Minnesota BDS movement demands state divestment from apartheid

By Wyatt Miller |
June 2, 2019
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Minnesota State Board of Investment told to to divest from Israeli companies
Minnesota State Board of Investment told to to divest from Israeli companies (Fight Back! News/staff)

St. Paul, MN - On May 30, Palestinian-Americans and solidarity activists called on the Minnesota State Board of Investment (SBI) to divest from Israeli companies that violate international law and profit from the occupation of Palestine.

Speaking to the SBI at the state capitol, the activists highlighted several problematic companies the State of Minnesota currently is invested in. These included high-tech weapons manufacturer Elbit Systems, telecom company Bezeq and several Israeli banks.

“It is only appropriate that we hold ourselves to the highest standard and become an example for the rest of the nation,” said Mariam El Khatib of American Muslims for Palestine. “The occupation of the Palestinian people doesn’t only affect the Palestinians, but it’s affecting American Palestinians like myself. I’m an American citizen and yet I’m not allowed to go visit my family within Palestine.”

Comprised of Governor Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison, State Auditor Julie Blaha and Secretary of State Steve Simon, the SBI is tasked with the investment management of various retirement funds, trust funds and cash accounts for the State of Minnesota.

Shaker Ali called out Governor Walz’s hypocrisy for campaigning in opposition to Trump’s border wall, while investing Minnesota state funds in Israeli companies that export their ‘battle-tested’ products to the increasingly militarized US-Mexico border.

Ali explained, “Elbit Systems of America has several contracts with the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for border surveillance technology at the border in Arizona. They recently won a $145 million contract to equip the U.S. customs and border protection for sensors, cameras, radars and ‘integrated fixed towers’ along the Arizona border with Mexico. After 2016 presidential elections, Elbit’s top U.S. official volunteered to be on Donald Trump’s transition team, and later became a part of the administration. In 2018, Elbit System’s CEO said the company’s growth can be attributed to increased U.S. spending on ground military systems and homeland security along the U.S.-Mexico border.”

Amber Harris of Jewish Voice for Peace-Twin Cities drew attention to the role of Bank Hapoalim, Bank Leumi and Mizrahi Tefahot Bank in bankrolling the illegal settlements in the West Bank, saying, “A key thing to realize with the settlements is they are used to colonize Palestine, to reshape the demography and the landscape, and to control major resources. They are also used as a form of terror against the Palestinian population. Through the Israeli government giving stipends, and banks like these giving mortgaging, Jewish Israelis are being funneled into the West Bank of Palestine, and drastically changing the demographic of the land.”

Sanna Nimtz Towns pointed out that there is precedent for the State of Minnesota divesting from apartheid, having done so with South African companies in 1987. “We Minnesotans here today strongly believe that it is our moral obligation to advocate on behalf of Palestinians, who are oppressed by the Israeli system of apartheid, and do not have the privilege of self-determination that we have,” she said.

The action was organized by Minnesota Break the Bonds Campaign with the support of Middle East Peace Now, Jewish Voice for Peace-Twin Cities, American Muslims for Palestine, Students for Justice in Palestine-UMN, Women Against Military Madness-Middle East Committee, and others.

Notably, in 2017 the Minnesota state legislature passed bills denying state contracts to companies that choose to boycott Israel. The legislation was condemned at the time by then-State Representative Ilhan Omar, as well as the American Civil Liberties Union.

After the activists’ comments to the SBI, Governor Walz remarked only, “Thank you for believing in our democracy,” before adjourning the meeting.