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Activists demand Minnesota divest from border militarization contractor

By Wyatt Miller |
August 23, 2019
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Protest demands Minnesota divest from border militarization contractor.
Protest demands Minnesota divest from border militarization contractor. (Fight Back! News/Staff)

St. Paul, MN - On August 22, immigrant rights and Palestine solidarity activists presented over 1000 signatures of Minnesota residents petitioning the State Board of Investments (SBI) to divest state pension funds from the Israeli defense contractor Elbit Systems. Elbit sells cluster bombs and weaponized white phosphorus to the Israel Defense Forces, whose indiscriminate use on besieged Gaza has been widely condemned by international organizations. Elbit also manufactures surveillance equipment for the Israeli apartheid wall, and drones used in targeted assassinations of Palestinian political leaders.

Advertising its products as “battle-tested” on occupied Palestine, Elbit has won over $150 million in contracts from U.S. Customs and Border Protection and the Department of Homeland Security to build surveillance towers on the U.S.-Mexico border, including as part of President Trump’s racist ‘build the wall’ initiative.

Aadarsh Akula of the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee told the State Board of Investments, “Since 1990, as a result of border militarization, there’s been about 7000 corpses in the desert on the southern border. The Migration Policy Institute notes that these corpses are directly correlated with increasing border militarization.”

“As a concept, border militarization totally ignores the fact that humans have intrinsic value, that they don’t just need to die if they cross a border,” Akula added. “This company cares more about its bottom line than the intrinsic value that all human beings pose.”

The SBI is comprised of Minnesota Attorney General Keith Ellison, State Auditor Julie Blaha, Secretary of State Steve Simon, and is chaired by Governor Tim Walz. All are Democrats who were elected on promises of opposing President Trump’s immigration policies. In 2018 while campaigning for governor, Walz tweeted, “President Trump wants to blow $18 billion of taxpayer funds on his border wall? Give me a break.” Ellison appeared at 2018’s May Day Parade in Minneapolis wearing a “Yo no creo en fronteras” (“I don’t believe in borders”) t-shirt, and earlier this year stated that Trump was “unable to persuade Congress and the American people that a wall is necessary.”

Speaking to the SBI, Autumn Lake of the MN Anti-War Committee elaborated on Elbit’s role in Israel’s war crimes. “Cluster munitions, white phosphorus shells and military drones have all been used by the state of Israel in their brutal campaigns against Palestinian civilian populations. Almost 10,000 Palestinian civilians have been killed since September 29, 2000. Two thousand of those killed were children. Elbit Systems bears a direct responsibility for helping maintain this cycle of colonial violence against an indigenous people.”

Lake concluded, “Simply put, the funds that are being used to bring people peace of mind in their retirement years should not be gained through investment in a company that profits from war and imperialism.”

Elbit Systems is one of several Israeli companies from which organizations of the Minnesota BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions) Community have long demanded the state divest. Minnesota BDS Community member Sylvia Schwarz, of Jewish Voice for Peace, spoke at the press conference activists held just before the SBI meeting.

“I urge the State Board of Investments to divest from Elbit Systems, just as the Norwegian Pension Fund, the Danske Bank, the Swedish National Pension Fund, the Dutch Pension Fund, and Deutsche Bank have done,” Schwarz said.

Despite holding a lengthy conversation over the conflict between ethical considerations and their “fiduciary duty” as state investors as it pertained to climate change, the SBI had nothing to say about Elbit Systems. Following the presentation by the activists, Governor Walz abruptly adjourned the meeting without comment.

In response, organizers have called for a militant protest outside the governor’s mansion at 1006 Summit Avenue in Saint Paul, to take place on Thursday, August 29 at 5:30 p.m.