Palestine solidarity activists slam Minnesota agency over divestment opportunism
St. Paul, MN – On May 25, Palestine solidarity activists gathered in the Minnesota state capitol for a press conference and rally to demand the State Board of Investment (SBI) divest public funds from a group of Israeli companies and bonds involved in the occupation of Palestine. The rally took place immediately before the SBI’s quarterly meeting, and was organized by Minnesota BDS (Boycott, Divest and Sanctions) Community, a coalition of local organizations.
The SBI consists of Minnesota Governor Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison, State Auditor Julie Blaha and Secretary of State Steve Simon.
Activists said the longstanding campaign for divestment from Israel was newly energized by the SBI’s recent divestment from Russia. The SBI previously had claimed its “fiduciary duty” prevented it from divesting from Israel. However, in February, within a week of hostilities breaking out between Russia and Ukraine, Governor Walz stated that “hiding behind a fiduciary responsibility” shouldn’t get in the way of “taking the actions necessary” and quickly led the SBI to divest from Russian as well as Belarussian companies.
“The SBI divested from Russia over unverified allegations of war crimes amid a media-fueled war hysteria that echoed the lead-up to the Iraq war in 2003,” explained Wyatt Miller of the Anti-War Committee, part of the coalition at the capitol. “If the SBI continues to refuse to divest from Israel, it won’t just be an insult to the human rights activists who have spent decades painstakingly documenting 74 years’ worth of apartheid Israel’s crimes, or to the millions of Palestinians who’ve risked their lives to make those crimes visible. It will also cheapen the very notion of war crimes and reduce them to a meaningless rhetoric deployed only when it’s politically expedient and in the interests of U.S. imperialist foreign policy.”
One Israeli military technology company, Elbit Systems, was highlighted by activists for its production of weapons for the Israeli Occupation Forces as well as being contracted to help build the U.S.-Mexico border wall denounced by immigrant rights groups. Public documents show that as of the end of 2021, the Minnesota SBI owned shares in Elbit Systems worth $1.8 million.
Nadia Aruri of Students for Justice in Palestine at the University of Minnesota said, “As a student, I have witnessed how dependent our financial industry has become on the United States military and Western empire. Companies like Elbit have always built and supplied the tools of oppression, from ICE to the Israeli state. Israeli bonds fund, with our help, Israeli settlements that continue to encroach further and further into Palestinian land despite the fact that these settlements are considered illegal by the UN and international law.”
“As a Palestinian, I know the SBI has nothing material to lose by choosing to divest from these corporations, [but] Palestinians have everything to lose: their homes, their families, their livelihoods,” Aruri continued. “Liberation is not implausible, but it is inevitable.”
During the SBI’s quarterly meeting, coalition members gave a presentation demanding divestment from Israel. However, a representative of the Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas (JCRC) spoke in opposition to divestment, alleging “falsehoods about Israel” and “discrimination,” while claiming that Israeli society is not “in any way comparable to apartheid.”
After the public comments, the SBI moved to adjourn, without giving any response. However, Fight Back! witnessed Secretary of State Simon immediately approach the JCRC delegation to thank them for their attendance. Simon formerly was a board member of JCRC himself, and Palestine solidarity activists previously had demanded he recuse himself from decisions regarding state investments in Israel.