Fight Back! News

News and Views from the People's Struggle

Minnesotans testify to State Board of Investment to urge divestment from Israel

By Meredith Aby

Wyatt Miller speaking to the MN State Board of Investment seated next to Elizabe

St. Paul, MN – The Minnesota State Board of Investment (SBI) meets quarterly to review investment reports and to hear from the public. Normally the meetings start around 10 a.m., but on May 25 the SBI started their meeting over three hours late. The Executive Board, which includes Governor Tim Walz, Secretary of State Steve Simon, Attorney General Keith Ellison and State Auditor Julie Blaha, heard testimony concerning taconite mining leases until after 1 p.m.

By the time the governor acknowledged the SBI meeting, most of the people who had come for the public meeting had been turned away due to the meeting being scheduled for too small of a room or because they had to return to work. Despite the delayed start time three activists testified on the importance of Minnesota divesting from Israel.

The SBI has invested over $800 million of Minnesotan taxpayer money into corporate interests and pension funds that facilitate Israel's longstanding human rights violations.

Elizabeth McLister, a member of the MN Anti-War Committee (AWC), addressed the State Board of Investment, “The board is mistaken if it assumes that Minnesotans will remain unwitting profiteers of Israel's crimes forever. Americans are awakening to the egregious human rights violations carried out by the Israeli government. According to a recent Pew Research poll, an unprecedented number of U.S. citizens report feeling sympathetic to the Palestinian plight.”

McLister continued, “SBI members have condemned regressive policies when doing so has been politically expedient. For example, board members decried Trump's abhorrent border wall. But when have they objected to Elbit's role as a top border security contractor charged with surveilling the U.S.-Mexico border and literally building the wall?”

McLister addressed the fact that the SBI meeting was being held on the third anniversary of George Floyd’s murder. “SBI members have claimed to stand in solidarity with the Black lives matter movement, but they've remained silent about the deadly exchange program by which American law enforcement and Israeli armed forces trade tactics for suppressing and oppressing marginalized people within their respective countries. When Derek Chauvin murdered George Floyd three years ago today, over 100 on-duty MPD officers had been trained by the Israel Defense Forces.”

Memo Perez, an activist with MN Immigrant Rights Action Committee who went on the Legalization for All Network's U.S.-Mexico border delegation in April, witnessed firsthand the devastating impact of Elbit Systems technology. Perez told the SBI, “After going to the U.S.-Mexico border earlier this year, myself and other MIRAC members saw firsthand Elbit’s surveillance technology in action. This technology sold to the U.S. government facilitates the ongoing border crisis, the separation of families, and the trafficking of separated children who are then forced into working dangerous jobs. A recent New York Times investigation found that among the 85,000 unaccounted-for migrant children by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, many are here in Minnesota in places like Worthington, Owatonna, and Mankato working long and dangerous shifts in meat packing plants and sanitation in violation of labor laws. This problem is not far off in the borderlands; it is also here in Minnesota, and Elbit systems technology is facilitating the problem.”

Wyatt Miller was the last activist to speak. Miller is a member of the MN Anti-War Committee and he told the SBI that the AWC had recently hosted Nkosi Zwelivelile Mandela, grandson of anti-apartheid hero Nelson Mandela, who is a member of South Africa’s Parliament. While Mandela was in Minnesota he spoke out against the state’s investments in Israel. Miller quoted Chief Mandela to the SBI, “We also have to confront other states and private sector players who are complicit in the illegal occupation and in the daily atrocities meted out to Palestinians. I am told that the Minnesota State Board of Investments has over $800 million invested in entities carrying out or complicit in Israeli apartheid systems. For this reason, we must intensify the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions campaign. We must intensify the BDS campaign to end these investments in apartheid Israeli crimes.”

Miller went on to reference, “our own experience in isolating apartheid South Africa and making it a pariah state in the world’s community of nations,” saying, “The Minnesota State Board of Investment itself divested from its holdings in South Africa, contributing to helping end the apartheid regime. Let us join hands once again and work tirelessly in supporting the BDS campaign for a free Palestine.”

Miller concluded, “I hope Chief Mandela’s words, and the moral authority he carries as the chief of his grandfather’s family, resonate with this board. Nelson Mandela himself stated that Palestine is 'the greatest moral issue of our time.' I know members of this board were involved in the struggle to divest from apartheid South Africa. There is a sea change underway in U.S. public opinion, with a majority of Democratic voters now reporting to support Palestine, not Israel. I urge this board to show leadership, to boldly begin the process of divestment from apartheid Israel despite the apparent obstacles. Palestine will be free, and so Israel is not only a bad investment from a fiscal perspective, but also politically. I hope you will join the right side of history on this urgent question.”

After their testimony, the governor abruptly called for the session to end even though other people who had filled out the paperwork to testify hadn’t gotten to speak yet.

The AWC plans to continue to organize Minnesotans against the State Board of Investment’s Israeli investments and to bring petition signatures to their next meeting on August 23.

#StPaulMN #Palestine #Divestment #MiddleEast