Politics and Government

Pro-Palestinian, Jewish groups gather at Capitol to weigh in on state's Israel investments

A woman looks into the camera, her hands painted red
Pro-Palestine activist Erin Gable raises her hands to protest after a Minnesota State Board of Investment meeting in St. Paul on Wednesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

An often overlooked governmental body at the state Capitol drew much attention Wednesday.

The Minnesota State Board of Investment — which includes Gov. Tim Walz, Attorney General Keith Ellison and other top officials — had to meet in a larger room than usual, and one that made entry and exit for state officials more accessible.

That’s because pro-Palestinian and Jewish groups gathered there to weigh in on the state’s foreign investments. The board manages public pension accounts and other investments. Those benefiting Israel make up $116.3 million dollars, or 0.14 percent of the state’s portfolio, according to the governor’s office.

A man speaks at a podium as people hold signs behind him
State Sen. Ron Latz voices his opposition to the Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions movement during a press conference in St. Paul on Wednesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

“As a nurse, this latest bombing campaign — unprecedented in the century by every measure of death and destruction — was unimaginable,” retired nurse Sarah Martin said during the meeting’s public comment period. “Hospitals were at the center of Israel’s attacks. My pension, which I get because I took care of sick and injured people in a state-of-the-art hospital just down the street, was used to destroy the hospitals of Gaza.”

Human Rights Watch on Sunday said its investigation into an Oct. 17 strike on Gaza’s Al-Ahli hospital suggests a Hamas misfire caused that blast. But Israeli bombardments have caused massive death and destruction, including at hospitals. Israel’s military says Hamas uses the facilities as shields for an underground network of tunnels.

Three people hold up their hands during a meeting
Pro-Palestine activists raise their hands in protest after the Minnesota State Board of Investment meeting adjourns in St. Paul on Wednesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

The retired nurse, Martin, along with five other speakers, asked the state to divest from Israel and weapons manufacturers. The activists said the board moved on its own to divest from South Africa in the 1980s in response to apartheid, pointing to it as a precedent for the actions they want the board to take now.

MPR News reporter Peter Cox talks about the protests at the Minnesota Capitoal on All Things Considered

It’s part of a global movement known as Boycott, Divest, Sanctions or BDS. Supporters want institutions and governments to withdraw investments in Israel. Some in the Jewish community say the movement is anti-Semitic.

“Divestment as part of the Boycott, Divest, Sanction movement would be a profound mistake. You don’t divest from the victim of an attack,” State Sen. Ron Latz, DFL-St. Louis Park, said at a press conference before the meeting.

A woman holds an Israeli flag
Israeli American Inbal Shaul holds an Israeli flag as State Sen. Ron Latz speaks in support of Minnesota’s Jewish community during a press conference in St. Paul on Wednesday.
Ben Hovland | MPR News

The Jewish Community Relations Council of Minnesota and the Dakotas organized the press conference, where Latz and other Jewish community leaders spoke about the anguish that the Israeli people and some of their friends and relatives in Minnesota are feeling in the wake of the Oct. 7 Hamas attacks. And they said pulling state money from businesses there would only make things worse.

Meanwhile, about seven miles west of events at the Capitol, dozens of University of Minnesota students and faculty donned Palestinian keffiyeh scarves and walked out of classes to raise awareness and support for Palestinians.

“Some professors are worried about canceling class and missing important content for their students. What I have to say to that is, this right here is the content,” said anthropology and global studies professor Serra Hakyemez.

Students for a Democratic Society organized the walkout.

Person protests07
Protestors at a walk-out event on the University of Minnesota Twin Cities campus working in collaboration with the Shut It Down For Palestine organization on Wednesday.
Kyre Johnson | MPR News

As for the investment board, it did not indicate whether Wednesday’s actions would change its investment practices. Its members thanked people for their comments and ended the meeting without engaging further with the crowd.

If it does take action — as it did in 2022 with Russia and Belarus and in 2009 with Iran — it will not be swift. The state typically will gradually withdraw its investments to avoid hurting pensions.

For example, six months after the 2022 law went into effect, the state still had about $1 million invested in businesses tied to Russia or Belarus, with about 30 percent of those targeted for divestment. Both laws also have language exempting humanitarian relief, education and journalism organizations.

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