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‘Divest Minnesota from apartheid Israel’ Palestine supporters tell investment board

By Wyatt Miller

Group of protesters wearing keffiyehs and holding Palestinian flags raise their hands to disrupt a meeting.

St. Paul, MN – On Wednesday, November 29, Palestine solidarity activists spoke at the Minnesota State Board of Investment (SBI)’s quarterly meeting, demanding divestment of state-managed pension funds and other public monies from Israeli weapons manufacturers, banks and bonds, and other entities complicit in Israel’s apartheid system in Palestine.

The SBI manages assets for state retirement plans and pensions, state trusts and agency cash accounts. For years, local Palestine solidarity organizations have demanded divestment from Israel, noting that the SBI’s holdings directly fund construction of Israeli settlements in the West Bank that are considered illegal by the United Nations.

The divestment push came with renewed urgency after Israel’s ongoing military attack on Gaza, which as of press time has killed over 15,000 Palestinians and left thousands more injured or missing.

The Minnesota State Board of Investment is composed of chair Governor Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison, State Auditor Julie Blaha and Secretary of State Steve Simon. Ellison notably was absent at Wednesday’s meeting.

Drake Myers of the Minnesota Anti-War Committee gave documents to the SBI identifying over $1 billion in Minnesotan taxpayer dollars that the SBI has invested in Israel and other companies that enable the Israeli regime. The most recent SBI reports showed $57 million invested in Israeli companies, $686 million in companies that support and enable Israel’s apartheid state, and $283 million in weapons companies that supply munitions to Israel.

Myers also spoke as a Minneapolis public school employee with a retirement account managed by the SBI. “I don’t know of a single educator that wants our money invested in weapons companies, bombing elementary schools and racist wars,” he said. “On top of morality and legality, these are not safe investments for our retirements, as apartheid has fallen before.”

Myers’ union, Minneapolis Federation of Teachers Local 59, passed a resolution in October condemning “the role our government plays in supporting the system of Israeli occupation and apartheid, which lies at the root of the Palestinian Israeli conflict.”

Sarah Martin of Women Against Military Madness is a retired nurse with a Public Employees Retirement Association pension managed by the SBI. She told the SBI how Israel’s onslaught against Gaza affected her. “As a nurse, this latest bombing campaign – unprecedented in this century by every measure of death and destruction – was unimaginable,” Martin said. “Hospitals were at the center of Israel’s attacks. My pension, which I get because I took care of sick and injured people in the state-of-the-art hospital just down the street, was used to destroy the hospitals of Gaza.”

Virginia Eckert is a former 11th grade student of Governor Walz, who, before he entered politics, worked as a social studies teacher at Mankato West High School. “Me and my friends spent hours phone banking, door knocking and marching in parades during the summer to get you elected, because as children we trusted you to do the right thing. Today I’m asking you to do the right thing by divesting from Elbit Systems, the largest weapons provider to the Israeli military,” Eckert said.

Max Vast is a clerical worker at the University of Minnesota and president of AFSCME Local 3800. “We are vested in the MSRS [Minnesota State Retirement System] pension fund, and we refuse to have the money reserved for our futures, destroy the futures of the Palestinian people,” Vast told the SBI.

“I’m also here as a parent,” Vast continued. “When my Palestinian son visits his family in Palestine, I spend every single one of those days scared that he will become Elbit Systems’ next text subject.” Elbit Systems has advertised its products as “field-tested” on Palestinians.

After the public comments, Governor Walz adjourned the meeting without making any remarks. Dozens of divestment supporters immediately began chanting, “Not another nickel, not another dime, no more money for Israel’s crimes,” while raising red-painted hands in the air to symbolize the SBI’s complicity in the deaths of Palestinians. Organizers vowed to continue the campaign for divestment.

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