion of the U's purchases tied to Israel — about $680,000 — went to a company called Ex Libris that provides software that helps power the U's library systems. The company traces its roots to 1980, when the team that created it formed at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem. It was acquired three years ago by a British-American company called Clarivate.

Among other things, the software provided by Ex Libris helps students and researchers access materials and keep track of inventory. University spokesperson Jake Ricker said the U regularly reviews its library system and last did so in fall 2022, when library leaders determined there was no other company that could provide the same level of service for all five campuses.

"The libraries of the University of Minnesota could not function in even the most basic ways without this critical service platform," Ricker said, adding that 15 of the 19 schools in the Big Ten Academic Alliance use the company's services or plan to begin using them this year.

Many of the remaining purchases in Israel related to research projects and veterinary services, and in some instances, U employees said the materials they needed couldn't be found elsewhere. For example, some purchase records noted that a special type of syringe used in surgery to treat canine incontinence was only available from one company, which is based in Israel.

The Lieberman-Okinow Endowment provides funding to help support plant pathology research, with the goal of preventing disease and alleviating hunger. It supports a professor based at the U and a plant gene bank based at Tel Aviv University, which has one of the largest repositories of wild cereal specimens in the world.

"The genetic resources from TAU are shared with researchers around the world for the benefit of mankind," Ricker said.

The Star Tribune requested all active contracts involving the U and Israel, Palestine or Gaza. The resulting records did not include any contracts that mentioned Palestine or Gaza.

During the first nine months of the school year, the U made purchases from 2,680 suppliers in 102 countries outside the United States.

The U last month released some details about its endowment investments, making it one of the first colleges in the nation to open its books in response to pro-Palestinian protesters' demands. It agreed to the disclosures as part of a deal to end an encampment that set up on the Twin Cities campus for several days at the end of the spring semester.

The U has two endowments. Older donations are held in a $2.27 billion endowment overseen by the U, about $5 million of which is in stocks and bonds tied to companies based in Israel or U.S. defense contractors. Newer donations are placed in a $3.6 billion endowment overseen by the University of Minnesota Foundation, a nonprofit that coordinates fundraising efforts for the U and says its business information is private.

During a public board meeting last month, U regents heard from student groups on opposing sides of the divestment debate but offered few hints as to how they might respond, except to promise they would continue working on the issues. Representatives for groups that called for divestment didn't immediately respond on Monday.

Benjie Kaplan, executive director of Minnesota Hillel, a Jewish student organization, reiterated the group's calls for regents to resist divestment demands.

"The University of Minnesota divesting from anything Israel-related will do nothing more than create further divides between those most invested in a peaceful future for Israelis and Palestinians," Kaplan said.

University of Minnesota spent about $1 million with companies that have ties to Israel (2024)


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