MN demands SBI divest from Israel and weapons companies
St. Paul, MN – On August 23, over a dozen protesters gathered on the bottom floor of the Minnesota State Capitol building to demand that Governor Tim Walz and the Minnesota State Board of Investments (SBI) divest all state funds from companies which profit from Israeli apartheid. Governor Walz and SBI members were greeted at the entrance of the meeting room with signs decrying Israeli apartheid and a large banner in solidarity with the Palestinian people.
The SBI has invested over $800 million of public pension funds in companies that benefit from Israeli apartheid such as Lockheed Martin and Israeli weapons companies like Elbit Systems. Members from two different Twin Cities social justice organizations spoke directly to Governor Walz and the SBI members during the public testimony period of the meeting.
Anne Keirstead, a teacher whose pension is invested by the SBI and a supporter of the MN Anti-War Committee (AWC) gave a powerful opening speech, “In this post George Floyd uprising time period, Minnesota teachers are engaged in conversations about how to increase racial justice in our schools and communities. The state legislature has supported this by mandating that we complete professional development on culturally responsive teaching and by creating an ethnic studies social studies stand. So would we want to support segregation abroad? Palestinians do not have the same political or cultural rights as Israeli Jews.”
Keirstead continued, “Our hard earned pensions should not be invested in companies that profit from the occupation of Palestine. Apartheid was wrong in the U.S. It was wrong in South Africa. And it’s wrong in Palestine.”
Mari Mansfield from the Minnesota Immigrant Rights Action Committee, who is also an educator whose funds are invested by the SBI, spoke about what she observed during her 2019 human rights delegation trip to the U.S./ Mexico border and the connection between the surveillance technology and terroristic methods used against both U.S. immigrants and Palestinians.
Mansfield stated, “I heard the stories of people who crossed the border, people fleeing violence, leaving their homes and families in the middle of the night, telling no one. They travel thousands of miles to make it to our southern border.. When the desert becomes too treacherous for construction of the wall, mountains force you further in, then in the distance you see the Elbit surveillance towers. Inevitably, someone trips and falls, hurting themselves, unable to continue the journey. There is nothing you can do for them, and if you stay with them you will die too so you walk away from your brother, your sister, your mother or your best friend leaving them to die slowly and painfully all alone in the desert.”
Mansfield continued, “This is the system of ‘Prevention Through Deterrence’ that our government assures us is working very well; and the State Board of Investment has made the conscious and informed decision to fund this system of death, using my money and the money of educators across Minnesota. The State Board of Investment must break ties with Elbit or live the rest of your life knowing you are a merchant of death.”
Yossi Aharoni, an anti-Zionist Jew who spoke on behalf of the Anti-War Committee said, “This year alone, Israel has killed 193 Palestinians in its occupied territories, 89% of whom were unarmed civilians; thus cementing 2023 as one of the most violent and deadly years for Palestinians on record. Gaza is besieged on all sides by Israeli military blockades, border walls, fences, checkpoints, and of course Israeli Coast Guard ships in the Mediterranean Sea, with strict controls of all imports and exports to Gaza including food, clothes, energy, medicine and of course water. Across Israel are roads on which Palestinians are forbidden from driving. Of the 3 million Palestinians in the Occupied West Bank and two million in Gaza there is zero representation in the Knesset, no vote, not even the superficial formality of civilian law. Instead, these Palestinians live under Israeli military law. Coercion, abuse and torture are common practice against Palestinians in Israeli prisons. These are the conditions which our tax dollars are maintaining.”
Aharoni ended his testimony by presenting Walz with 1500 signatures that the Anti-War Committee collected this summer. The AWC will continue collecting signatures at the Lyndale Minneapolis Open Streets in October.